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February 5, 2014

Breaking down the Class of 2014


EVANSTON-Now that all 15 members of Northwestern's Class of 2014 have signed their National Letters of Intent to officially become Wildcats, it's time to slice, dice and break them down.



Numbers sometimes lie: Rivals puts Northwestern's incoming class at No. 65 on its national rankings, its worst position in three years. However, the Wildcats also signed just 15 players, one of the smallest classes in recent memory, and class size plays a significant role in the formula Rivals uses to rank programs. The Wildcats finished a paltry 10th of 14 schools in the Big Ten, but if we look at average star ratings, Northwestern's average of 3.00 is fifth-best in the league, behind only Ohio State (3.74), Michigan (3.44), Michigan State (3.26) and Penn State (3.2).



Four-star foursome: Northwestern's class contains four four-star signees, matching its total from the last ten years combined. The group is led by running back Justin Jackson, the two-time Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year. Joining him are two more in-state products, Wheaton North QB Clayton Thorson and Bolingbrook DB Parrker Westphal. Rounding out the party of four is New Jersey superback Garrett Dickerson, brother of NU receiver Cameron Dickerson. Joining them are seven three-stars and four two-stars.



Making a state-ment: Not surprisingly, Northwestern enjoyed the most recruiting success right in its own backyard, as four signees hail from Illinois -- Jackson, Thorson, Parker and tackle Blake Hance of Jacksonville. That's followed up by three from Texas, two from New Jersey and two from Ohio. Finally, there is one each from Kansas, Maryland, Michigan and Tennessee. It's the first time since 2008 that head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff did not reel in a California kid -- though one, Hamilton Anoa'I, wriggled off the hook on Tuesday night to sign with Cal.



Home-state heroes: Ten players from the class of 2014 are ranked among the best overall players in their states: Clayton Thorson, 5th in Illinois; Justin Jackson, 6th in Illinois; Parrker Westphal, 7th in Illinois; Garrett Dickerson, 10th in New Jersey; Tommy Doles, 19th in Michigan; Blake Hance, 23rd in Illinois; Solomon Vault, 29th in Maryland; Cameron Queiro, 31st in New Jersey; Auston Anderson, 45th in Texas; and Ben Oxley, 59th in Ohio.



Coast-to-coast: Six players from the class of 2014 are ranked among the best at their prospective positions nationally: Clayton Thorson, 6th at quarterback; Justin Jackson, 14th at running back; Auston Anderson, 17th at all-purpose back; Garrett Dickerson, 18th at defensive end; Parrker Westphal, 19th at defensive back; and Blake Hance, 55th at offensive lineman.



Second-guessing: Northwestern was hit with de-commitments this year like never before. Starting in November and finishing up on Tuesday night, four verbal commits left the program to go elsewhere. Four-star athlete Dareian Watkins jumped to Wisconsin and safety Jordan Thomas took his talents to Oklahoma. But the biggest hit came from last year's season-opening opponent as Cal poached defensive end Noah Westerfield and linebacker Anoa'I, who both decided to renege on their commitments to Northwestern so they could play for the Golden Bears. And those defections came just a year after Raymond Davison spurned NU for Cal in 2013. The Wildcats take on head coach Sonny Dykes' squad once again this upcoming season, giving them a chance to exact a little revenge.



Brothers in arms: New Jersey products Cameron Queiro and Garrett Dickerson join their brothers, Kyle and Cameron, respectively, at Northwestern. Kyle is a redshirt freshman, and Cameron is a junior. Even more interesting is that all four went to the same high school, Bergen Catholic in Englewood, N.J. Another incoming freshman, linebacker Nate Hall will have one year to play with his older brother, senior safety Jimmy Hall. They join walkon siblings Hayden and Quinn Baker to give Northwestern its fourth pair of brothers on the team.



Walk tall: Northwestern also added three preferred walk-ons to its team Wednesday, led by 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive lineman J.B. Butler from Joliet (Ill.) Catholic. Three-time Academic All-State recipient turned down offers from Bryant, Colgate, Maine, New Hampshire and Western Illinois to join high school teammate Malin Jones in Evanston. He's joined by Dallas running back Malcolm Bowman, who chose NU over Cornell, and Ohio DE Jerry Klue, who chose the Cats over Army and Air Force.



Big Mac: Recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Matt MacPherson led the charge among coaches as being the principal recruiter for six commitments, including Thorson and both running backs, Jackson and Anderson. Offensive line coach Adam Cushing and superbacks coach Bob Heffner were next with three apiece. Cushing landed Westphal and Jackson, while Heffner snagged both New Jersey kids, Queiro and Dickerson. Wide receivers coach Dennis Springer was the only other to have a hand in multiple commitments, attracting Hance and Fred Wyatt.



Start to finish: Northwestern began building its class way back in December of 2012, when Jordan Thomas committed. Unfortunately, Thomas backed out of that commitment and pledged Oklahoma last month, 13 months after his initial verbal. That makes Thorson, who committed in March, the first member of this class. The Wildcats stayed busy right down to the wire this year, as they added James Prather in January and both Jared McGee and Xavier Washington on Feb. 2 and 3, respectively.



Fitz's first: Westphal, who signed in December, became Northwestern's first early enrollee under Fitzgerald when he started classes last month. Fitzgerald almost had his first greyshirt with McGee, who committed on Sunday with the understanding that he wouldn't enroll and go on scholarship until January of 2015. However, because Anoa'I decommitted on Tuesday night, McGee became a full-fledged "purple shirt" and member of the Class of 2014.




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