- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
CENTERVILLE, Ohio – Under coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern is starting to build a winning tradition.
Wins on the recruiting trail, especially in the final few weeks when many of the elite prospects commit, were still eluding the Wildcats. However, the first Saturday of the New Year may have signaled an end to that.
On Saturday, ESPNU 150 prospect Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to Northwestern in front of friends and family at his Centerville, Ohio, home over finalists Notre Dame and Stanford. Odenigbo, the top-ranked player in the state, donned the Wildcats cap and then unveiled a purple shirt hidden underneath his Under Armour All-America Game track jacket.
“What made Northwestern stick out from the rest is when I took my official there and I got to meet the players. When I met the players it was an instant click,” Odenigbo said. “And coach Fitzgerald, what makes him a special guy is he played at Northwestern. I have the utmost respect for him because he wants to see his team win, and he’s a very passionate coach.”
Northwestern is roughly a six-hour drive from Odenigbo’s Centerville home, and he said distance played a factor. He wants his parents to be able to see him play as often as they can, which ruled out Stanford.
On several occasions Odenigbo said he plans on using his scholarship as a means of getting an education at a school he might not have been able to get into as a regular student. Odenigbo was sold on Northwestern’s economics program and its professors – one of whom is a Nobel Prize winner.
“My professor at Northwestern [Dale Mortensen] is a Nobel Prize winner, so that’s a big thing right there,” he said. “If football doesn’t work out and the NFL doesn’t work out, I can hopefully get my MBA at Northwestern.”
The Wildcats’ football program lacks the prestige of a Notre Dame or an Ohio State, two schools Odenigbo seriously considered, but he sees the potential for success at Northwestern.
He also sees a potential conference switch.
“I believe they are a team on the rise,” Odenigbo said, “and I believe I can help them and we’re going to win a national championship and a Big 12 championship … oh a Big Ten championship.”
Odenigbo, ranked No. 50 in the ESPNU 150, is the highest-ranked player to commit to the Wildcats under Fitzgerald. It is the second straight year the Wildcats reeled in one of the country’s 150 best recruits, though. Last year, the Wildcats brought in Christian Jones, ranked 108th in the nation in the Class of 2011.
With his commitment, Odenigbo hopes it will bring in more elite recruits to Evanston, Ill.
"By me committing there, I hope I can attract more big-time recruits," Odenigbo said. "That's the plan because it only takes one guy to commit there.”
A defensive end at Centerville, Odenigbo (6-foot-3, 212 pounds) will play weakside linebacker at Northwestern but said he could return to the defensive line if he adds enough weight.
515dTom Luginbill and Craig Haubert