The 8th stop on my College Tour was in Evanston, Illinois to visit Northwestern University. This was another school and program I wasn’t very familiar with, so I was anxious to see what it was all about. To get there, you actually fly into Chicago. After driving through the city and its traffic for over an hour, I ended up getting to Evanston, which is located only a few miles away from downtown Chicago. I had always wanted to visit Northwestern, but I couldn’t justify a flight out there and all the time it takes just to visit for one day. Two words were able to solve my dilemma: Chicago Showcase. The “Chicago Showcase” is an event held at Northwestern every summer that includes over 650 kids from throughout the country and over 65 different Colleges and Universities in attendance. By getting out there for that event, I was able to see Northwestern and all that the school and program had to provide. At the same time I was also able to network with dozens of other schools and the coaches on their staffs, and continue to plug all the ballers we have here in the Northwest.
Northwestern is a private school that competes in the Big 10. Their Head Coach is Pat Fitzgerald, a man I go back with a long time. When I played at Colorado in 1999, he was a Graduate Assistant Coach just getting into the business. I always knew he would become a great coach, as he was always a hard worker and very likeable. I was excited to see him on my visit, and upon arriving on campus I headed over to the football offices. I only had to wait in the lobby about 3 minutes until Coach Fitzgerald came walking up to give me a hug. We talked for a few minutes and he told me all about the school, program, and city. He told me all the places I needed to see and get footage of, and gave me some good background about each of them. After my talk with Coach Fitzgerald, I ran into Mick Macal. Coach Macal is the QB Coach and Offensive Coordinator at Northwestern, as well as the coach on their staff responsible for recruiting the Northwest. We had spoken over the phone, but never in person. We talked for a few minutes, but he was extremely busy as the camp was about to start and he was helping run it. In our conversation, he did mention that they really want to start recruiting the Northwest hard. He asked about a few kids, at which time I started throwing out all the names of the other great players from the Northwest I thought they should be recruiting. From there I walked into the game stadium where all the campers for the event were checking in. I was absolutely amazed at what I saw. It was like a meat market, literally. As each player checked in and got his camp shirt, he had to get his height and weight and then walk under the stadium ramp to get to the field and sit in the stands. As they walked through that tunnel, different Coaches from the over 65 Colleges and Universities lined the way on both sides. As I walked by all of them in the tunnel on my way to the stands, I couldn’t help but have my head on a swivel looking straight at each Coach’s shirt to see what school he was from. Programs from every level were represented, including schools such as: Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Cornell, Illinois State, Indiana State, Butler, Penn, Carnegie Melon, North Dakota, etc. They soon started camp and at that point I got a chance to walk around and see all of their facilities.
Northwestern is a big time academic institution. They have success on the field and recently have had winning records and competed in bowl games. However, what they ALWAYS do is graduate their players and set them up for a long and successful career after football. The student academic services building there is top notch, and the resources for student athletes to study with tutors in private computer labs and rooms is very unique. The coach’s offices and meeting rooms for the football team are really nice. The locker room is also high quality. The weight room is the one part of my visit that I found lacking. It had good quality equipment, it just wasn’t very big and wasn’t up to par with other big time FCS schools that I’ve been to. The same goes for their training room. It gets the job done, but isn’t anything that they’d highlight to a recruit or their family on a recruiting trip. Conversely, their Indoor Practice Facility was the only of its kind that I’ve ever seen. It had an almost full field they could use, and then a door through a wall in one end zone that led to another smaller Indoor Practice Field. When you see the attached footage, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Not every visit on my College Tour did I get a chance to see the campus itself. I did at Northwestern and I now see why its students have such a great experience. Being a private school, a lot of money is pumped in by donors. So the buildings and architecture, as well as the landscaping and maintenance are all first class. Being in the Midwest, they get the best of each coast. North, South, East, and West all converge there and bring their own styles. So throughout campus and the city, you’ll see people and places that remind you of L.A. all the way to Miami all the way up to New York.
Overall I would give Northwestern a solid B. I didn’t meet all of their staff, but knowing the Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald and the quality of coach and person he is, I can’t imagine he’d have anyone on his staff that wasn’t knowledgeable about football and full of integrity. The athletic facilities were good not great, and the program is very competitive in the Big 10 and always a contender to play in a bowl game each year. The campus is gorgeous, and the degree you’ll walk away with from there can compete with any you’d receive from an Ivy League school. Evanston is really a great college town, and the cool thing about it is that Downtown Chicago is only a short distance away. Of all the big cities I’ve been to, Chicago definitely is at the top of the list. Another possible downside to Northwestern for our kids from the Northwest is distance. The cost and length of the flight to Chicago is not cheap or short. However, if you’re getting a full scholarship and don’t mind travelling and experiencing a different culture, Northwestern is a perfect fit. The benefit to playing at a school that’s not consistently in the top 25 is that they are always in need of good players, and those players can come in early and compete right away. Take a look at the footage from my visit. If you’re looking to play College football at a high level, in a big time league, and get a great internationally renowned education at the same time, Northwestern could be the school for you. If not, at least get out there and have some of their deep dish pizza. I did, and now those “Chicago Style” frozen pizzas at the store just don’t taste the same.
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