Big step forward off the field
NU's upset win figures to pay off in recruiting
Author(s): Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: September 9, 1995
The question isn't how Northwestern will use last Saturday's goosebump-raising win over Notre Dame to fuel its 1995 season, but how will the Wildcats' staff use the 17-15 triumph to further the program's long-term future? Head coach Gary Barnett and his assistants brought with them a mastery of recruiting techniques three years ago.
Last week's win significantly upgraded their sales presentations.
"(Barnett and his staff) are a perfect example of what to do right. They just haven't had any wins," said national recruiting expert Tom Lemming. "Now, they could have a knockout (recruiting) year."
Half of the postgame euphoria was no doubt due to the Wildcats' afternoon dominance.
The other half was a celebration of the national exposure - positive for the first time in the four-year, nationally televised series resumption - and top-notch public-relations coup that heralded a program turning point.
The high school football standouts in cubbyholes from New Mexico to New Hampshire, from Idaho to Alabama - they know about Northwestern now.
"There are kids across the country who don't know where Northwestern is, what our school colors are or that we're even in the Big Ten," said Jeff Genyk, the Wildcats' coordinator of football operations. "That sounds preposterous, but it's true."
For those blue-chippers well-versed but perhaps not interested in the Wildcats, the victory raised eyebrows.
When asked this week if the win raised his interest in the school, highly recruited and highly undecided Naperville Central quarterback Tim Lavery said, "Yeah, definitely."
The upset was seemingly a reward for the work Barnett and his staff have done since their arrival in 1992. Their first class pledged Evanston because it believed it could help Barnett do exactly what it appears is being done.
"Since I've been here, our purpose was to turn this program around," said junior Brian Musso, a charter member of the Barnett regime.
"Getting everyone to believe in our cause. The reason he sold us on this place was to be a part of something that was going to change. That's one of the main reasons I came here.
"To see it finally start to change was just such a feeling of joy."
The staff made two significant changes in the program's recruiting strategy.
First, it sought to show off the campus with a coaches' clinic, camps for junior-high and high school players, and a high school passing tournament.
"They've gotten kids on campus to see the campus," said Waubonsie Valley coach B.J. Luke, who has sent two players to Northwestern in the 1990s. "They've got a beautiful campus."
According to Genyk, attendance at the camps has grown from 200 to 600, while the passing competition has its 42-team field filled months ahead of time.
The second emphasis in recruiting philosophy is player quality.
The only restrictions on Wildcats recruits are academic. Once a prospect is a qualifier, the Wildcats feel they have as much right to him as does Illinois, Michigan, Florida State or Washington.
They're recruiting against the big boys because they feel they're one of them. The fact is, the Wildcats have stolen a few from the traditional powers.
"More than a few," is as specific as Genyk will get.
Lemming, however, ranks Northwestern with Wisconsin and Illinois for their Chicagoland success. He also says that while he was on a West Coast swing this summer, every prep standout had some type of Northwestern contact.
"They're losing more (to the national powers) than they're getting, but before they weren't getting any," Lemming said. "It's so reminiscent of the way Wisconsin rose - slowly but surely."
Still, though Wisconsin culminated that climb with a Rose Bowl championship on New Year's Day 1994, the Badgers aren't restricted by Northwestern-level academic requirements.
Is it realistic to envision Northwestern in Pasadena?
"It's a huge stretch to think that," Lemming said. "But if anybody could do it, it'd be Gary Barnett. They're not there yet, but the first step - the only step - is to get the players."
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