Ifeadi Odenigbo's commitment to Northwestern on Saturday will have a big impact on the Wildcats' fortunes on the football field over the next four or five years. But the four-star defensive end/outside linebacker picking Northwestern over Notre Dame and Stanford also represents a victory for the Wildcats that extends well beyond the gridiron.
The Centerville (Ohio) product is the No. 9 defensive end in the country and the No. 109 prospect overall, according to Rivals. He immediately becomes the bluest chip in Northwestern's Class of 2012, which now numbers 20.
The fact that he is a defender is also ideal for a Wildcat defense that has been suspect at best over the last few seasons and could use an injection of athleticism. Odenigbo's speed as a pass rusher coming off of the edge will help bolster a Northwestern squad that finished last in the Big Ten in sacks in 2011, with 17.
However, Odenigbo's impact as a recruit may rival or even surpass what he accomplishes on the field.
Odenigbo represents a textbook case of Northwestern recruiting. The Wildcats identified him early as a top target, starting to recruit the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder at the start of his junior year. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and linebackers coach Randy Bates, his principal recruiter, built a strong relationship over time that withstood recruiting overtures from the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC, among others.
Odenigbo became the second four-star recruit in this class, joining Concord Township (Ohio) St. Edward defensive tackle Greg Kuhar. Prior to this class, Fitzgerald had been able to land only one other four-star prospect in his six years in Evanston: tackle Patrick Ward in 2009.
The fact that Odenigbo chose the Wildcats over Notre Dame and Stanford makes the decision especially sweet. The Cardinal and the Irish, especially, have been thorns in Northwestern's side on the recruiting trail in recent years. Notre Dame beat out Northwestern for high-profile, four-star recruits such as Chris Watt in 2009 and Cameron Roberson in 2010, while the Wildcats finished as runner-up to the Cardinal for Blake Leuders in 2010 and a quarterback named Andrew Luck in 2008.
Coming on the heels of the Wildcats finishing as bridesmaids to four-star prospects Faith Ekakitie (Iowa), Quanzell Lambert (Rutgers) and Abner Logan (Maryland) in recent weeks, the timing of Odenigbo's decision also offers the program a shot in the arm with less than a month to go until signing day.
Odenigbo's decision will send ripples through the recruiting pond that will be felt coast-to-coast. Big-name prospects like to play with other big-name prospects, and Odenigbo is a player who just put on an impressive performance at Friday's Under Armour All-America Game, where a lot of the best players in the country competed. The fact that he donned a purple hat today could put Northwestern on more prospects' favorites lists over the next couple years. The message to recruits is simple: if Ifeadi Odenigbo, a player who could have gone just about anywhere he wanted, picked Northwestern, maybe you should take a good, long look at the Wildcats, too.
In many ways, Odenigbo was the ideal Northwestern prospect. He has only been playing football for three years now, so a college's storied football tradition did not matter to him. He was focused on finding the best combination of academics and football, as well as a coaching staff that could do more than just groom him for the NFL.
"I'm looking at the coaching staff and how they can help me succeed on and off the field," he told WildcatReport after a summer visit to Northwestern. "I'm not looking for guarantees for playing in the NFL or who has sent more players to the NFL. I don't really care about that."
Summing up the many strengths of the program, Odenigbo then he made a poignant statement.
"I don't know why more top recruits don't go to Northwestern."
Now that Odenigbo has chosen the Wildcats, maybe more will in the future.