Pat Fitzgerald has never seen one of his players get taken in the first two days of the NFL Draft, but this year he should see not one, but two players go on opening night. The last time Northwestern had a player selected in the first round was 2005, when Luis Castillo when to the San Diego Chargers with the 28th overall pick.
They have only had eight first round selections in the history of the school, with Chris Hinton (1983) and Otto Graham (1944) tied for the highest selection ever, at #4. In the Fitzgerald era, the highest ever selection has been Corey Wootton, who went with the 11th overall selection in the 4th round.
Known as the man who ended Brett Favre’s career (and in doing so providing a big favor to all of us), Wootton is now long long retired himself. With Rashawn Slater poised to be the first or second offensive tackle taken this draft, and Greg Newsome II set to be among the first three or so cornerbacks selected, we asked Pat Fitzgerald, is the most exciting NFL Draft in Northwestern history?
“I don’t know, I get pretty hyped up for all of ‘em,” he answered. (transcript Inside NU)
“I’m excited to be going! I’m going to the draft to support him, and we’ll hopefully have more guys’ names called as the Draft goes along. I didn’t get my name called, so I’m just gonna soak it all up. I’m not gonna be a head coach that day, I’m gonna be a fan. I might be asking some of these other guys for autographs with my guys.”
All the attention surrounding Slater and Newsome is a great boost to the program. NFL Draft talking season is extensive and prolonged, and it all provides more brand awareness for Northwestern football.
“Young men that we recruit want to get a great degree from a great school,” Fitzgerald said on this topic.
“They want to play championship football. They want to be developed for life and they want to be developed for the NFL. And we’ve had a ton of NFL players in my time. I think last year was the most that we’ve had in program history as we started training camp, and now, to have two first-rounders shows every prospect in country that you can come to Northwestern and you can have it all.
“And you can come here and have a top ten degree, play top ten football, and go on to play in the National Football League and get first round money and first round opportunities. I don’t know if there’s anywhere better to be right now, to be playing, than with us. I know I’m a little bit biased, but what else more do you want? I don’t know what else more you could want as a prospective student athlete.”
Fitz was also asked about whether Slater and Newsome’s stocks have been higher behind the scenes than they have seemed on online draft boards over time.
His answer, which was both insightful and interesting, is below:
“How fun is it post-Super Bowl, all we talk about is the draft? It’s awesome if you are a draft junkie. You can go everywhere to get it.
“So there’s narratives in that world, and that kinda gets to become the mainstream perception. Then we get to draft weekend and reality sets us in. The reality that sets in is that I started getting asked two years ago about Rashawn and Greg, and more guys, frankly.
“When you start at this level, when you start in the Big Ten as an underclassmen and you pop off the tape like that, of course scouts are gonna start asking me about them. These guys were known in NFL circles a lot earlier then they were in the mainstream media. Once they got recognized as potential NFL players, their play went up. The production, the consistency went up. Now you start talking about “yeah, you’re gonna get drafted.
“Maybe they’re a day three, maybe they’re a day two.” And you start comparing them to what’s available, and you are talking about potentially being the best at their position in the entire country. I am incredibly proud of them.
“There will be no group of people that is more excited than everybody that’s supporting these guys on Thursday the 29th when they hear their names get called.”
Happy NFL Draft talking season Northwestern fans. The big event is in less than a fortnight now.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.Follow paulmbanks