The most important recruiting class in a very long time has begun.
I’ll start by telling you why, and then I’ll tell you what I know about Jimmy Fitzgerald, and then we’ll get to Tom Cruises.
The 2012 was a bit of a throwaway as it always is in the first year for any coaching staff. You try to keep the guys the other coach had recruited, you have six weeks to find some recruits, and you have to do all of that without knowing any of the local high school coaches yet. So you can’t really judge Tim Beckman’s recruiting based on that kind of class (although he did surprisingly well in landing future starters like Teko Powell and TJ Neal and Mason Monheim and others during those six weeks).
The 2013 class, then, was extremely important. And Beckman/Golesh pulled in a decent haul. Impact players like Bailey, Mosely, and Chunky, a several four-stars, and ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten – Rivals and ESPN had that class 7th, ahead of schools like Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin (Andersen throwaway transition class) in the Rivals rankings. 2014 was important, but is a small class + a “juco need” class (and adding jucos will never create a lot of rankings buzz). We’re only adding ten high school players on Wednesday because we traded the need for future depth for the need for immediate depth (and because we only had 10 seniors last year. That’s good for next year (really good when you consider some of the defensive linemen we landed), but probably not good for the long term development of the program.
Which means the 2015 class is probably up there with 2006 in terms of “we must land a solid class”. I really do believe that the 2012 and 2013 class, as well as the jucos in the 2014 class, provide adequate Big Ten talent for the next two seasons, given the roster situation the Beckman’s coaching staff inherited. We’re slowly getting to the point where the depth chart will be mostly upperclassmen. But after those players graduate, with only 10 high school players in this class, we have to have depth built in behind them. That’s all on this class.
And it’s off to a solid start. 3-star local QB Jimmy Fitzgerald is now on board (check out this link for Matt Wettersten’s interview with Fitzgerald on WCIA). Let’s start with rankings. It’s more than a year from when he can sign, so Scout and ESPN haven’t rated him yet, but Rivals has him as a 3-star and the #10 player in the state, and 24/7 has him as a 3-star and the #11 player in the state. Considering that in the 2014, our highest-ranked in-state player was #20 on Rivals and #25 on 24/7, then yes, this is an improvement over the last class. Landing those top 30 in-state players needs to be our lifeblood, so this is a good start.
(Note: he picked Illinois, so don’t expect him to stay at #10 in the state. By this time next year, he’s maybe #17 or something. The 23rd rated player based on film review will pick Nebraska, and suddenly that player will find themselves at #10 and Fitzgerald will slide down. It’s just how this works. And I can’t blame the recruiting sites for handling things that way. I’d do the same.)
When watching film on Fitzgerald, the thing that sticks out to me is putting air under the ball at the right times. You know that pass play where three receivers drag right while the tight end, comes from the right side of the line and angles for a spot 15 yards down the left sideline? Many QB’s try to zip that ball in there when the right call is to float it (the dragging receivers have vacated the corner and the safety, so it’s just a one-on-one with a linebacker). Based on his junior film, Fitzgerald understands that you can float that pass a little bit and place it over the tight end’s shoulder. That’s the kind of thing Bill Cubit loves.
As far as arm strength, I’d say that the quarterback in this class (Chayce Crouch) has a much stronger arm. Interestingly, Rivals rates Crouch the #23 quarterback in this class, and Rivals rates Fitzgerald the #23 quarterback in the 2015 class. So looking down the road a bit, I’d say that we have a three year battle between Lunt and Bailey, and then in 2017, it’s redshirt junior Crouch vs. redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald vs. the quarterback in the 2016 class for the starting job.
The other thing that jumps off the film is that he looks pretty athletic. Which is good not only for this offense, but also for that QB battle. I think Crouch is a one position player, but I think Fitzgerald could play several spots. So if Crouch does win the job, we might see Fitzgerald at, say, tight end or something (like Matt LaCosse, who was also a high school quarterback).
OK, Tom Cruises. This one is really straightforward for me. A solid 3 Tom Cruises. 2.5 is the median, and this kid is a little better than the median to me. The only way he could stretch that to a 3.5 Cruise would be to have film like 2014 RB recruit Matt Domer (I gave Domer 3.5 Cruises, right?). And Fitzgerald’s film isn’t at that level. So a solid, respectable three Cruises it is.