The Northwestern Wildcats are coming off one of the best seasons in program history. But heading into 2019, there are several key players that will need to be replaced as the Wildcats look to defend their Big Ten West Division title. Thankfully, head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff have brought in another top-50 recruiting class (11th in the Big Ten) along with a key transfer to keep the ship upright heading into next season. Here are are some names to keep an eye out for.
Genson Hooper-Price, WR
This three-star recruit from Texas is a top-50 (47th) wide receiver in the class of 2019, according to 247Sports. He chose Northwestern over Notre Dame, Arizona, Arizona State, and Baylor, which is great news for the Wildcats. With Flynn Nagel gone, NU will be looking for a new target to pair alongside Bennett Skowronek and Riley Lees. During his high school career at St. John’s in Houston, Hooper-Price caught 59 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 17.4 yards per reception. He should fit in perfectly with Northwestern’s spread offense.
Rodrick Heard and Corien Azema, DBs
Both men rank in the top 80 at their position, according to 247Sports. Heard chose Northwestern over a host of MAC schools as well as Army, while Azema spurned offers from schools in the SEC, ACC, AAC, and Big Ten rival Indiana. Most of Northwestern’s defensive losses after last season came in the secondary so these three-star athletes will fill a glaring need.
Azema (a safety from Texas) finished his career at Houston’s Langham Creek High with 180 total tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, nine interceptions, five pass breakups, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and two blocked field goals. Heard played running back and cornerback for Farmington Hills Harrison High in Michigan and has a nice highlight reel. Both players will be eager to get to work this summer.
Jason Gold, DE
Hailing from League City, Texas, this three-star pass rusher turned down in-state TCU as well as Air Force, Arkansas, and Arkansas State to commit to Northwestern. Gold racked up 19.5 sacks, 106 tackles, 35 tackles for a loss, and 28 quarterback hurries for Clear Springs High School. Over the last few seasons the Wildcats have put greater emphasis on their pass rush, especially since they don’t blitz as much as other teams. With Joe Gaziano heading into his senior year in 2019, the hope is that Gold will emerge as the next difference-maker up front, and make an impact as early as this fall.
Michael Jansey, LB
As good as starting linebackers Blake Gallagher, Paddy Fisher, and Nathan Fox are, they will need a breather at some point. This is where Jansey, a three-star player from nearby Batavia, Illinois, can fit in. Jansey chose to stay home instead of going to Air Force, Ball State, Central Michigan, or Cincinnati. The 34th-ranked outside linebacker in the 2019 class according to 247Sports, Jansey racked up 254 tackles, 58.5 tackles for a loss, 30.5 sacks, 60 QB hurries, and even played a little running back in high school. Bringing Jansey into the fold should allow Northwestern a chance to maintain its level of production at linebacker.
Don't forget about...
One of the biggest losses for Northwestern is the departure of quarterback Clayton Thorson, who re-wrote the program's record books during his time in Evanston. But the hope is that Hunter Johnson, who started his career at Clemson, can step into Thorson's big shoes. Johnson saw a little bit of playing time in 2017 with the Tigers, during which he completed 77 percent of his passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns in mop-up duty. The No. 2-ranked quarterback recruit coming out of high school according to 247Sports, Johnson sat out the 2018 season per NCAA transfer rules. He will enter the spring as the favorite to replace Thorson.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.