Northwest football announced its 2020 recruiting class on National Signing Day Feb. 5, adding a crop of 50 signees to the program that finished with a 12-2 record last season.
Led by coach Rich Wright, who is gearing up for his fourth season at the helm of the program, Northwest inked 46 high school student-athletes and tabbed four transfers in this year’s recruiting class. Half of the 50 athletes signed are from Missouri, while the other 25 come from a combination of eight states with Iowa (9), Nebraska (5) and Kansas (3) counting as the next closest states.
In some ways, the class is numerically heavy on the offensive side but loaded with value on defense, Rich Wright said. The Bearcats recruited 10 wide receivers — the most of any position — as well as three recruits listed as “athletes” who could wind up playing wideout, defensive back or elsewhere. In 29 recruits, including the three athletes without a position listed, are offensive players, while 17 are defenders and the rest are special teams.
“I felt like we really hit a home run with the linebacker class (and) the secondary class,” Rich Wright said. “I thought we did an outstanding job on the offensive line, and I thought we kind of addressed our height issue at the wide receiver position.”
THE OFFENSIVE FRONT
One of the goals for the Bearcats heading into the signing period was to continue building on the size of their offensive line. Rich Wright said the team did just that in the 2020 recruiting class, signing six linemen out of high school and inking one transfer to the program.
The transfer, junior Derec Weyer, perhaps helps define exactly what Northwest was looking for on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal. The Harlan, Iowa, native and transfer from Southwest Minnesota State is listed at 6 foot6 and 301 pounds and could help fill immediate voids on the offensive front or provide depth to an area of emphasis for Rich Wright and company.
“If you were to go back three years and take a look at how we were comprised up front and you were to look at us today, we look a lot different,” Rich Wright said. “We’re bigger; we’re longer.”
ADDRESSING THE DEFENSE
Northwest recruited four defensive linemen and six linebackers to add reinforcements to its front seven, but perhaps the biggest emphasis was placed on the secondary. The Bearcats will be forced to deal with the loss of senior defensive backs Jake Gassman and Chama Pierre next fall and are gearing up to move forward after J’Ravien Anderson’s last season next fall.
“If there was a deficiency, through my lens, watching our defense, it’s our secondary needs to become better tacklers and become more physical,” Rich Wright said. “And that’s an area of emphasis.”
One piece of the solution appears to be transfer Edwyn Brown, a 6-foot-4 defensive back from Belleville, Illinois. Brown played in six games at Eastern Illinois University last season, missing parts of the year due to injury, and could be a part of a renewed sense of physicality Northwest is hoping to find in its secondary.
“I don’t ever guarantee anybody anything — he’s gonna have to earn whatever he gets,” Rich Wright said. “But he’s the type of kid that I’m probably not recruiting him if I don’t think he can be in the mix.”
Northwest signed a host of players with familial ties to the program, including Cam Martin, a wide receiver from Nebraska whose brother, Zach Martin, played quarterback for the Bearcats in 2017 and now serves as the running backs coach.
Additionally, the Bearcats added five players whose older siblings still play for Northwest. Sam Bautz and Sam Clarkson, both offensive linemen, are set to join their brothers Gabe Bautz and Austin Clarkson. Linebacker Carson Elwood’s older brother Cole Elwood plays for Northwest as well.
From Texas, Miles Tatum is perhaps moving further away from home than any other 2020 recruit, though he’ll be doing so to join senior Alec Tatum in Northwest’s wide receiver corps. And starting quarterback Braden Wright’s brother Shae Wright is joining Northwest as a defensive back.
“I like little brothers because little brothers usually have something to prove,” Rich Wright said.
A NEW KIND OF RECRUIT
Parker Schmitz is the only 2020 signee in his position group for Northwest, mostly because he doesn’t play a position. Schmitz is listed as a “creative video,” signed to Northwest to create social media content to help push forward the team’s brand.
Rich Wright said the area was a growing need in the realm of Division II football, as social media has become an important and dynamic recruiting tool. The coach said that in 2015 and 2016, Division I schools reached out to Northwest, attempting to emulate the program’s ability to produce such good video content. Schmitz’s signing, Rich Wright said, is another step forward on that path, one the rest of the MIAA is still trying to catch up to the Bearcats on. Northwest hopes to keep it that way.
“Now, what we’ve tried to do each and every year is push the envelope,” Rich Wright said. “That was a big reason why we actively went out and recruited Parker.”
Northwest’s 2020 roster isn’t yet set in stone, of course. The Bearcats added one running back from the portal — Jamar Moya, who followed new offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy from MidAmerica Nazarene — but they’re still looking to add depth at the position.
“Production — that’s the No. 1 thing at that position,” Sturdy said. “I don’t necessarily think that position has to be a portal guy. … If we can find a high school kid, we will. If we can find a portal kid, we will. But it’s all gonna go back to production.”
Even with the addition of Moya, who Sturdy told Rich Wright could have played for him at Iowa State, Northwest is looking to fill the void left by the departure of senior backs Justin Rankin and Isaiah Strayhorn. Additionally, Northwest has an immediate need at tight end, where both Kyle Raunig and Marqus Andrews finished their careers last season. The same is true for defensive end.
After recruiting and signing 50 players in the last month and a half, Rich Wright said, Northwest still isn’t done.
“If all goes well and I find the right person — now, I’m not going to take somebody to take somebody,” Rich Wright said. “But if we find a guy that we’re targeting and he fits who we are, I would anticipate seeing all three of those positions being addressed.