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Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald believes verbal commitment means something

PFitzgerald Mike Trumpy

Pat Fitzgerald, Mike Trumpy

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Updated: February 6, 2013 1:09AM

If you want to play football for Northwestern, you have to make a commitment long before you ­arrive on campus.

Those who do receive one in ­return.

“It’s like getting engaged,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We’re setting a wedding date on signing day. If you want to be engaged, it’s our commitment to you and we expect the same. If you want to start dating others schools, we’re not engaged anymore. That’s the way I approach it. We make it very clear. I do not twist arms. I tell them the facts. I communicate with the families. We’re very open with our lines of communication. We try to be as transparent as we can.”

Verbal commitments don’t mean much in college football anymore. More and more, coaches ignore them while trying to land a rival school’s recruits, and recruits often promise to attend one school until another option comes along.

Like an airline overselling seats, programs frequently offer more scholarships than are available, knowing full well some recruits will be jilted.

But there won’t be any surprises when Fitzgerald announces his recruiting class on national signing day. Don’t expect the 19 players making up a class highlighted by four-star quarterback recruit Matt Alviti of Maine South to have any last-minute changes of heart.

Verbal commitments still mean something in Evanston.

“I like that Fitz is taking a stand,” CBS Sports Network recruiting expert Tom Lemming said. “If everybody did that, it would bring integrity back to college recruiting. There’s no integrity anymore.”

When Fitzgerald offers a player a scholarship, it comes with the guarantee it won’t be rescinded as long as the player excels in the classroom, stays out of trouble and remains loyal.

But after the player verbally commits, additional campus visits are off limits.

Other schools pulled their offers when sophomore receiver Christian Jones sustained a major knee injury before his senior year at Westfield High in Houston. Fitzgerald kept his promise.

Jones led the team in receiving yards last season.

“The families we recruit want to be at Northwestern and they want the whole package of what we stand for,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not how many offers can I collect. We don’t do that. We preach integrity as college coaches and I look at a lot of guys in my position and I question their integrity. They’re talking out of both sides of their mouth.”

Ray Davison, a linebacker from Encino, Calif., had verbally committed to Northwestern before Sonny Dykes replaced Jeff Tedford at Cal and offered Davison a scholarship.

Davison always had been intrigued by Cal and decided to take a trip to Berkeley, prompting a phone call from Fitzgerald, who ended Davison’s “engagement” with Northwestern.

“It’s getting ridiculous now with kids committing and visiting other places,” said Lemming, who was speaking of recruits in general and not Davison in particular. “It’s like saying I’m engaged but I want to date other girls. Everybody allows it because the sense of entitlement these kids have these days is huge. If all the coaches did what Fitzgerald does, it would stop it.”

Fitzgerald might be bucking the trend, but it’s working. His recruiting classes keep getting better. The 2013 class is ranked 40th by and 50th by

Lemming said Fitzgerald is not only going after players with more speed and athleticism, but he’s landing them.

The completion of a new state-of-the-art athletic facility on the lakefront in coming years should help immensely.

‘‘We understand recruiting is lifeblood of our program, but we’re not going to compromise the integrity of what our program stands for to sign one kid,” Fitzgerald said. “Once you go down that road, that’s who you are.’’

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