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RB Malin Jones, LB Ifeadi Odenigbo lead NU’s recruiting haul

MalJones ran for 4087 yards 57 touchdowns his career Joliet Catholic. | For Sun-Times Media

Malin Jones ran for 4,087 yards and 57 touchdowns in his career at Joliet Catholic. | For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 3, 2012 11:38AM

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald likes to joke that he has known Joliet Catholic running back Malin Jones nearly as long as he has known his youngest son, Brendan, who’s almost 3.

Considering Jones committed to the Wildcats 15 months ago, Fitzgerald’s quip isn’t all that much of an exaggeration.

Jones was one of 21 signees in NU’s class Wednesday, the largest group in Fitzgerald’s six-year tenure. The 6-foot, 205-pounder rushed for 4,087 yards and 57 touchdowns in his career at Joliet Catholic. That makes him a good bet to become the cornerstone of the Wildcats’ running game, which has struggled the last few seasons.

Though Jones played some safety in high school, Fitzgerald said he will ‘‘absolutely be a running back.’’

If Jones is the future star of NU’s offense, then outside linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo of Centerville, Ohio, might be the savior of the defense. The 6-3, 217-pound Odenigbo is a four-star recruit and was an Under Armour All-American. Though he was recruited and signed as a linebacker, he played defensive end in high school.

‘‘He’s a very dynamic athlete, and he’s going to grow and get better,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘We’re going to start him at linebacker and see how it goes.’’

Besides Jones, Fitzgerald signed two other players from the Chicago area in Plano safety Joseph Jones and Wheaton Warrenville South superback Dan Vitale. Defensive end Dean Lowry of Rockford Boylan is another Illinois player in the class.

The signings come on the heels of the news Saturday that former Proviso West receiver Kyle Prater is transferring from USC to Northwestern. Prater still has three years of eligibility, but he might have to sit out next season unless Fitzgerald is able to get a waiver from the NCAA.

Fitzgerald hinted Saturday that NU might ask the NCAA to let Prater play right away because he is transferring to be closer to his family in west suburban Maywood. He wouldn’t discuss the waiver Wednesday, but he acknowledged that Prater isn’t enrolled in school yet and that he isn’t sure if Prater will participate in spring football in March.

Fitzgerald said he expects Prater to enroll for the spring quarter when it begins March 26.

This is the first recruiting class for Fitzgerald since he signed a 10-year contract extension in May. Recruiting coordinator Matt McPherson said Fitzgerald’s job security, a plan for new and renovated football facilities and the Wildcats’ four consecutive seasons with a bowl appearance helped sell the school to recruits.

‘‘I think you’re talking about a total package, and they see what Northwestern can do for them [academically] the next 40 years of their lives,’’ McPherson said. ‘‘When you throw in consecutive bowl games and a coach who is going to be here through 2020, that becomes a much bigger package.’’

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