Pat Fitzgerald estimates he has made more than a hundred trips to Houston, so it’s safe to say Northwestern’s head coach knows his way around the area.
Fitzgerald and his coaching staff make numerous recruiting trips in Texas’s largest city each year. The current Northwestern roster features nine players from the state of Texas, including five from Houston.
“You tell me what two towns I have to go between I can tell you how without a GPS,” joked Fitzgerald.
On New Year’s Eve, those five Wildcats will return to their hometown to play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, matching up with in-state Texas A&M.
“I'm really excited for them to go home,” said Fitzgerald. “Demetrius Dugar is from Aldine High School, Will Hampton from Cy Creek, Christian Jones from Westfield, Venric Mark from St. Pius, and David Nwabuisi from Episcopal, it's going to be a great opportunity for those young men to get back down to their hometown.”
Northwestern will add another Houston native in the 2012 recruiting class, as Cy-Fair High School cornerback Dwight White, Jr. has already given his verbal commitment to the Wildcats. NU coaches are currently recruiting a number of Houston natives.
NU linebackers coach Randy Bates serves as the lead recruiter for the Houston-area, and has been instrumental in building a recruiting pipeline in that region.
“Outside of Chicagoland, we always start our recruiting (in Houston),” said Fitzgerald. “We've got three coaches in Ohio, three in Texas, so we allocate a lot of time down there.”
The Wildcats make the trek to Texas on Monday. By now, each player has heard a good amount of talk as to what makes Houston a great town.
“The guys on the team who are from Houston, they like to brag about it and everyone else is pretty much sick of hearing about it,” NU quarterback Dan Persa said with a laugh.
During the bowl-acceptance press conference, Persa and Brian Peters agreed that junior linebacker David Nwabuisi is the guiltiest Wildcat of Houston boasting.
“It’s going to be great,” Nwabuisi said of the trip to Houston. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. My family and friends are going to be there. I get to play a big football game in Reliant Stadium. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Wildcats arrive in Houston on Monday, marking the team’s second trip to town. NU Houston-based Rice in Septemeber, 2010.
Northwestern will use Rice’s football facilities during the week, while taking part in off-the-field activities in Houston, such as a team comedy show on Tuesday night. The big show comes on Saturday inside Reliant Stadium.
There is expected to be a strong turnout of Northwestern fans in Houston. More than 1,300 NU call Houston home, while Wildcat fans from across the country will make the trip to town.
“If last year playing at Rice is any indication,” said Fitzgerald. “The way our great alumni base that we have down in Houston supported us and the way our fans traveled it should be a great purple showing.”