Back in the saddle

Back in the saddle

The Wildcats didn't get the running back they got, and they did get the one they didn't. Make sense? Adonis Smith's recent decommitment from Washington State – and ensuing commitment to NU – was the latest twist in what has been an unpredictable running back recruiting class. Purple Reign looks closer at Smith's decision and the Cats' wild RB recruiting season.

The Wildcats didn't get the running back they got, and they did get the one they didn't. Make sense?

Adonis Smith's recent decommitment from Washington State – and ensuing commitment to Northwestern – was the latest (but not necessarily last) twist in what has been an unpredictable running back recruiting class. After all, it wasn't long ago that Shontrelle Johnson decommitted from NU and later pledged to Iowa State.

So within the span of a month, the Cats have been on different end of two decommitments: They lost their only committed running back of the 2010 class (Johnson), and then were the benefactor when another back (Smith) pulled a decommitment of his own.

Indeed, it's been an interesting recruiting season for Northwestern's backfield.

It started back in June, when Johnson became NU's second commit of the 2010 class. Johnson, from Deland, Fla., chose Northwestern over Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Memphis, each of which had offered the three-star recruit. It was a big get for the Cats – the second three-star back in the last two years along with 2009 commit Arby Fields.

Following Johnson's commitment, some other running back targets pledged elsewhere. Desoto, Tex., native Marcus Murphy, a three-star prospect who held an offer from Northwestern, committed to Missouri in December. And Kedrick Rhodes from Ocala, Fla., another RB Northwestern had offered, ended up committing to Florida International.

(There were a few other three-star backs who NU was recruiting but never officially offered. One was Ambler, Penn., back Myron Ross. Moss committed to Vanderbilt in July, and then went out and rushed for 2,215 yards in 2009; he later decommitted and is now heading to Temple. NU was also recruiting – but hadn't offered – Potosi, Mo., back Brandon Bourbon; he ultimately committed to Stanford.)

The didn't-gets like Murphy and Rhodes weren't a huge deal because, alas, Northwestern had already nabbed a big running back commitment from Johnson. They became a bigger deal, though, when Johnson decommitted in late December, leaving NU without a single running back for the '10 class with Signing Day looming.

"I'm just looking for the right environment and to bond with the coaches," Johnson told Cyclone Sports Report day before he committed to ISU.

Things got extra hairy when Smith, from San Mateo, Calif., committed to Washington State a few weeks ago.

"I think Washington State's staff has done a good job of connecting their school to Northern California and the Bay Area," Smith's high school coach, Patrick Walsh, told Cougar Fan. "I think he just felt most comfortable there."

At that point, all of the Cats' targets had committed elsewhere or, in the case of Johnson, reneged on their commitment to NU. Not an ideal situation for a team that was tied for last in the Big Ten in yards per carry (3.0) and was No. 8 in yards per game (117.8) – just 17.6 ahead of last-place Minnesota.

Luckily, there was more drama to come – good drama. Smith decommitted from WSU and is on board with Northwestern.

"I made my commitment(to Northwestern) while watching Mike Kafka in the East-West Shrine game where he was the Offensive MVP," Smith told Scout.com's West Recruiting Manager Brandon Huffman.

The 5-11, 185-pound Smith, who runs a 4.5 40, went on to say: "I made my decision to decommit not based on anything that Washington State has done wrong but just me following a lifelong dream of playing away from the West Coast….

"Ever since I began playing Pop Warner football, my dream has been to play Division I football in a place other than the West Coast. I have always been someone who looked for challenges, experiences and a place that I feel I could make a big impact....

"After thinking about one of my home visits with Coach Fitzgerald and Coach McCall, I began to think about what Northwestern had to offer and how it fit perfectly with my original plans that I had before the recruiting process. Northwestern had all the things I wanted in a university. They were not on the West Coast, they play a big time schedule and was tops academically and they have outstanding facilities and a great head coach in Coach Fitzgerald as well as an outstanding coaching staff that includes my running backs coach Matt McPherson….

"In my opinion, Northwestern has a great opportunity to challenge for a Rose Bowl berth with the addition of myself and the rest of the current recruiting class of 2010 and the team that is returning."

Who knows if the twists and turns are over. After all, Blake Lueders, a one-time NU target who committed to Notre Dame, ditched the Irish and committed to Stanford last week. And that after Lueders was rather unequivocal about sticking with ND after Charlie Weis' ouster. Maybe Notre Dame commit Cameron Roberson – a running back who was offered by Northwestern – will have a change of heart as well.

But whatever happens, it's already been a wild recruiting season for Northwestern's backfield, a backfield that will almost certainly include at least one running back. Which is something we couldn't say a few days ago.

Thanks for Brandon Huffman for his help with this report. You can comment on this story at the Ryan Field Message Board.

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