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June 21, 2013As Tyler Lancaster unpacks his things on Sunday, when he reports to Evanston for summer school, he might be thinking about the meteoric rise he experienced as a recruit just a little over a year ago, when he became the poster boy for prospects who used strong camp performances to transform themselves from mid-major to blue-chip prospects.
The offensive lineman from Plainfield (Ill.) East had offers from four MAC schools when he showed up at the Nike Football Training Camp at the University of Illinois on June 3, 2012. His showing there impressed former Ohio State center LeCharles Bentley enough for Bentley to invite him to the prestigious Nike "The Opening" later that summer, an event for the top 150 prospects in the country.
Then, just five days later, his performance at Northwestern's one-day camp on June 8 earned him a scholarship offer from head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Later that same day he committed to the Wildcats, giving the program its third pledge in two days.
So in the space of just a few hours over a five-day period, Lancaster had gone from a MAC to a Big Ten player; from a prospect hoping for a shot to play with the big boys to one of the big boys.
You might think that a player that rocketed up the recruiting charts that quickly might be stunned at his rapid rise. Lancaster, though, thought he merely got what he deserved.
"I remember going through the recruiting process and feeling cheated [before that]," said Lancaster. "I'd see these other guys get major offers, and I knew I could compete with them.
"When I went to those camps, other people started seeing me like I saw myself. I knew I could beat those guys, so it wasn't a surprise. I just did what I knew I could do."
Now, he'll get a chance to see what he can do at the next level at Northwestern.
Lancaster was initially offered by NU coaches as an offensive lineman; the question would be whether he would play guard or center. But as he begins his career as a Wildcat, it will be as a defensive tackle.
Lancaster learned about the position shift just this spring, but it was another development that he saw coming. Because last June 7, the day before Lancaster attended Northwestern's camp, Brad North committed to the Wildcats as a center. So Northwestern coaches, who were impressed by Lancaster's athleticism, worked him out on both sides of the ball, just in case.
"It was always in the back of my head, that I might play on the defensive side," said Lancaster. "They didn't confirm that until two months ago, but I thought they might do it the whole time."
Lancaster is excited about the move, even though he was primarily a center at Plainfield East last season and played only part-time at both defensive tackle and defensive end.
"I'm more of a veteran as an offensive lineman, but I like defense more," he said. "I like hitting guys as hard as I can. It's a little more of a brutal nature [on defense]. It's taking guys down rather than assignments."
Lancaster thinks that his foot speed and explosiveness off the line of scrimmage will serve him well on defense. He's been working these last several months on improving his agility and footwork. He has been lifting weights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and working on agility and speed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On top of that, he took a three-mile run three times a week.
Coaches want Lancaster to come into camp at about 275 pounds, and he is right on the mark right now, carrying 274 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame the last time he weighed himself.
Lancaster is excited to officially kick off his college career on Sunday. He will be taking two classes this summer -- Astronomy and Bioethics -- and will probably major in engineering.
Next fall, Lancaster will be rooming with tackle Blake King, a fellow incoming freshman, from Shorewood, Ill. Then the fun will really begin.
You might think that a pair of big men from the far south suburbs of Chicago would have a lot of similarities and live together like two peas in a pod. But the two of them are more like the odd couple, despite the fact that they grew up so close to each other.
"We get along well, but the differences are pretty amazing," he said. "He's the country boy, while I'm more of the city slicker. Even though he lives about 15 miles away, he talks like he's from the South."
Already, the needling has started.
Lancaster knows that learning a new position while getting strong enough to compete in the Big Ten is a tall task and that he will most likely redshirt next season. However, he expects to climb the depth chart and open coaches' eyes the same way he did at those camps a year ago.
"I want to beat some guys out," he said. "If I don't get playing time, I at least want to get considered for playing time. I want to play."