There is little question that Northwestern lost a talented player when it was announced today that redshirt freshman Eric Wilson has been granted his release to transfer.
The outside linebacker from Redford (Mich.) Thurston did not see any game action last year but was named a practice player of the week three times -- twice on defense (for the Boston College and Iowa games) and once for special teams (Penn State). Only running back Stephen Buckley, with four such awards, earned more.
He was also lauded several times by WildcatReport sources as a very athletic player that had the quality that Northwestern most covets on defense: speed.
Northwestern's two-sentence press release today did not give a reason for Wilson's transfer. In it, head coach Pat Fitzgerald gave a customary quote that offered no hints: "We thank Eric for his contributions to the program and wish him nothing but the best in the future," he said.
Northwestern has plenty of talent returning at the linebacker position in 2013, so Wilson's sudden departure won't likely affect the Wildcats this season. But it certainly seemed like Wilson was on the fast track for the two-deep in the very near future. He may have been able to see some playing time on special teams this season.
Wilson entered Northwestern as part of the Class of 2012 as a three-star prospect. He played safety and wide receiver at Thurston and was ranked as the No. 50 safety in the country by Rivals. He was also one of those players who earned his offer from the Wildcats by turning in an impressive performance at a summer camp, and those players typically fare well in Evanston.
Wison was initially offered by Northwestern as a safety but said that his weight would determine whether he would eventually move to outside linebacker. That move came last year, his first in Evanston, when he was listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds.
Transfers are a rarity for Fitzgerald's family-oriented Northwestern program. In Fitzgerald's eight years at the helm, just four players left the program that way: Adonis Smith (UNLV), Martin Bayless (Portland State), Arby Fields (LSU for baseball) and Cooper Gerami (Louisiana-Lafayette).
It was not immediately known where Wilson may eventually wind up. Assuming he sits out one season, he would have three years of eligibility remaining.
On the bright side, Wilson's transfer should leave Fitzgerald with one more scholarship to recruit with for the Class of 2014. With 13 spots already filled, Northwestern could now have three, instead of two scholarships remaining.