Porter goes out on top
Just about every high school football player has the same dream: to win a state championship as a senior. To go out on top. To raise a trophy in his final game as a prep.
Northwestern commit Cameron Porter got to live that dream last week.
The three-star running back and his Cincinnati La Salle Lancers beat Masillon Washington, 34-17, to claim the Ohio Division II state title last Thursday night at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
It was Porter's second state title -- he was a freshman on the last Lancers team to claim the state championship, in 2016.
But this one, in his senior year, after four years on the varsity squad, was special.
"It feels amazing," he said with a sigh. "All the hard work and dedication finally paid off. We won the the GLC (Greater Catholic League). We won the state championship."
Porter scored three of La Salle's four touchdowns in the title-clinching win. He scored on 6-yard and 9-yard runs in the second quarter, and he tallied the TD that broke the game open at the end of the third quarter on a 3-yard run off of a direct snap.
He finished with 18 carries for 57 yards and the three TDs as the Lancers rolled up 337 yards on the ground to overwhelm the Tigers.
The win gave LaSalle its fourth title over the last six years. Ironically, the first two of those titles were won by teams that featured Lancers-turned-Wildcats.
Stars of the 2014 team that claimed the first title in school history included defensive tackle Jordan Thompson (NU recruiting class of 2015) and running back Jeremy Larkin (2016). Larkin was the leading rusher on the 2015 team that made it two in a row.
It's pretty remarkable when you think about it: La Salle opened in 1960 and played football for 54 years before finally winning its first state title. Then, they won three more over the next six years.
Porter doesn't really know why the Lancers suddenly started winning trophies -- but he has a theory.
"I don't know what it is," he said. "I can't tell you, but I know something changed. I think Jeremy Larkin and Jordan Thompson gave us a different kind of leadership and a different type of talent. Players started to come in droves to La Salle."
Just two days after winning the state championship, Porter was in Evanston for a big official visit weekend for the Wildcats.
He didn't have to be there. Porter took his official visit back in May, and he wasn't scheduled for an unofficial visit, either. He just wanted to make the trip because three of his classmates -- and one more prospect who became a classmate on Tuesday -- were on campus. He couldn't just stay home.
"It was a celebration with all of the commits," said Porter. "I knew there were going to be some guys there that I haven't met yet."
Porter had already met SB Marshall Lang, who goes to Cincinnati St. Xavier, La Salle's rival in the GLC. But he hadn't yet shaken the hands of DE Jaiden Cameron -- another Ohioan -- or CB Nigel Williams, who was Northwestern's most recent commit, in October.
As it turns out, the prospect Porter spent a lot of time with -- DT Jordan Butler -- flipped his commitment from Vanderbilt to Northwestern just two days after returning from Evanston.
Porter wasn't the only 2020 commit who showed up on Saturday at the Walter Athletics Center, either. So did DE Sean McLaughlin, who won an Illinois state title himself, and OL Peter Skoronski, among others.
Porter thinks that spending time with his future teammates now will pay dividends once they are all wearing Purple next season.
"Building camaraderie and getting comfortable with each other is so important, before we start our text chapter together," he said.
He says that he's become "super close" with several other classmates through the group chat they all share, as well as through social media. He is probably closest to CB Jaheem Joseph and OL TeRah Edwards, who Porter calls "the funniest guy in the class."
While Porter had a memorable season this fall, Northwestern did too -- for all the wrong reasons.
The Wildcats, coming off of a Big Ten West division championship and an appearance in the conference title game in 2018, failed spectacularly this season. They finished 3-9 overall and just 1-8 in the Big Ten, the program's worst mark since 1998.
While Porter hated watching his future teammates suffer through a miserable year, he didn't let it shake his confidence in his commitment one iota.
"It happens with the best programs, so (this season) didn't phase me at all," he said.
And Porter knows what he's talking about. In three of his four years at La Salle the Lancers went 37-7. Yet last season, his junior year, they finished 4-5 and failed to make the state playoffs.
So Porter looks at Northwestern's 2019 season as a one-year aberration, just like La Salle's 2018 season. He is confident that the Wildcats will return next year to their winning ways. He knows that the Cats won a program-record 45 games and three bowls over the previous four seasons.
"I trust Coach Fitz and the coaches," he said. "It just makes me want to come in and help get things back on track."
Porter may get that opportunity as a true freshman next fall. Northwestern running backs spent as much time in the training room than they did on the field last season. Isaiah Bowser, NU's leading rusher in 2018, was limited to five games because of injury. John Moten IV played in five before retiring with a few games to go. Jesse Brown played just four game while battling injuries.
By the season finale against Illinois, Northwestern had one scholarship running back available: redshirt freshman Drake Anderson. The Wildcats had to move safety Coco Azema and wide receiver Ray Niro to the backfield -- and that patchwork group, along with QB Andrew Marty, ran for 378 yards to pound the Illini in a 29-10 win.
Porter is willing to do "anything they ask me to do to help the team," he thinks that he "can do a little bit of everything" for the Wildcats.
"I would call myself a physical, aggressive runner," said the 5-foot-11, 208-pounder. "I run hard between the tackles, but I can make people miss and catch the ball out of the backfield."
Lancers have left a big imprint on Northwestern's program in recent years. Porter hopes to be the next one.
Thompson was a rotation player all four years and multiple-year starter for the Wildcats. Larkin, who looked like a breakout star as a sophomore in 2018 before he was forced to retire due to a spinal condition after the fourth week of the season, is now a student coach.
Porter said that both Thompson and Larkin played a role in his wanting to become a Wildcat, as he had relationships with both of them before NU ever started recruiting him. Maybe most instrumental of all was Thompson's mother, who is close friends with Larkin's mother and was always talking up the program.
"She kept talking about how great Northwestern treated its players and how great the program is, so it was always in the back of my mind when I started the recruiting process," he said.
Porter, who plans to sign next Wednesday, Dec. 18, the first day of the early signing period, now is focused on continue the pipeline from La Salle to Northwestern. He wants to see a couple other Lancers trade in red for purple once their high school careers are over.
The Wildcats have already extended offers to 2021 CB Devonta Smith and 2022 RB Gi'Bran Payne, and Porter says he's already working on recruiting both of them. He brought Smith with him to see the Wildcats play Michigan State in October, as a matter of fact, where Smith, according to Porter, "loved the campus, loved the facilities and loved the coaches."
"I'm definitely in their ear every day talking about Northwestern," he said.