College of Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Virginia, NCAA Soccer, highschool soccer excessive

NICEVILLE – On paper, Northwestern had it all.

A No. 9 academic grade in the country including a third tier MBA program.

A Citrus Bowl win over Auburn that earned the ‘Cats # 10 in the 2020 AP final rankings.

But two trips to Evanston, Illinois in June brought a more humane component to rising senior Austin Firestone in Niceville.

First came an official visit when the 6 foot 5, 255 pound defensive lineman met a group of 2022 recruits and connected with a group of 2022 recruits over a 48-hour period

“It was just such a class of guys,” said Firestone. “They had the grades. They had the talent. That was a strong group, everyone was motivated. It just showed me that I was in the right place.”

Then, shortly afterwards, the unofficial visit to Mama Tosha came.

“It wasn’t just a cafeteria dinner,” said Firestone. “They really rolled out the red carpet for us and made us feel at home.”

What was once a three horse recruiting race between Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Virginia has turned into an outlier – much like Niceville’s nine straight running watches at the start of 2020.

Firestone made it official on Wednesday when he notified the Northwest’s coaching staff of his promise to join the purple-clad Big Ten program.

“There’s not much more to be said than the top 10 in football, the top 10 in academia,” said Firestone. “You are only three or four years ahead of other programs. This is a first-class university.”

Firestone has hailed his relationship with both “Coach Fitz” (head coach Pat Fitzgerald) and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, who served and coached the Cleveland Browns (2014-15) and San Francisco 49ers (2016) defensive coordinator with the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and, more recently, the Las Vegas Raiders.

After Firestone led Niceville as a junior with 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss while paving the way for an offense that averaged 431 yards and 45.4 points per game, Northwestern sees the three-star perspective playing everywhere on the defensive line Exploiting mismatches.

The chemistry with the coaching staff was enhanced by the state-of-the-art facilities on Lake Michigan, historic campus, and proximity to neighboring Chicago.

Of course, academics remain indispensable to the cerebral Firestone, a 4.0 student who sees the Kellogg School of Management – a top three MBA program in the country – as a way to achieve his ultimate goal of owning his own business .

But that’s for the future. With his commitment, Firestone can now focus on his swan song in Niceville and build on last year’s Final Four campaign.

“Niceville, we are a special school and the coaches are great,” said Firestone in the spring. “What we’re going to be this fall is insane. Some of the raw talent we have here and some of the guys who are gaining experience now is going to blow some people away.”

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