Northwestern likely has its replacement for rising senior quarterback Clayton Thorson once he moves on after the 2018 season, and it's somebody who could be a huge difference-maker. Former Clemson quarterback Hunter Johnson -- a five-star prospect from the class of 2017 -- is transferring to Evanston and will play for the Wildcats.
"I'm thrilled to be a part of the Wildcat family," Johnson said in a release from the school. "The program that Coach Fitzgerald and his staff have built at Northwestern is phenomenal, and one my family has had the opportunity to get to know and trust. I am thankful to coach [Dabo] Swinney and the Clemson family for all their support over the past year-and-a-half. My focus now is on doing everything in my power to help this team prepare to compete for a Big Ten West title. Go 'Cats!"
How big is this for the Wildcats and what kind of impact can Johnson make? Here are three things to know:
1. Johnson is the highest-rated QB recruit of the Pat Fitzgerald era: Northwestern has seen some great quarterbacks come through the program since Fitzgerald took over as its coach in 2006, including Thorson, Mike Kafka and Trevor Siemian, but none of them compare to Johnson from a recruiting perspective.
Johnson was ranked No. 2 nationally among pro-style passers in his class, No. 30 overall regardless of position and is the only five-star prospect of the talented group of quarterbacks Fitzgerald has coached in Evanston. He earned an invitation to the Elite 11 camp in the summer of 2016, and was the MVP of the 2017 U.S. Army All-American Game.
He threw for 6,657 yards and 69 touchdowns over his four seasons at Brownsburg High School, and added 727 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
2. He has experience, but not a ton of it: Johnson didn't come in for Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant when Bryant got injured in the loss at Syracuse in 2017. Zerrick Cooper did. But don't let that fool you, Johnson isn't walking into this totally blind when he's eligible in 2019.
He appeared in seven games for the Tigers as a true freshman, completing 21-of-27 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown. He completed all five of his passes and tossed a touchdown in a 28-14 win over Wake Forest in October, and went 7-of-8 for 144 yards against The Citadel in November. That earned him the No. 2 spot going into the rivalry game against South Carolina.
"Just based on (The Citadel) game, Hunter graded better and played better," Swinney said, according to 247Sports. "Really proud of him and his development because he's worked really hard. He's made a lot of progress. That's the thing you love to see because sometimes you're just getting practice opportunity to see guys improve. Zerrick has done a phenomenal job for us. We see them everyday, every practice, every meeting. At the end of the day, you have to take that to the field. I think last week Hunter played better."
He wasn't Bryant's primary backup in 2017 early, but he kept fighting and earned the role late for a team that made the College Football Playoff for the third straight year.
3. There's a family connection: Evanston, Illinois, is just under 200 miles from Johnson's hometown of Brownsburg, which isn't exactly an easy trip. But for Johnson, it could be a familiar one.
Johnson's older brother Cole was a safety for the program from 2013-16, serving primarily as a scout team player for Fitzgerald. While Northwestern wasn't a factor in the younger Johnson's recruitment coming out of high school, his brother's time there likely helped Fitzgerald understand his family and what Hunter brings to the program.
"We are ecstatic to add a player of Hunter's caliber and character to our program," Fitzgerald said in the statement. "He comes from an outstanding family, one we've had the opportunity to know for many years, and he will fit right in to the culture we continue to build here in Evanston. I'm excited for the opportunity to be his coach and look forward to him joining our football family on campus this month."