NCF On The Trail: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Two things have become clear in recruiting: If you want a top quarterback you had better move quickly; each prospect’s decision affects others. That’s why the upcoming decision of Jarrett Guarantano looms large over the 2016 class.

The longest days in Big Ten recruiting

February, 6, 2015
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Recruiting can be a non-stop grind for the coaches who have to procure that talent. Some days are longer than others. We talked to several Big Ten head coaches this week and asked them to describe their longest days out on the trail. Here are their stories:

Nebraska's Mike Riley

"It seemed the whole thing was full of long, memorable days. But when recruiting reopened in January after the dead period, I’ve got our personnel staff and our coaches usually making my schedule, where I need to go. So my first day out, I visited North and Central High in Omaha. I did a home visit with Michael Decker. I went to the Outland (Trophy) banquet, and I did another home visit with Daishon Neal. And then it was 10 o’clock at night. It was a full day, and it was a great day, because I hadn’t been in those high schools before. I loved meeting the coaches and seeing our players at the high schools. I always like home visits. I think it’s a real important part of the process."

Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald

"My last week of recruiting, I started on Sunday, flew from Chicago to the Bay Area. Then Sunday night, flew down to L.A. I was in L.A. on Monday and then Monday night I flew to Dallas, spent Tuesday in Dallas, flew Tuesday night to Houston, spent Wednesday in Houston, flew to Atlanta, spent Thursday in Atlanta, and then spent Friday in Chicago. Spent a lot of time at Chick-fil-A. It was a long week and our staff did a great job."

Michigan State's Mark Dantonio

"It hit me when I came out of a hotel room one day. I stayed in the same chain of hotels, and I walked out of the room and down the hall and I couldn't remember what room I was in. I walked back and took a guess on which room I was in, just to check my key to make sure I was in the same room. I was basically going from place to place for two weeks and sometimes two places in a day. I think I was in Orlando. I got back in the room. There were three doors and I guessed the right one."

Penn State's James Franklin

"One day I remember from a previous year. I had just taken a job [at Vanderbilt] and I was flying around and my luggage got lost and I wore the same suit for five days. I'm a hugger, and my hugs got a little less intimate as the week went on. My luggage couldn't keep up with me. Every time I got to a city or a state, the next day the luggage would get there and I'd already gone to the next state. It wasn't real fun. I was going to Target and buying underwear and undershirts, all that kind of stuff, and kept dousing myself with deodorant and cologne. It didn't help that we were flying commercially."

Rutgers' Kyle Flood

"We had one day where we went from New Jersey to Chicago to Tampa and then back to New Jersey. We started at about 6 in the morning and I finished at about 2 in the morning. I was with Norries Wilson and Jim Panagos at different legs of the trip. Norries came with me to Chicago and then to Tampa. He stayed there and went to Jacksonville. And then I picked up Coach Panagos in Tampa and he came back with me. We were fortunate. Everything ran according to schedule, the way I like it."

Maryland's Randy Edsall

"One day, I was here in Maryland, I was down on the east coast of Florida, then to the west coast, and then all the way to Mobile, Alabama. Then the next day I was in Charlotte and then Virginia Beach. Got all that done, really, in a day and a half. You kind of think, 'hey, what day is it, what time is it,' all those sort of things. But those are the things you have to do."

Minnesota's Jerry Kill

"I've gone from Mobile to Mississippi to Texas, and back to Chicago. But the most unique story I can tell you is something that happened for the first time ever this year. I was on a plane that was starting to go down the runway when I had a kid commit. Seriously, we were going down the runway, I didn't think we'd hear from the kid and he calls me. I'm trying to get the pilot to keep the wheels down so I can talk to him."

Indiana's Kevin Wilson

"My longest day was when we finished up on Martin Luther King day. We had a team leadership program going on, we had recruits on campus and then we had to leave Bloomington and go to Shadyshide, Ohio. By the time we get back to Columbus, it's about 1 a.m. Shoot, there was one day where we had official visits going, I was interviewing a couple of guys for behind-the-scenes jobs, and we had a walk-on day. Those kinds of days wear you out, and you're like, "Who planned all this [stuff]? You're killing me?" And it was me. I'm the guy who planned it. Sometimes we all get screwed by travel and those days, and you're like 'hey, just got to get it done. I'm kind of tired. I want to put my feet up here for like 15 minutes and take a little nap.'"
Rutgers exceeded expectations in its first season as a Big Ten member, going 8-5 with a dominant victory over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl. How did the Scarlet Knights fare with their first recruiting class in the Big Ten? Rutgers finalized a 25-member class Wednesday that was heavy on linemen but also featured some solid additions at wide receiver, defensive back and elsewhere.

After a swell of attrition before signing day in 2014, Rutgers bounced back a bit this year.

ESPN.com caught up with coach Kyle Flood to discuss the class.

You talked a lot today about becoming a championship program. How does this class put you closer to that position?

Kyle Flood: Competing for championships is our goal every year. This year, we were fortunate enough to win a bowl championship, which was great. Now we want to win division championships, conference championships, final-four wins and ultimately national championships. This class strengthens our team in every way. Adding nine linemen was important to me. Getting the quarterback we wanted was important to me. Getting the tailback we wanted in probably the most talented room in our building, to add a guy like Charles Snorweah, that was important to me also.

How does playing in the Big Ten affect your approach to recruiting linemen?

Flood: You always want to have great players at every position. What playing in the Big Ten emphasizes is you'd better have depth, more than a couple of them. We were very fortunate this year; we started the same five offensive linemen in every game. We were not that deep on either line and I don't know if we could have sustained if we had a few injuries. I don't think we can count on that every year. We built some depth last year with the players we took and now taking four more, we've continued to build some depth.

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
AP Photo/Mel EvansKyle Flood and his Rutgers staff recruited a class heavy on linemen that should help continue their transition into the Big Ten.
The offensive line is always a hard spot for players to play early. Do you see that potential with any of these recruits?

Flood: The two inside guys are probably the most physically ready, [Zach] Vanesky and [Jonah] Jackson. Zach Vanesky is a two-time Golden Gloves champion boxer. I believe he's 19-4 in the first year he's ever wrestled. So he's probably more physically ready to go than some of the other guys, and Jonah would probably be second.

How about the defensive line recruits?

KF: I think Marques Ford. Marques has a chance to come in and impact our program right away as a pass rusher. A guy like Sidney Gopre, with a year of prep school, will be physically more mature. We recruited Isaiah Johnson for that purpose. And then you get a guy like Kaiwan Lewis, who just transferred here from South Carolina. He's a guy that's played in a lot of games. When you take a guy like that, you always count on him contributing right away.

What effect did the Big Ten membership have as you recruited both in your area and in the traditional Big Ten footprint?

KF: Here's where it comes up: If you're recruiting the right players, they're competitive and those guys want to compete for championships. Playing in a conference like the Big Ten gives you access to the [Playoff], gives you access to the national championship if you have the right kind of season. We saw that play out this year with Ohio State. There's no doubt the best players in our recruiting footprint want to play in the best conference and we feel like the Big Ten is the best conference.

Where it also helps is the visibility of the Big Ten Conference, of the Big Ten Network, on a national level. That allows us to go to Chicago and get an offensive lineman [Jack Shutack] when the pool in our traditional footprint is not what it normally is. It allows us to go to California and get a linebacker [Isaiah Johnson], it allows us to go to Georgia and get a tight end [Anthony Folkerts]. Those things become more possible because of the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network.

You have so many great players in the state, Pennsylvania and the region. How much time did you spend in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, the states most associated with the Big Ten?

KF: We don't spend as much time there; that's pretty obvious. We recruit them for very specific purposes and we try to identify a position of need before we go to our satellite areas: Texas, California, Illinois, Georgia. In last year's recruiting class, we were able to get a quarterback out of Michigan. This year, we were able to get an offensive tackle out of Illinois. Last year, we took a tight end out of Texas. This year, we took a tight end out of Georgia. If you identify your needs well enough, you can go to a satellite area and be really effective.

What are your thoughts on the defensive backs you brought in?

KF: A guy like Blessuan Austin from Queens was a 6-foot-1 high school quarterback who becomes a corner at Milford Academy. I was able to see him play live, another guy who, because of a year of prep school, is more physically mature. Guys like him would have the inside track, but the players that can help us win Big Ten football games, they're going to be on the field.

You said you got the quarterback you wanted. What about Michael [Dare] stood out most to you?

KF: Michael's your traditional pro-style quarterback. We were able to have him in camp for a live evaluation. We got a chance to see what we realized right away was a pretty big arm. Michael was not a known commodity when he came to camp, and then we were able to move him around a little bit. He's a two-sport athlete, football and basketball, so he can do everything we want to do within our system. It's just going to be a matter of him getting with our coaching staff and learning the system, but a prolific passer in high school.

Completed class: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

February, 4, 2015
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Rutgers has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Marques Ford, DE -- East Bay High School, Florida

Four-star
Blessuan Austin, CB -- Milford Academy, New York

Three-stars
Najee Clayton, WR -- Paramus Catholic High School, New Jersey
Nakia Griffin, TE-H -- Tenafly High School, New Jersey
Jack Shutack, OT -- Nazareth Academy, Illinois
Michael Dare, QB-PP -- Memorial Sr. High School, New Jersey
Jonah Jackson, OT -- Penncrest High School, Pennsylvania
Sidney Gopre, OLB -- Milford Academy, New Jersey
Anthony Folkerts, TE-Y -- Valwood School, Georgia
Zach Venesky, OG -- Valley View High School, Pennsylvania
Jon Bateky, DE -- Poolesville Senior High School, Maryland
Rashad Blunt, WR -- Creekside High School, Florida
Willington Previlon, DE -- Orange High School, New Jersey
Ron'Dell Carter, DE -- Long Reach High School, Maryland
Ronnie James, S -- Glassboro High School, New Jersey
Deonte Roberts, OLB -- Erasmus Hall High School, New York
Charles Snorweah, RB -- Pennsbury High School, Pennsylvania
Kamaal Seymour, DT -- Grand Street Campus High School, New York
Jarius Adams, CB -- Dwyer High School, Florida
Jawuan Harris, WR -- Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, Florida
Trevor Morris, OLB -- Malvern Prep, Pennsylvania
Isaiah Johnson, ILB -- City College of San Francisco
Dontae Owens, WR -- Reading High School, Pennsylvania
Manny Taylor, OT -- Roman Catholic High School, Pennsylvania

Ungraded
Kaiwan Lewis, OLB -- University of South Carolina
Signing day is less than 48 hours away. While you breathlessly await your team's official unveiling of its class and chew your fingernails over late decisions, a great debate continues over whether recruiting rankings really tell us anything.

For a little more enlightenment, we decided to look at this year's first-team All-Big Ten honorees to see where each player ranked as a prospect. Any player on offense or defense who made either the coaches' first team or was a first-team pick by the media was categorized through their ESPN Recruiting rankings (we'll save kicker prospect rankings for another conversation).

Here's what we found:

Five-star recruits

None

Four-star recruits (7)
Three-star recruits (14)
Two-star recruits (2)
Not ranked (3)

* -- junior college recruits

Three-star recruits typically don't generate a lot of hype on signing day, but that's where the bulk of the Big Ten's top performers checked in out of high school. That includes 2014 Big Ten offensive player of the year and Doak Walker Award winner Gordon; Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and Outland Trophy winner Scherff; Coleman, who also rushed for 2,000 yards; Big Ten receiver of the year Lippett; Big Ten linebacker of the year Hull; Big Ten defensive back of the year Drummond; a possible first-round pick in Waynes; 2013 Big Ten defensive lineman of the year Calhoun.

Seven four-star prospects more than lived up to their rankings, especially Barrett, Bosa and Zettel in the 2014 season. But there were almost as many two-star and not-ranked prospects as there were four-star recruits on the All-Big Ten first team. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin and Minnesota were able to unearth those diamonds in the rough.

The All-Big Ten second teams are another eclectic mix. They include four-star prospects who fulfilled their promise such as Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett, Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs and Wisconsin center Dan Voltz. There are also a whole bunch of three-star guys who more than reached their potential, like Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, Minnesota running back David Cobb, Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker. Then there are the true overachievers, with two-star prospects like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Northwestern's Nick VanHoose, and guys who were almost completely overlooked in Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin and Minnesota defensive back Eric Murray.

The lesson here? Nothing is really guaranteed in recruiting rankings. While you may be focusing on the four- and five-star guys on Wednesday with good reason, sometimes the two- and three-star prospects become the ones you really have to watch on Saturdays.
Rutgers now has a headliner for its 2015 class following the commitment of ESPN 300 defensive end Marques Ford. Below, see what the Under Armour All-America adds to head coach Kyle Flood's program:


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In its inaugural Big Ten season, Rutgers finished with a 7-5 record, beating Washington State, Michigan, Indiana and Maryland to close out the season. The Scarlet Knights had a winning record on the season, but finished 3-5 within the conference. The recruiting efforts going forward will dictate their future success within the Big Ten, so the 2015 class is vitally important to that effort.


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The center of Bill Snyder’s program at Kansas State is local players, and K-State has done a masterful job with the 2015 class in the Sunflower State. Plus, Utah hasn’t grabbed a lot of recruiting headlines so far this season, but one Pac 12 recruiter says it should be.


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video
Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M are trying, but it’s going to take a lot to get Penn State defensive tackle commit Adam McLean to change his mind. Plus, James Franklin's ability to spread the Penn State brand in Washington, D.C., was on full display Monday afternoon.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

October, 7, 2014
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We are in the thick of the college football season and recruiting has started to heat up. With commits taking visits, offers going out and prospects committing, there is plenty to talk about within the Big Ten.


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Best of the visits: Big Ten

October, 5, 2014
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The slate of games this weekend churned out some exciting -- and in some cases, unexpected -- results for the Big Ten. Rutgers won its first conference game, Northwestern upset Wisconsin and Michigan State made a push toward the College Football Playoff.

A few of those teams had excellent opportunities to impress visiting prospects as well, so here is a look at some of the best recruit reactions via social media.

Michigan vs. Rutgers:

Rutgers won its first Big Ten conference game Saturday against Michigan in what turned out to be an exciting game. A blocked field goal and some explosive offensive plays gave the Scarlet Knights the win in front of several big recruiting targets.

Wide receiver Lawrence Cager is still considering Rutgers and picked a good game to visit for. The recruits could sense this was going to be an exciting game beforehand, as Michigan was in town and it was a night game.

 
Cager enjoyed himself, but there is still some steep competition for the 2015 receiver as he is also considering Ohio State, Notre Dame and Alabama, among others. Either way, this was an excellent opportunity for Rutgers to get him on campus.

 
While the game itself was exciting, there was also some pre-game excitement for the Rutgers coaching staff. Linebacker Jonathan Pollock decided to commit to the Scarlet Knights while on his visit and tweeted a picture moments after.

 
Cager and Pollock were also joined by 2015 defensive end Shareef Miller, among other prospects.

 
The reaction from the recruits so far has been positive, and all have said there is some excitement around the Rutgers program right now.

Michigan State vs. Nebraska:

This was the marquee matchup in the Big Ten this week, as both teams were ranked in the Top 25.

Nebraska made the game close late in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans dominated most of the game. The win for Michigan State helped solidify what prospects think about the program right now and the direction the Spartans are headed.

One of the bigger visitors on campus was 2015 linebacker Cassius Peat, who flew in from Arizona for his official visit.

 
Peat had plenty of other recruits around him, and that included 2016 Michigan State commitment Cameron Chambers, who was trying to recruit for his future team.

 
If Michigan State can close out its season strong and make it into the College Football Playoff, there's no telling what that could do for the future of Spartans recruiting. For now, a home win against a Top 25 team will do just fine.

Maryland vs. Ohio State:

The outcome wasn’t what Maryland had hoped for in front of a sold-out crowd, but the atmosphere and opportunity was still positive.

A few local prospects made the trip, including Maryland commitment E.J. Donahue.

 
Donahue had a good opportunity to help the coaching staff recruit, as there was a good list of uncommitted 2015 and 2016 prospects in attendance. In fact, there were even a few 2017 recruits, including Keyshwan Johnson Jr.

 
The California receiver made the trip with his dad, and there might have been a few reasons to pick this game as the younger Johnson's cousin, Michael Thomas, plays for the Buckeyes.

Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

October, 3, 2014
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Maryland, Rutgers and Michigan State are all hosting big in-conference opponents, which means they will all have important recruiting visitors on campus. The three programs have the biggest games within the conference and not coincidentally, they have also have the biggest visitor lists.

Here is a look at the top recruits visiting this weekend.

Michigan State vs. Nebraska


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Early Offer: Sunderland a key get for OU 

September, 14, 2014
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Oklahoma landed two high-profile recruits this weekend, but scoring a pledge from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. is about as big as it gets. Plus, Boston College will be able to use its victory over then top-10 USC as a big selling point on the recruiting trail.


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Best of the visits: Big Ten

September, 14, 2014
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Rutgers and Penn State played in what turned out to be an exciting game, right down to the wire. There were a few other big home games for Big Ten teams, which means there were important recruits on campus as well.

Here is a look through social media as to how those visits went.

Rutgers vs. Penn State:

It was a packed house and an exciting atmosphere for Rutgers first Big Ten game. There were a ton of local prospects including No. 5 ranked 2016 target Kareem Walker.


He and the other visiting prospects had good seats to take in the contest, and fellow ESPN Jr. 300 tight end Naseir Upshur gave the fans a look at their view.

This was a big game for both teams, as Penn State heavily recruits the East Coast and New Jersey. The targets for both teams said they are watching closely as to how the programs compete with a new coach at Penn State and a new conference for the Scarlet Knights.

Going into the visit a lot of the recruits said they were hoping to see an exciting game and they got just that.
Maryland vs. West Virginia:

Rutgers wasn’t the only Big Ten team hosting important prospects. Maryland had a handful of big time recruits for the game against the Mountaineers.

While the outcome on the field wasn’t what Maryland was hoping for, getting ESPN 300 athlete Ryan Davis and No. 2 ranked Byron Cowart is a huge win for the program.
Michigan vs Miami (Ohio):

The Wolverines came away with a win on Saturday, and while it wasn’t a huge visit weekend, Michigan did still have visitors on campus.

A few of the commits, including Tyree Kinnel, Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Alex Malzone were able to reconnect on the visit and spend some time at their future home.

Malzone took some video of the trip and gave the fans a look at what it’s like to walk out of Michigan’s tunnel as a recruit on game day.
New Jersey has produced 32 ESPN 300 prospects since the 2013 class, so it’s hardly a coincidence that college coaches from all over have made the state a priority on the recruiting trail.

Those elite prospects don’t always stay local, either, as 14 schools have benefited from the wealth of talent. While recruiters will always go where the talent is, college coaches believe the prospects from the Garden State come well prepared, for a variety of reasons.

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood has recruited the area for years and believes the high school coaches in his home state are a big reason there is a continuous stream of talent.

“I think there’s a value placed on the high school football coaches in New Jersey and as I travel around, recruiting these schools for a long time, you go into a New Jersey high school, you can sense in the community how important that position is. We’ve got some of the best high school coaches in the country right here in New Jersey,” Flood said. “There might be other places in the country with talent, but I’m not sure how important football is in the community. I think in New Jersey, football is very important and that all leads to why high schools are recruited the way they are.”

Flood doesn’t believe there has been more competition, necessarily, for New Jersey prospects recently, but that there might be more coverage since Rutgers has joined the Big Ten. What used to be battles with out-of-conference programs are now Big Ten battles.

Programs such as Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin, which landed ESPN 300 prospects in the last four classes from the state, know how valuable to the state is in recruiting and make it a priority.

Penn State, for example, has placed three of its coaches in the state, dividing the areas up strategically between receivers coach Josh Gattis, quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne and offensive coordinator John Donovan.

“We do a really good job making sure we’re splitting up the territory in the state. It’s really easy for us because it’s just a three-hour drive to New Jersey,” Gattis said. “We consider the region very important to us, and that’s the state of Pennsylvania, the state of New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and D.C. It’s a great state with a number of talented athletes. They play great football and we have a huge Penn State support within the state, so it’s important to us.”

The Nittany Lions have landed 10 New Jersey prospects in the past two classes, including five ESPN 300 prospects.

The recruits themselves have even noticed how many programs come through their state. Running back Kareem Walker, the No. 5 prospect in the Class of 2016, hails from New Jersey and has already seen his interest from college programs spike through the roof.

Walker holds offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers and more.

The ESPN Junior 300 prospect understands his ability has attracted the offers, but believes his home state has something to do with the interest from schools out of the region.

“I think the schools in the South know, without a doubt in their mind, that guys from Jersey can compete. We’re just as fast, and just as strong as a guy that’s from their hometown state,” Walker said. “I think Jersey guys can be just as strong and as fast as the Southern guys and it’s not a problem trying to adapt at those schools. I definitely think that’s why they come up and recruit guys from Jersey.”

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