Rutgers football buzzing as Junior Day hits with recruits – Asbury Park Press

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The new Rutgers football coaching staff is promising big changes, but the biggest change of all out of Saturday might be the attitude that New Jersey recruits have toward their state’s Big Ten program.

Rutgers hosted more than 160 recruits from all corners of the state, including all of the highest-rated class of 2017 targets, as part of the first of two “Junior Days” this month.

It was the first opportunity for many of the next wave of recruits to visit Rutgers’ campus since coach Chris Ash, who was hired in December, started putting his fingerprints on the program.   

“I feel like they are definitely taking things in a different direction, like they wanted to,” Metuchen tight end Devin Miller said. “They told us to wipe everything clean that we had in our head about Rutgers prior to today because they were going to put a first impression on us. It was a pretty good one, in my opinion.”

MORE: Jafar Williams looks to boost Rutgers recruiting in South Jersey

Rutgers cobbled together a 2016 recruiting class under difficult circumstances but kept one eye on making a bigger splash in 2017.

Some prospects, like Miller, already held scholarship offers, while others, like wide receivers Eddie Lewis (Mater Dei) and Evidence Njoku (Cedar Grove), received offers Saturday.

“When I was getting recruited by the old coaching staff they would come to my school, they would tell me how much they wanted me, but they never actually showed me the type of love that I was shown today,” Lewis said.

“Just the tips that they were giving me. They showed me today that they are trying to become a better program on and off the field, and that made me reconsider my choices.”

Junior Day started with a video presentation and included a tour of the Hale Center and a weight room undergoing significant upgrades, plus time for discussion about academics and social living.

“We all know each other, and we were excited to see that everybody is interested in seeing what Coach Ash is about,” Lewis said. “We all decided that we like him and he’s a good coach, and we’re interested in what he’s doing at Rutgers.

“One person has to make that big move. I’m going to sit down and talk to some of the top prospects I know to see what we can do.”

MORE: Rutgers recruits took leap of faith on new coaches in 2001

Of the 40 total Top 10-ranked New Jersey recruits from the past four recruiting classes, Rutgers has landed just one.

“It makes you think what could be,” Miller said. “Coach Ash was telling us that the reason Ohio State had such success when he was there was they kept all the best recruits from Ohio. If we could do that in New Jersey, there could be some pretty special things happening.”

Rutgers added recruits from traditional powers St. Peter’s, Don Bosco and Timber Creek late in the 2016 cycle — a potential sign that damaged relationships are being repaired.

“We hold the cards in our hands for our class,” said Ocean quarterback Kenny Pickett, who does not yet have a Rutgers offer to add to his other four. “We could be the first class to stay home and create something at Rutgers. If we do that, there could be something special there.”

The second half of the day’s schedule allowed for smaller group meetings between recruits and position coaches.

“We got a chance to learn Coach Ash’s plans for the future and see where the program is going and meet the rest of the coaching staff,” said Pickett, whose parents sat in on a meeting with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Drew Mehringer. “They are real personal people. They are easy to talk to and very knowledgeable coaches.”

Miller, whose brother Dorian is a starting offensive lineman at Rutgers, knows more about the program than most in the room, but he didn’t feel he needed the inside scoop.

“One of the things they said in front of everybody was they are completely transparent and they tell you how it is all the time,” Miller said. “I talk to Dorian all the time, and he was telling me he is loving it because they are very straightforward guys. That’s what they preached today. It seems like they practice what they preach.”

MORE: Rutgers’ 2016 recruiting class unique given challenges

Recruits weren’t the only ones impressed.

“You get a wow factor with Coach Ash right away,” Mater Dei coach Shannon Hoadley said. “The No. 1 thing I love are the three main components of what he is building his football around: his code of ethics, his culture and his plan to win.

“I love the fact that the code of ethics and the culture is at the top of his list: what he expects his student-athletes to be and how they have to carry themselves above and beyond what they expect of themselves.”

It was a two-for-one day for Mater Dei, which also had linebacker Marvin Pierre on campus. Pierre holds a Boston College offer but not a Rutgers offer.

“He just came on the scene within the last year,” Hoadley said, “but they made it a point to seek me out as I was walking out to talk about Marvin. They didn’t see on tape how big he is in person, so that caught their eye.”

Hoadley said there was a “standing room only” crowd in the Hale Center team room for the first presentation of the day.

“It was actually amazing to see that much of a buzz,” he said. “That’s the word that was used a lot. There is a real big buzz going on.”

Rutgers also added a preferred walk-on commitment from kicker Jared Smolar for its 2016 recruiting class. The Indiana native fills a need created when Alex Barbir flipped to Penn State.

Staff Writer Ryan Dunleavy:



6 Rutgers football alums are training for 40-yard dash and other NFL Draft measurables at Parabolic Performance & Rehab in Farmingdale.
Ryan Dunleavy

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