Five recruits enroll early for RU spring practice


Chris Laviano is as curious as everyone else.

The former Holy Trinity (N.Y.) High School quarterback has more invested than most in the Rutgers football team’s new offensive coordinator, who has yet to be announced.

But Laviano, one of five early enrollees from the Scarlet Knights’ 2013 recruiting class, has kept faith.

“It’s going to be [head] coach [Kyle] Flood’s offense,” Laviano said Monday, “so I’m not too worried about how it’s going to change.”

Flood’s coordinator search began Jan. 18, when former play-caller Dave Brock took the head coaching position at Delaware. Flood said he would not discount in-house candidates like quarterbacks coach Rob Spence. But he made clear his next coordinator — the program’s fourth in as many seasons — must have previous play-calling experience.

Flood, Brock and Spence each spent time courting Laviano during a three-year period.

Flood suggested to Laviano, the 35th-best quarterback in 2013 according to Rivals.com, he enroll early.

“I thought it was a good idea,” Laviano said. “I thought it would be in the best interest of my future career. I made that move.”

Flood, a Queens native who played in the same New York Catholic league as Laviano, recruited Long Island under former head coach Greg Schiano. Following Schiano’s move to the NFL, endorsers lauded Flood’s relationships with high school coaches in the tri-state area.

He helped maintain last year’s recruiting class — considered by many the best in program history — despite a short timeframe to do so. Following yesterday’s National Signing Day, Flood can now focus on developing talent.

“I think the challenge of this year’s recruiting class was taking nine assistant coaches from nine different areas and really getting them to know the players, getting the recruits to know them,” Flood said yesterday. “We had a lot of moving parts this year.”

Nadir Barnwell does not have to worry about coaching stability.

The Knights’ lone four-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, is part of a host of defensive backs who plan to vie for playing time under defensive coordinator Robb Smith.

Smith, the lone holdover from Schiano’s staff, guided a Knights defense that finished fourth in scoring in 2012.

But four starting defensive backs departed after the season, and Smith’s recruiting must take focus.

He has certainly earned trust.

“I feel comfortable because I know what he’s talking about,” Barnwell, an early enrollee, said Monday. “Watching the defense, you know Coach Smith knows what he’s doing, and he knows what he wants from his defense.”

Barnwell said the defensive staff’s track record of developing NFL-level defensive backs factored into his commitment. Barnwell grew up in nearby Piscataway, where he said he and his family grew at ease with Rutgers.

He will sit out spring practice following offseason shoulder surgery.

“Even though I won’t be playing in the spring, at least I’ll know all the drills,” Barnwell said. “My body will get used to it. I’ll know all the coverage, so I’ll still have an advantage.”

His roommate, Delon Stephenson, hopes for similar results.

The former 2012 commit spent the fall at Milford (N.Y.) Academy because of academic issues. His brother, Daryl, is a sophomore defensive lineman.

“It sucked when I first got there,” Stephenson said of prep school. “I didn’t want to be there. I just wanted to leave. But I talked to my mom, my brother. They helped a lot.”

Smith, both Stephensons’ primary recruiter, will likely serve as a support system. Delon Stephenson, a high school free safety, said the coaching staff told him he will likely play cornerback at Rutgers.

Delon Stephenson has plenty to prove with the Knights, namely adjusting to an added workload. He will have his chance.

“[Smith] wants me to succeed,” he said.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.


By Tyler Barto

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