September 25, 2018 | ° F

Early enrollees adjust to life in college

It was strange for offensive lineman recruit Marcus Applefield to see deer standing around with no guns pointed at them as he walked into the Hale Center.

“There were about eight surrounding a tree. I’m like, ‘Wow, those deer are so lucky,’” the Weeki Wachee, Fla., native said Jan. 27 at the Rutgers football team’s introductory media event for five Rutgers early enrollees.

Applefield, tight end Logan Lister, defensive back Kamren Lott, linebacker Brandon Russell and defensive tackle Eric Wiafe comprise the class of early signings. Minnesota transfer quarterback Philip Nelson is also an early enrollee, but is ineligible to play next season per NCAA transfer rules.

The five eligible players graduated high school early for a head start in college football. That involves adjusting to college life and, for three of the five, the northeast.

There is little for Applefield to do in his town besides play football, work out, fish and hunt. But he and the other early enrollees have a chance to make an impact in the first of those hobbies.

Head coach Kyle Flood listed yesterday at his National Signing Day press conference that Applefield, Wiafe, Lott and long snapper Alan Lucy are players who could have an immediate impact for the Scarlet Knights.

Wiafe, who is listed at 260 pounds, comes at a time when the program will face monstrous defensive lines. The biggest offensive lineman Wiafe opposed at Milford (N.Y.) Academy was Penn State commit Chasz Wright, a 6-foot-7, 300-pounder, Wiafe said.

“I’m really just focused on my development toward my body and how I’m going to get prepared for them,” Wiafe said. “But we’ll see when we get there.”

The early enrollees provided the Knights stability to a recruiting class in which many de-committed. It didn’t help that Rutgers took its time with finding a new offensive and defensive coordinator.

Former offensive coordinator Ron Prince recruited Lott. Then Prince left Rutgers to be an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions the day before Lott left for Jacksonville.

Prince got Lott to Rutgers, but the atmosphere made him stay.

“When I came up here [while unofficially committed], I realized it really is a family,” Lott said. “It’s not just what they say on the Internet. It was a family.”

Russell had a different reason for staying committed throughout the program’s tough season.

“The education,” the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native said. “My mom’s a teacher. Two of my uncles came here. That was the biggest thing for me.”

Lott, especially, has a chance not to redshirt because Rutgers’ inexperienced secondary is still the team’s most glaring weakness. Russell might not redshirt either.

Sophomore Steve Longa and senior Kevin Snyder essentially locked down two starting linebacker spots, and junior Quentin Gause is likely to assume Jamal Merrell’s starting role. But a backup role is still possible.

It’s the same case for Lister, since Rutgers needs some tight end depth behind junior Tyler Kroft. Lister is especially skilled with blocking.

“My team needed me to play o-line last year, and it really helped me with my technique,” Lister said. “I was blocking bigger people, so I liked it a lot.”

Twenty-one others joined the early enrollees yesterday for Rutgers’ recruiting class, which Rivals ranks 57th nationally.

Despite the losing season and previous inability to maintain assistant coaches, they’re all still committed.

“I just didn’t lose sight of the big picture,” Lott said. “I know the reason I committed here. Just because they had a bad season, that wasn’t going to make me stop. Missouri had a bad season, then they went to the SEC Championship.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

By Josh Bakan

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