Late push solidifies 2015 recruiting class for Rutgers
At this time last year, things were different.
After the Rutgers football team dropped six of its last eight games to end the 2013 season, the commitments began to drop like flies.
By the end of January, it included homegrown four-star wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, who added insult to injury by flipping to Penn State after insisting in an nj.com article that he was sticking to his pledge regardless of what happened.
But when National Signing Day rolled around, what was once a top-20 class dropped all the way down to No. 54, according to the recruiting website 247sports.com.
One year later, the opposite has unfolded.
After rounding up a relatively subpar recruiting class filled with two-star prospects, the tides turned in head coach Kyle Flood’s favor.
With a late flurry of verbal commitments from high school student-athletes near and far, in traditional and peculiar ways, all paths have led back to Piscataway to complete the Scarlet Knights’ 2015 recruiting class.
“This is always an exciting day,” Flood said Wednesday from the Hale Center’s podium. “I think with this recruiting class, every position group, every meeting room in this building gets stronger, and I think it really holds true to the footprint that we have used for a long time, the state of Rutgers.”
At the culmination of what always seems to feel like a never-ending recruiting process, Flood and his staff have inked 25 new players.
It started almost a year and a half ago when Mike Dare made his intentions clear to join the Knights following a standout performance at a Rutgers football camp.
Equipped with a big arm and raw 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame, Dare’s physical upside is obvious. But what intrigues Flood the most is Dare’s sincere passion for the program. Sought after by Boston College and Virginia in the early stages prior to his Rutgers decision, Dare’s allegiance to the Knights never wavered.
During that time, he helped the class grow even stronger.
“When you have a quarterback who is helping drive the recruiting process and recruiting class, I think that definitely helps,” Flood said. “We probably knew about him a little bit earlier than most people did, and we were able to figure out he was the right guy for us and he was able to figure out that this was the right place for him.”
That loyalty by Dare grew contagious.
Three-star tight end Nakia Griffin took to Twitter with an open letter, saying in the tweet, “Leaders lead! And that’s what I’m going to do!”
That statement caught Flood’s eyes and reminded the head coach why the Knights targeted the Tenafly, New Jersey, product to begin with.
“Every class seems to have some that are more vocal than others, and he has been that guy in this class,” Flood said. “I’m excited that he wants to lead. I’m excited that he was as loyal as he was in the process because he is somebody who, if he wanted to, could have attracted a lot more attention in recruiting than he did by staying as committed as he was and not visiting other players. That’s exciting to me because that means he’s invested in our program.”
Despite the concrete loyalty by many in the class, the group wasn’t exactly the most prestigious.
While Rutgers mainly reeled in two-star prospects, its Big Ten peers were hauling in the big fish.
Just one day after winning a national championship, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was in New Jersey hitting the recruiting trail. Immediately upon Jim Harbaugh’s recent hire at Michigan, he entered the Garden State as well to scavenge whatever leftovers he could find.
But as National Signing Day neared, things picked up for Flood.
To name a few, Rutgers picked up the No. 8-rated defensive end in the country after Under Armor All-American Marques Ford had his scholarship offer to Tennessee rescinded due to a full class.
Then, under-recruited slot receiver Jawuan Harris joined Rutgers as a two-sport athlete in football and for the Rutgers baseball team.
The class ultimately culminated following outside linebacker Kaiwan Lewis’ verbal commitment earlier in the week on Feb. 2. After four years with South Carolina — one in which he was third on the team in tackles — the Pleasantville, New Jersey, native returns home immediately eligible as a graduate student.
So, what spurred the late trend of becoming a Knight?
Comparing last year to this year, it traces back to the playing field. After stumbling to the finish line in 2013, Rutgers finished strong in 2014 with the largest comeback in program history at Maryland in the regular season finale and a 40-21 statement win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Director of Recruiting Operations Phil Galiano acknowledged how it may have helped but addressed the Knights’ expectation to play and recruit even better.
“The players that we are currently recruiting — players on the team are not satisfied with that and I think anyone in the coaching profession isn’t to go and be 8-5,” Galiano said. “Our goal is to be a national champion. … Is it going to happen overnight? No. We’ve come a long way since I first got here in 2002 … and I expect that … to keep going that way, and that’s where we’re going to be.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.