Transfer begins practicing at Rutgers, prepares to debut in 2017
Two games into the Rutgers football team’s first season playing in offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer’s no-huddle, power spread offense, one issue has been more prevalent than the rest — the lack of a deep ball threat.
While their first two opponents — then-No. 14 Washington and Howard — have been able to find space between the cornerbacks and safeties using a seemingly endless amount of go-routes, the Scarlet Knights have struggled to find similar separation with their wide receiver corps.
One of the more veteran groups on the team — 3 of the 5 receivers who have caught at least one pass this season are seniors — the margin of improvement is slim as the season is in full swing and there is little time dedicated to improving fundamentals.
Head coach Chris Ash is aware of the issues, evident in the current crop of players he has gathered in his first full recruiting class since arriving on the Banks. Of the 20 commits from the class of 2017, four of them are wide receivers, including 3-star Cedar Creek product Bo Melton.
The wideout most likely to make an instant impact in his first season in Piscataway also attended Cedar Creek, but unlike his fellow Egg Harbor City native, Ash won’t have to worry about his commitment to the program leading up to National Signing Day.
Ahmir Mitchell, a class of 2016 4-star recruit out of Cedar Creek, transferred to Rutgers this season after committing and enrolling early at Michigan last January.
Because of NCAA transferring rules, Mitchell won’t be able to play until 2017, assuming he’s granted a hardship waiver that will reduce the original 2-year stoppage period for transferring to a school in the same Big Ten East division as his original school.
Mitchell was 1 of 6 New Jersey players who committed to Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines last February, but after being suspended at the start of the season for an undisclosed reason, he decided to transfer out.
With his recruitment reopened, the Rutgers program that sought him under former head coach Kyle Flood returned under a new coaching staff and another direction, which appealed to Mitchell.
"Throughout my entire recruitment, Rutgers was always within the top three," he told NJ Advanced Media in an exclusive announcement of his commitment. "For a while they were leading. It basically came down to the staff. And now that they have a better staff at Rutgers, that's what made me basically want to come back home along with everything going on back at home with my family and stuff like that. So it just seemed like a good fit and every aspect just pointed back home."
Ash arrived in Piscataway months after an offseason littered with off-the-field scandals from Knights players and coaching staff alike. He installed a code of conduct on the team and held his players accountable for their actions.
Sophomore wide receiver Dontae Owens was the first to suffer the consequences of violating the code, becoming the first player to be dismissed by Ash due to violating team rules, a source told NJ.com’s Ryan Dunleavy.
Mitchell’s suspension at Michigan didn’t deter Ash from recruiting him and after going through a vetting process, the first-year head coach made the decision to extend an offer.
Four years after his brother Damon Mitchell committed to Arkansas, where Ash was a defensive coordinator at the time, Ahmir committed to the Knights and enrolled at Rutgers.
“Any player that we bring into the program, whether it's out of high school, junior college, prep school or transfer, we're going to do our homework on,” Ash said. “Is everybody going to be perfect? No, they're not — I don't care where you come from. But we're going to do our homework and do our due diligence to make sure we're bringing in the right type of people into our program.”
Though he won’t see game action for another year, Mitchell is allowed to practice and has begun to do so this week.
Wide receivers coach Jafar Williams got a taste of what he’ll have to work with in his second season at Rutgers, and while there are things that need improving, there were also some promising signs.
“Got a little bit of time to spend with (Ahmir) after practice,” Williams said following practice Tuesday. “Very explosive young man, just obviously you have to learn the offense and polish up some things.”