Rutgers University has turned some heads lately with the quality recruits that have spurned bigger name programs to join the Scarlet Knights. Of course, that hasn’t always been the case.
You only have to go back as far as 2005 to find yourself in a time when most high-profile recruits would have repeated the infamous words first uttered by a Tennessee sportswriter in 1979 prior to the Volunteers game against the Knights: “What’s a Rutgers?”
By the way, the State University of New Jersey went on to win that game 13–7.
Desmond Scott, the second-rated all-purpose back in the country, became the latest big name to do his part in making sure that question is never asked again by declaring his intention to play for the Knights starting in the fall of 2009.
What baffled fans and experts alike in this case was that Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano plucked Scott from smack dab in the middle of ACC recruiting territory—a coup that would've been all but impossible a few short years ago.
It seems Schiano is determined to widen the boundaries of what he terms “the State of Rutgers.” What a difference a few short years have made.
The room that greeted Coach Schiano on that December day back in 2000, as he was introduced as the next sacrificial lamb to be led to the slaughter, as so many of his predecessors had been, had more empty seats than full. A smattering of reporters, mostly there by demand and not desire, applauded politely as he promised a day when Rutgers football would be competitive in the Big East.
The applause turned to chuckles as he talked of Bowl Championships and, gasp—National Championships. “Perhaps the fumes from the refineries had gotten to him as he traveled up the New Jersey Turnpike,” some thought.
Whatever the catalyst—the aforementioned fumes, or perhaps the knowledge of how to wake a “sleeping giant,” as Rutgers had been referred to many times in the past—it seems Greg Schiano has found the secret to reviving football fortunes on the banks of the ol' Raritan.
Don’t go after every four and five-star recruit (not that Rutgers would've had a shot at any of them a few years ago). Find those “diamonds in the rough.” Sign those two and three-star guys who made it to Division I college football more on heart and guts than flashy skills.
Over the years Schiano has become a master of taking the “good” and making them “great.” The star of last year’s team, Ray Rice, a last-minute recruit landed only because of a coaching change at Syracuse, was a three-star out of New Rochelle, New York.
Did anyone predict he would have the monster career he had with the Knights? I doubt it.
Look at the 2008 roster. Mike Teel, a two-star recruit out of Don Bosco Prep in Wyckoff, and Tiquan Underwood, a two-star athlete from Notre Dame High in Lawrenceville, are poised to lead what may be the most potent offense in the Big East this year.
Just luck? I don’t believe so.
Anyone can squeeze eight, nine, or ten wins a year out of a team loaded with prep All-Americans. Try doing it with undersized, All-County kids from Piscataway or Hightstown.
Coach Schiano has created a contender by recruiting to fill needs, not marquees. As Mike Larrow, a defensive end who recently committed to the Knights, said, “Rutgers was the best fit for me.”
With each successful season, more and more potential recruits, the superstars and the “diamonds in the rough,” will cast their lots with Rutgers, hoping to be that final piece of the puzzle, the piece that brings a National Championship home to Piscataway.