It's really quite something. One year after Malcolm Jenkins went in the first round of the NFL Draft to the New Orleans Saints, two more former Piscataway Chiefs are poised to do the same in Anthony Davis and Kyle Wilson. How could GMC offenses compete against a secondary with the dynamic duo of Jenkins and Wilson?
Notwithstanding their inconsistent season last year, P'Way has been one of the best programs in the state in recent years, and they've more than produced their share of Division I football players. It's jarring when you consider all of the public debate regarding North Jersey powerhouses like St. Peter's Prep and Don Bosco. A Central Jersey public school seemingly has the edge on all fronts.
Why might that be the case? If you remember Paul Franklin's column about J.P. Stevens from last November (put him back on college football Gannett, thanks), there's an explicit claim about the role of demographics, and their function in producing top football talent.
Riggi has done his own research, and discovered that Stevens' enrollment is 65 percent Asian-American. That is not a culture which typically embraces a passion for football.
In addition, for a township with a median income of $80,581, parents are more able to provide options for children. That often equates to the enjoyment of high-tech entertainment, as opposed to technique in pass blocking.
Later on, a Stevens alum and Pop Warner coach compares his new home in Piscataway to the North Edison of his youth.
"At Piscataway, those kids look forward to getting to high school. That's how we were back then. I tell them about when I played and they say, "You weren't no good!' I tell them, "You don't know how good Stevens was back then."
Just to be clear, Piscataway is very economically diverse, as are most of the other large townships in Middlesex County. These claims are only applicable to certain sections. Rutgers and all of the corporate parks around Centennial Avenue presumably do their fair share in pushing up real estate prices.
Let's refine this hypothesis a little. Total population intuitively plays a central role, but there definitely need to be some caveats there. For even middle class families, playing football is less of an option, which is exactly what the Edison High prinicpal quoted in Franklin's article says. There's less incentive for putting your nose to the grindstone on the field if a white collar future looks within reach. Conversely, other school districts lack adequate funds to buy football equipment, and don't have enough resources to educate students. The game's popularity varies, and/or many families just don't want their children risking injury playing football. I was only allowed to play other sports growing up.
Piscataway seems to be sitting in that demographic sweet spot of being right in the mean of middle class, but could any other factors playing a role as well? A lot of the credit has to be attributed to their high school's coaching staff, whose record speaks for itself. I've heard of some examples where upgrading a staff can do wonders for talent development.
Even though Piscataway is a public school, hypothetically, its status as a football power may be self-reinforcing. That's the same argument that the North Jersey preps make; they have no need to recruit stars, the allure of a top program manages to sell itself. Is it plausible to envision a family moving to districts for a better football program, considering something like that happens all the time for academics? There is a substantive difference between living in a residence within a school district, and commuting over an hour twice a day to play fot a good high school football program (as has been known to happen of late).
This is, understandably, a heated topic that requires treading lightly. However, it's definitely something that should be of concern to Rutgers football, or any other program for that matter. Remember Ray Rice Day in New Rochelle last year? Youth football gave Rice his chance to excel, and he wants to make sure the next Ray Rice in the New Rochelle projects receives the same opportunity..
That event was tied into the NFL's Youth Football Fund, which issued grants for football camps around the country. It's a great, but not entirely altruistic either. The NFL has a vested interest in making sure that underprivileged youth have an opportunity to play football, and develop into its future viewers, and for a lucky few, talent base. The same goes for any college football program making a similar investment. If you think about it, the Big East's population base translates very well for basketball players, but less so for football. If that's ever to change, I'd imagine it would be via this subtle brand of social engineering.