Jonathan Hilliman was in front of his teammates at his high school practice facility when he announced that he would be attending his hometown school. National media outlets like ESPN and local news like News 12 NJ were on hand to cover the decision by the St. Peter's Prep star halfback. Kyle Flood is doing a wonderful job as the ace recruiter for the Scarlet Knights, as his 2014 class is steadily rising in the team rankings, rising even higher than his landmark 2012 group that included starting DT Darius Hamilton.
It isn't Flood's effort alone, however. In what is becoming an extremely powerful sales pitch for Rutgers football recruiting, the collective effort of top New Jersey recruits has been an effective tool in getting blue-chip prospects to spurn the likes of Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Urban Meyer, heavyweight names in the recruiting world. According to Todderick Hunt of the Star-Ledger, Hilliman said it himself that when Manalapan WR Saeed Blacknall decided to commit to RU, it made the decision that much easier for him:
But definitely Saeed through this whole process... he was the guy who, pretty much, put me back on the Rutgers track. Because at a point during my junior year, I was straying away for awhile. I was thinking about the big name schools; names over what I really need or really want. And he really made it clear to me to make the decision for me and not for other people. -Jonathan Hilliman, as told to Todderick Hunt, Star-Ledger
Is this the beginning of the end for the "football-factory" mindset? This is definitely a case where the move to the B1G shows its effect on the program. Rutgers always did get a crown jewel or two per recruiting class each year, but it's hard to believe that Rutgers could get both Adonis Jennings and Saeed Blacknall if they thought they would be playing the likes of UCF and Memphis for their entire career (especially since both Jennings and Blacknall play WR). Add Hilliman and Kiy Hester, and its easy to see the step up in competition is paying dividends on the recruiting trail. Obviously, there will always be an example of the Jersey kid who has a preference to go out-of-state to play football, as is the case with five-star DT Curtis Samuel, who committed to Ohio State this past Friday.
Of course, an argument could be made that Rutgers is turning into quite the factory itself. Just take a look at this Instagram post from Eric LeGrand:
That list doesn't include Super Bowl champion Ray Rice or starting RT Anthony Davis of the San Francisco 49ers. Rutgers may not churn out first round draft picks every year like Alabama, but then again there are not a lot of schools outside the SEC that do that either. For a recruit looking for a premium education with a good chance of making it to the NFL, Rutgers is an easy sell.
On another note, it is important to credit the very tactical moves by Flood in hiring good assistants who can get the job done and relate to the high-school players, coaches like Anthony Campanile and Cody High. Saeed Blacknall was considered a strong LSU lean until High was hired as an assistant. Hiring these recruiters helps develop a pipeline to the top high schools in the state, and Kyle Flood deserves credit for populating his staff with members who have the capability of fostering long-lasting relationships.
Can Kiy Hester & Co. maintain the momentum? A handful of top-ranked prospects remain uncommitted and have Rutgers as a finalist. WR Noah Brown and TE Ryan Izzo of Pope John XXIII recently took a long visit to RU earlier this month, and Hilliman believes that his committing will only help in getting more guys to join the class. And it's not just uncommitted prospects. Hilliman suggests that Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers is keeping an eye on the Garden State talent assembling at Rutgers. Could Peppers flip? My money is on no, but I appreciate the lofty goal.
Kyle Flood started something in 2012. He held on to a foundation-building class that will strengthen the program for years to come. Two years later, he is proving that he is not a one-year wonder on the recruiting trail, and even better, he is getting his recruits to buy into the program so well that they are becoming powerful recruiters themselves.