Rutgers has five incoming players prepared to enroll early, and participate in spring practices. Deonte Roberts, Jon Bateky, Sidney Gopre, Blessaun Austin and Isaiah Johnson are scheduled to begin classes as Scarlet Knights on January 20, when the spring semester starts.
For those able to do it, enrolling early can have tremendous advantages for both the players and the program. For the players, they get a jump on college coursework, and can tackle their first semester coursework (including Rutgers infamous "Expos" writing program) without the pressure of a football season happening at the same time. The players also have a semester to acclimate to the cultural and away-from-home aspects of being a college student.
From a football perspective, it is one more semester of work under Rutgers strength and conditioning coach Jeremy Cole, and more time around the student leaders of the team and in the film room, although their contact with coaches (other than Cole) are governed by NCAA regulations. Think that Deonte Roberts (or any young linebacker) might benefit from an extra semester of hanging around Steve Longa, or that Jon Bateky can learn a thing or two from Darius Hamilton over the course of an extra semester? I think that's a no-brainer.
There are advantages for the program as well. Early enrollees count against last year's scholarship count, not this year's, meaning early enrollees (coupled with natural attrition) give the staff more flexibility to pull a signing day surprise if one presents itself.
So who is coming early, and who might expect to parlay their early arrival into playing time next year?
One of two straight-from-high-school players on this list, Roberts is a 6'2" 210 LB from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn. He received his offer from the Scarlet Knights following a strong camp performance last summer, and committed the next day. He was named All-Brooklyn Defensive MVP for his strong play this year. He is likely to begin training camp lined up at the weakside linebacker position. Steve Longa holds the top WILL spot on the depth chart. Roberts will be battling with T.J. Taylor for the second spot.
All-Brooklyn Defensive MVP pic.twitter.com/0oACGJM3hY
— Deonte Roberts (@DeonteR_1) December 25, 2014
Jon Bateky, a 6'4" 245 lb. defensive end from Poolesville, Maryland, might end up being one of the steals of this class. For some reason, Rivals has him rated as only a 2 star prospect, but his film - and his offer list - say he is at least a 3 star talent. He chose Rutgers over offers from Boston College, Iowa, Navy, Old Dominion, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia and Western Michigan. Bateky has a good motor and good speed in pursuit. He also has the frame to add a good 30 or 40 pounds in a college strength program. In October, he spoke to the Washington Post about his early enrollment here. He was named first team All-State in Maryland for his senior play. Rutgers is pretty deep at D-End, with Mera, Turay, Lambert and JPO returning, so it would not surprise me if Bateky red-shirted in 2015.
Austin is a long (6'2"), fast cornerback coming to Rutgers from Milford Academy Prep school in New York. He is a Brooklyn native, and went the prep school route to sure up his SAT scores, similar to his Milford teammate Sidney Gopre. He committed to the Knights following the Indiana victory. Austin is a lockdown corner, with very good speed, the ability to change his hip direction on a dime, and a knack for the ball. He should be an immediate contender for playing time and will be very interesting to watch at spring practice. The secondary could actually be a point of strength on this team next year, a welcome change from the past two. Austin's recruiting was heating up when he committed to Rutgers, as he was drawing interest from schools like Iowa and Syracuse before shutting down his recruitment.
Gopre was one of the highlights of the 2014 recruiting class, and Rutgers fans were disappointed to learn he needed a little help academically to qualify over the summer. The Newark product never wavered in his commitment to the Scarlet Knights, and took care of business at Milford this year, both in the classroom and on the field. The New Jersey high school defensive player of the year in 2013, and continued to be an explosive playmaker as a linebacker at Milford this season. At Milford, he put up 16 tackles for loss, 37 solo tackles, 13 assisted tackles, 9 sacks and caused 5 fumbles (recovered 1). Safe to say he should be in the mix at linebacker early.
Johnson, a JUCO LB from California, committed to the Scarlet Knights this week. He is a big hitter with great speed, and should be an immediate contributor at the MIKE spot, and may well be the starter to replace Kevin Snyder next fall. He is a great pickup for Coach Flood. Johnson has three years to play three on the banks.