We are less than ten days until national signing day and Rutgers coach Chris Ash and his staff have been working around the clock to make up for lost time. They have had to manage a difficult balancing act between establishing relationships with New Jersey coaches and recruits, as well as do their best in filling out their 2016 recruiting class. They have had to work on keeping the current commits in place and add to the class with new commits. They have done a good job of making new offers to recruits all over the country and seem to have left no stone unturned. In addition, Ash and his staff have clearly shown one key philosophical difference in their recruiting strategy in comparison to former coach Kyle Flood and his staff. Ash has shown no hesitation in recruiting players that are already verbally committed to other schools. And not just other schools, but power five schools, and specifically, Big Ten schools.
Just this past weekend, despite the record snowfall, Rutgers hosted many recruits, including several players that are verbally committed to other schools. They included 3-star defensive tackle and Iowa State commit Jamahl Johnson, 3-star defensive tackle and Louisiana Tech commit Julius Turner, 3-star defensive tackle and Illinois commit Antonio Shelton, and offensive tackle and UConn commit Mike Lonsdorf, according to Todderick Hunt of NJ Advance Media. Another visitor who the staff have recruited since their arrival, 3-star athlete K.J. Gray, visited this weekend after recently decommitting from Boston College. Just last week Rutgers offered two dual threat quarterbacks, 3-star Lindsey Scott and 3-star Tylin Oden, who were committed to Syracuse and Louisville at the time. Both have decommitted and Oden is scheduled to visit Rutgers this coming weekend. Scott received an in home visit from offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer last week.
In addition, there are two other Big Ten commits that Rutgers has targeted. 3 & 4-star defensive end, depending on the recruiting service, and current Nebraska pledge Quayshon Alexander, received a visit at his home last week. Alexander, the younger brother of current Rutgers player Kiy Hester, met with head coach Chris Ash and defensive line coach Shane Burnham. Rutgers reportedly also reached out to 3-star defensive end Brandon Simon from Don Bosco Prep, who is an Iowa commit. They had previously gone after 3-star athlete and Pittsburgh commit, Maurice Ffrench from New Brunswick, but were unsuccessful in flipping him.
However, the staff was successful in flipping prep star Elorm Lumor, the first commit of the Ash era, from Temple. Lumor was scheduled to enroll at Temple last week as an early enrollee, before he flipped to Rutgers at the last minute. Being that Lumor is from Piscataway and that he plays a position of need, it was a great win for Ash. The fact that it came at the same time Temple flipped former Rutgers commit Anthony Russo, made it even sweeter. Temple has been rumored to negatively recruit against Rutgers dating back to the Al Golden years, and have made significant in roads to South Jersey under current coach Matt Rhule. Ash is making a clear push to put a stop to Temple beating Rutgers for New Jersey recruits.
It's obvious that by Ash and staff actively recruiting the players mentioned above, they have an aggressive and confident approach in building their program. In an online chat regarding Rutgers football recruiting last week, recruiting guru Todderick Hunt had this to say about the new staff:
"I think the effort is there. These guys go hard and have hit a lot of schools. And they haven't been shy about making enemies on the recruiting trail, offering a couple dozen already-committed prospects." Hunt went on to say, "I can't remember Kyle and staff ever actively going after so many committed kids, and with their chest out at that."
Recruiting can be a dirty business, as seen with allegations last week about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as Tennessee coach Butch Jones pulling former Rutgers player Marques Ford's offer at the last minute in the 2015 recruiting period. However, verbal commitments are just that, and are not binding until a player signs their letter of intent on national signing day. The system is not perfect, but if a coaching staff does not maximize their opportunities and recruit a player of interest until the bitter end, they are only putting themselves at a disadvantage.
Ash and staff are experiencing it on the flip side as well. Former commit Patrice Rene flipped to North Carolina last week, as well as Russo to Temple. Penn State offered Rutgers commits 3-star kicker Alex Barbir and 3-star wide receiver Taysir Mack last week, making a strong push for both. This is nothing new, as it is commonplace in college football. Rutgers lost several commits over the years during the Kyle Flood era. Flood allegedly telling commits their offers would be pulled if they visited other schools was blamed as a major reason for so many decommittments in the recruiting class of 2014.
You cannot argue at face value Flood's assertion that a player's word should be their final decision. Unfortunately, that is not a reality with every teenage kid who is sought after by multiple schools. His stand backfired and that class quickly fell apart. From this article by Jeff Roberts, "They told guys that their spots may not have been there anymore [if they took visits], and they might have taken offense to it," Shanker said. "When you have a season with so many lopsided losses, you don’t really have much leverage." Roberts wrote, "The departures of Jennings and Hester may have directly resulted from the policy." The class decommittments snowballed from there.
Rather than fight the reality of recruiting wars, Ash and his staff are embracing it. They are not sitting back and letting little, old Rutgers get pushed around. Regardless of how much success Ash has in completing his first recruiting class, he has made progress in setting the tone for the perception of the program. He has set out to build a program that will no longer be pushed around on the field by the Big Ten elite, but also in recruiting wars as well. Although it looks like 3-star defensive end Michael Dwumfour is likely to end up in Michigan after decommitting from Penn State today, Ash and staff offered him on December 9th. Flood's staff never bothered to do so after he committed to James Franklin.
Here is an article from this weekend about Rutgers going hard after South Jersey recruits, including Syracuse commit Jamal Holloway. From the article, Camden coach Dwayne Savage said this, "Since [Jan. 15], I have met with three different Rutgers coaches who are trying to flip my players, so they really are trying to put the fence up by actions and not just a slogan." Michigan commits and 4-star recruits Ron Johnson and Brad Hawkins are surely two of those players Ash and staff are working on.
Obviously to make a true statement, Ash and staff will ultimately have to start flipping top recruits that were committed to the Big Ten powers soon. It may not happen with the 2016 class, but with their approach and tenacity they have displayed on the recruiting trail so far, it seems like it's only a matter of time. The old Rutgers that was pushed around and lost all the top in-state recruits to Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame to name a few, is finally fighting back.