This weekly segment concludes by filling in the last five recruiting classes transfer and walk-on rankings. We review their performance to date and outlook for the future. (Class of 2016 here; 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012) When a Rutgers quarterback gets this offense really going again, it’s going to take the pieces around him to block, tackle, and make plays. Transfers will be a big part of this picture and are the gift that keeps on giving to keep you in the holiday spirit.
This segment was the most challenging, but also but more smiles on my face than any other, re-reading the stories of the difficult journeys the walk-ons and transfers made to get to Rutgers. Of course walk-ons can make their mark at RU and even reach the pros, Shaun O’Hara and Gary Brackett the most notable recently. In the case of Mitchell and Washington below, they might be the biggest reasons for hope in 2017.
Likelihood of impact in 2017 - Transfers.
1. Ahmir Mitchell - WR, Cedar Creek, Egg Harbor City, NJ (Michigan)
State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 5, National WR Ranking: 9 (National Overall: 167)
Mitchell originally signed at Michigan as a consensus 4 star recruit, but was back in New Jersey and enrolled at Rutgers fully for the fall semester. If he can be a star or at least just get open, it would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the offense. In his high school highlights he looks fast yet under control and you really see the quickness and explosion on the defensive side of the ball. Like Hester, he was initially lost to a rival program but returned to RU deemed as a potential “savior”. No pressure! Yrs. left: 3
Spring projection: Starting WR. He needs to start and be a playmaker.
2. Kiy Hester - S, DePaul, Plainfield, NJ (Miami, FL)
State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 8, National S Ranking: 18 (National Overall: 238)
Hester along with Blacknall were probably the most indispensable members (both 4 star recruits) of the 2014 recruiting class that fell apart. Unfortunately both signed elsewhere, but Hester ended up coming back. Kiy started at times as a freshman and when healthy as a redshirt sophomore. When he is healthy (4th on the team in tackles despite only 4 starts) and the team has some energy he has shown flashes of being a big hitter and playmaker. His athletic ability may result in him playing the Strong side linebacker spot if the team can find other guys to play safety. Yrs. left: 2
Spring projection: Starting Strong Safety. Outside shot he plays SLB.
3. Jerome Washington - TE, NJ Stony Brook (NY), Princeton Junction, NJ (Miami, FL)
POST Overall Ranking: 19, National POST TE Ranking: 1
Stops: Mercer CC. Washington will hopefully be the ball control tight end that has been a tradition in good times and bad at RU. They haven’t filled the void left by Tyler Kroft in the last two seasons and moving the chains has been an issue. Washington was the #1 JC Tight End as a 4 star recruit when he signed with Miami (19th best player overall) at 6’5”, 255 pounds. If he can live up to the hype, the offense on that alone will be better than they were in 2016. Yrs. left: 2
Spring projection: Starting TE. Let’s hope he adds to the TE legacy at RU over the last 25 years.
4. Ross Douglas - CB, Avon, Avon, OH
State (OH) Overall Ranking: 23 National CB Ranking: 28
Douglas crossed party lines when he left Rutgers chief instate recruiting rival (Michigan) to come to Rutgers. A victim of a lack of running back depth at Michigan, he was forced to play there rather than his admitted more natural place in the defensive backfield. A borderline 4 star recruit, he came as a graduate transfer instantly starting at nickel corner. He was injured against Howard and never really returned to full strength. They really need a jump in production from him. Yrs. left: 1
Spring projection: Starting Nickel corner, could also play safety.
5. Zach Allen, QB - Temple, Temple, TX
State (TX) Overall Ranking: 157 National Dual QB Ranking: 30
Allen was promised a shot at the starting job when he arrived from TCU after converting to wide receiver the year before. It seemed like he got one, but still was second on the depth chart behind Chris Laviano. In limited action he looked awful other than one potential TD pass that was dropped and would have iced the game against New Mexico. He ran for his life against Michigan completing 1 of 10 passes for negative yardage. When the staff decided to replace Laviano indefinitely they elected to go with Gio over Zach. They used Oden in sub packages, not Allen either. If he can shake off the rust and really take control of the team, there is a chance he does pan out as a one year answer at quarterback allowing Lewis to develop and Oden to continue to learn how to throw the ball. Yrs. left: 1
Spring projection: Backup QB, if he doesn’t win the job outright, he probably won’t play at all.
Likelihood of impact in 2017: Walk-ons
(This is not the full list as the Knights have over 100 players on their roster and will expect more walk-ons in 2017 that could come virtually at any time.)
1. Darnell Davis Jr - DE, Avon Old Farms, Union, NJ
A starter once Lambert went down, he filled in admirably, finishing with 41 tackles (8 for loss), 2 sacks, and the memorable 75 yard fumble return against Indiana that was at least a 10 point swing to give RU the lead. He has done everything the staff asked as a walk-on who did eventually earn a scholarship. He will be pushed by some younger guys behind him, but there is always a place on any team for Davis. Yrs. left: 1
Spring projection: Starting defensive end.
2. Larry Stevens - S, Don Bosco Prep, Lawrenceville, NJ
Stops: Military Academy Prep. Stevens came out of nowhere to win the coaches praise in the first two games. He’s not going anywhere. Despite being a walk-on he has the physical ability it seems at the moment to remain in the two-deep. If nothing else he could be a special teams captain very early on. Yrs. left: 3
Spring projection: Two-deep safety.
3. Zane Campbell - FS, Delran, Delran, NJ
Stops: Wesley. He showed promise in the spring game. No longer listed on the roster (not sure why) Ash was raving about him. Not sure what will happen but if he plays one more season, there might be some more big hits on special teams. Yrs. left: 1
Spring projection: Special teams warrior, could see action in defensive backfield.
4. Skiy Pyrame - C, Christ the King, Queens, NY
Centers don’t grow on trees and spending time on the two-deep when there was more than 10 scholarship linemen is impressive. Pyrame has the size for a spread offense and could be in line for a scholarship and could even be the starting center with Nelson’s graduation. He will need to hold off Venesky and a potential move by Miller from guard. Yrs. left: 3
Spring projection: Battling for starting center spot.
5. Chris Parker - WR, Poly Prep, Harlem, NY
Parker was not at training camp but returned at the start of the semester despite showing some electrifying moves in spring camp. With the team realizing they need more speed, he could get time in 2017 to reduce Grant’s injury risk on punt returns at minimum. He’s a guy who simply was not recruited due to his size (listed at 5’5, 168) so perhaps they can find a way to use him. Yrs. left: 3
Spring projection: Battling for punt return reps. Tearing it up on scout team.
6. Sandy Anya, DB - Franklin, Somerset, NJ
The story of his enrollment is quite entertaining. He came on in spring practice as well after a switch from wideout because the team only had two scholarship corners. The team has tried to use two-deep guys on special teams but expect to see Anya on kickoff team or some other unit. Yrs. left: 1
Spring projection: Continuing to push for time.
7. David Bonagura - K, Ramapo, Franklin Lakes, NJ
Don’t shoot me and yes you could argue this portion of the list could really be the top 3 as the kicking game has not helped the Knights the last two years. Bonagura had mixed results in his limited opportunities (10-14 FGs, 20-22 XP), but unless the Knights land a scholarship kicker, he will at least need to perform better in practice giving the team more confidence on game day. Failed 4th down conversions when a field goal would make sense just killed RU this year. he also outperformed Smolar on kickoffs surprising many (but not him). Yrs. left: 1
Spring projection: Battling for placekicking job.
8. Michael Cintron - P, St. Joseph’s (Metuchen), Piscataway, NJ
Cintron’s season was a microcosm of the entire season and his story unique. He wasn’t bad all the time (37.9 avg, 20 inside the 20, 7 50+), but it seemed like he had his horrible moments at the least opportune times (2 blocked, only a long of 61). He was used way more than he would have ideally (Big Ten record for punts with a game to spare). In his defense, he was expected to only be an injury replacement for Tim Gleeson before the injury bug. The team needs an improvement at punter whether it’s a new face or development of Cintron. Yrs. left: 2
Spring projection: Holding off other walk-on punters.
9. Jared Smolar - K, Valaparaiso, Valaparaiso, IN
A true freshman walk on kicker can occasionally be a team’s biggest suprise. Sadly for the Knights Smolar’s big leg didn’t translate to the field in year 1. He didn’t even perform better than the aforementioned Bonagura on kickoffs. If he can dramaticlaly improve in year 2 the special teams will be vastly improved. Yrs. left: 3
Spring projection: Battling for placekicking job, locking up kickoff.
10. Matthew Sportelli - LS, Wayne Hills, Wayne, NJ
A true freshman long snapper, it’s a good thing he did not have to see action. It’s always important to have a long snapper in the pipeline just in case. Best case scenario Alan Lucy plays this season and Matt is ready for 2018. If not, then a year under his belt in practice could mean success into the long term role. Yrs. left: 4
11. Talib Abdur-Ra-oof - LB, Bergen Catholic, East Orange, NJ
Another Bergen Catholic product playing under Nunzio Campanile (brother of Anthony), Talib has been forced all over the field in the last 2 seasons, corner, safety, and now linebacker. With the improved depth expected on the roster hopefully he can land a niche where he can excel. He’s a guy who may just be a late bloomer and could contribute late in his career. Yrs. left: 2
Spring projection: In the mix for reps at Strong Side Backer.
12. Max Anthony - LB, Christian Brothers Academy, Albany, NY
Stops: Phillips Academy. I was excited when I saw him as a preferred walk on even after I realized he did not attend the same CBA as former Knight star Geoff Billet. He landed at RU after his High School coach, Joe Burke, played at RU in the 80s. A guy who fits a pro style offense, he now plays linebacker as the fullback position has been eliminated from this team. A multi-sport athlete in HS, hopefully he can contribute somewhere. If Jerry Kill has some creativity, it’s possible he could be utilized on O. Yrs. left: 3
Spring projection: Battling for reps at linebacker, a candidate for a special offensive package that requires a fullback if Kill creates one.
13. Ntwademela Perry - WR, Star College HS, Durban Westville, South Africa
With the defections at receiver, he could actually be a contributor in 2017. He has the size (6’3, 218) and of course has not played as much high level football as other members of the Knights having come from South Africa. He quietly played in 8 games on special teams this season and with more time could contribute at receiver as well where every spot is wide open.
Spring projection: Battling for two-deep spot at wideout.
14. Austin Rosa - LB, Wilson West Lawn, Reading, PA
LBs always can provide depth on special teams and he has consistently been in the mix at practice despite little fanfare as a recruit. By far the least known member of this list (and that’s saying something), he showed great instincts in high school and was a champion 400 meter runner, so I’ve added him here as my biggest “out of nowhere” candidate for 2017.
Spring projection: Fighting for a spot somewhere.
Thank you, you will be missed:
1. WALK-ON/TRANSFER: Greg Jones - LB, Colonia, Colonia, NJ
Stops: Monroe, Middlesex CC, E. Stroudsburg. Previously a running back, this guy came out of nowhere and appeared to be the emotional leader of the defense if all you did was watch the games. He shocked everyone (especially me) when he started over Najee Clayton at the defense’s most important position. Appearing as a Khaseem Greene junior, he seemed to always be around the ball and delivering hits bigger than his frame would appear possible. Once he was injured, the defense was never the same. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him in a Scarlet Knight uniform.
2. WALK-ON: Matt Flanagan - TE, West Morris Mendham, Chester, NJ.
Flanagan elected to forego his 5th year at Rutgers and could possibly wind up elsewhere. He came out of nowhere to convert a key 4th down (his only catch of the season) at Washington State in the 2014 opener when even the biggest Rutgers fans like myself had to look him up on the website. A three-time all Academic Big Ten performer, he leaves Rutgers football with three career touchdowns in 17 starts at Tight End!
3. WALK-ON: Kevin Marquez - LB, Egg Harbor, Egg Harbor, NJ
Stops: Fork Union Military. He was on the field as the backup MLB when they needed him against Minnesota. Making the most of his opportunity he made 9 tackles. Previously starting at fullback in the pro system and possibly the heart of the Rutgers unit for several years, he was a mainstay on special teams. His character will be sorely missed.
4. TRANSFER (LSU): Hayden Rettig - QB, Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA
State (CA) Overall Ranking: 80 National CB Ranking: 32
As we found out recently, Rettig will not be that QB. FreeRettig is over, at RU anyway. The fans will never really know what Rettig could bring to the table, but it is true that two coaching staffs in two significantly different offenses never evaluated him as a starter. The little action he did have proved exciting for sure though. Like Dare mentioned in a previous part of this series, if he ends up being really good elsewhere it will really aggravate the fan base and question much of the decision making on the banks.
5. TRANSFER: Tim Gleeson, Viewbank College Prep, Melbourne, Australia (Wyoming)
Stops: Santa Barbara CC. Gleeson was expected to be the heir apparent to Nick Marsh, after being an honorable mention All-Mountain West performer as a freshman. Initially he was, starting seven games on the 2014 8-5 team, averaging over 40 yards per punt, over a third of which ended up inside the 20 versus only two touchbacks. Then he got injured and never came back. It’s unfortunate that kind of production was not matched the last two seasons.
6. WALK-ON: Vance Matthews - WR, Lower Cape May, Cape May, NJ
He was starting on the depth chart at one point and really pushed the receiving corps. The hustle and desire never amounted to much in the way of receiving statistics though. His emotional lead as a special teams gunner will need someone else to step up. He will be missed for sure and it’s too bad he doesn’t have one more year as the receiving corps will really need leadership in 2017.
7. WALK-ON: Marcus Parker - DB, Hackensack, Hackensack, NJ
Stops: Monroe. Like Jones, he had a stop at Monroe before finally being able to play. The question is who will be the next guy who works graveyard shift just to make it on the field in Piscataway? His story was wild getting to RU and his resiliency is something other teammates will need to find elsewhere.
8. TRANSFER: Malachi Moore - DL, Pope John XXIII, Sparta, NJ (Boston College)
State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 45 National DE Ranking: 86
We hardly knew you. Moore was expected to provide depth wherever it was needed on the defensive line, but he was injured and missed the entire season. His size (6’7) and experience would have been a nice addition as planned, but his absence allowed for more snaps to be given to younger players.
1. Strength: Potential star power. It’s possible that the two best players on the entire team in 2017 are Mitchell and Washington. Throw in a dramatic improvement in health and little skill by Hester and Douglas, this defensive backfield could be a lot better. The wild card of Zach Allen removing rust and actually leading a functional offense is not likely, but stranger things have happened. This transfer group could end up being 5 (all from power 5 programs) of the 22 starters, giving a fan base at least something to be optimistic about.
2. Strength: Big time pedigrees. Sure Moore, Douglas, and Allen did not pan out in 2016, but they did come from successful programs adding legitimacy to what Ash and staff are doing. The additions of Washington, Hester, and Mitchell showing that they were willing to come back to fence the garden may pay dividends down the road. Rettig’s transfer didn’t pan out on the field, but he did bring hope that at times seemed completely non-existent.
3. Weakness: Too many guys having to play in defensive backfield. Stevens, Anya, and Campbell have played their hearts out in practice and games, but DB these days is probably the most difficult position other than QB with all the spread offenses. They need help.
4: Weakness: Injuries and especially grad transfers not having panned out. Moore was injured all season, as was Gleeson. Ross Douglas got injured and never returned to the athleticism seen in flashes early on. Zach Allen didn’t get many opportunities, but when he did he was not good, either. Injuries played a role, but fans who saw many Rutgers grad transfers in recent years outperform expectations like, RJ Dill, Lew Toler, Andrew Turzilli, and Nick Marsh are disappointed. The FreeRettig campaign did not bring as much bad press as the real scandals of 2015, but did not generate positive energy for the program.
5. Weakness: Punters/kickers. Ouch. When Alex Barbir defected at the last minute for Penn State, some thought it would be a crushing blow for Rutgers. So far it has been. Smolar never showed the leg we were promised on kickoffs and the team’s lack of confidence in simple field goals may have lost games not only in terms of the points left off the board, but the momentum shifts of failed 4th downs. Gleeson was expected to be the punter for a while with Cintron serving as a stopgap. The team MUST improve in all three of these areas. So many schools have shown you can find kickers as walk-ons, but not RU recently.
NOTE: For the rankings in this article I arbitrarily chose 247 rankings. We will dive into composite recruiting rankings at a later date.