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On the Importance of Pipelines

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Coach Chris Ash has done a lot of impressive things in his first month on the job, but in the long run, few may be more important than building and strengthening pipelines to some long-neglected talent hot spots.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

It happens every year in late January and early February, just before signing day: recruits flip, or in some cases, the school decides the kid isn't a good fit.

How a coaching staff scrambles to fill last-minute vacancies speaks volumes about its philosophy, and perhaps its place in the college football hierarchy. For schools not named Ohio State or Alabama, which can always go out and poach a three or four star player from a less dominant program, the end-game of the recruiting season often involves offering kids who are looking at or committed to FCS or lower schools.

In many cases, those players were late-bloomers who put up very strong senior seasons, but for whom the recruiting process never got into high gear because of the timing of their breakouts.

A smart coaching staff will think strategically about its late-game "reaches", and take a chance on good kids from schools they need strong relationships with in the future.  In other words, you take a chance on an under-recruited kid from a great program in the hopes of building or strengthening your bridge to that high school coach and program.It is crystal clear Chris Ash and his merry band of Ash-assins did that with some of the premier high schools in New Jersey and New York City in the last few weeks, in marked contrast to the way Coach Flood used to finish classes. Aaron touched on this briefly here. Consider how this class wrapped up:

KJ Gray (St. Peter's Prep)

Gray was not under-recruited, and he plays a position of need (or two), but when he decommitted from Boston College, Coach Ash and the staff made him a huge priority. In addition to getting a fine young man to play defensive back, Ash was able to secure the first commitment to Rutgers from talent-loaded St. Peters since 2011, when St. Peters sent 5* Savon Huggins and 4* Keith Lumpkin to RU. In the meantime, Rutgers missed out on Brandon Wimbush (ND), Jonathan Hilliman (BC) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama).

Michael Maietti (Don Bosco Prep)

Of all the New Jersey high school powers, none has been better for Rutgers historically than Don Bosco Prep and long-time coach Greg Toal. Past Bosco star Scarlet Knights include Mike Teel, Leonte Carroo, Gary Nova and Darius Hamilton. But Rutgers hasn't landed a scholarship player from Bosco since Carroo and Hamilton in 2012 (also known as the year Kyle Flood took the reigns). Since then, 4 stars Kevin Feder and Al-Quadin Muhammad bypassed the Scarlet Knights. Maietti is a solid under-recruited OL pickup in his own right, particularly because he plays the center spot, but if Coach Ash can rekindle the pipeline to Don Bosco, which seemingly withered in the Flood era, happy days will soon be here again. Extending an offer to Maietti days before signing day, which he accepted on the spot, is very wise long-term thinking by Coach Ash.

Sam Howson (Pope John XXIII)

Pope John does not have decades of history pumping out 4 star recruits, like St. Peters or Don Bosco, but the Sparta, NJ school has recently become a hotbed of talent under fifth year head coach Brian Carlson. Securing a commitment from big Sam Howson gives the Scarlet Knights an under-rated offensive line building block, but also an entree into a rising North Jersey power. In the last few years, Pope John 4 stars Noah Brown and Ryan Izzo went on to Ohio State and Florida State respectively, and 3* QB Sonny Abramson went to Virginia. Coach Ash and his staff will no doubt keep Pope John in their GPS systems in 2017, as they try to recruit behemoth 3* DT Dalyn Wade-Perry. Also noteworthy are the rumors that Penn State tried to flip Howson late, but those efforts were stymied when Coach Carlson refused to let the Nitty Kitties near Howson and sent the strong signal his player would stay loyal to the home-state Knights. Bonus: BC graduate transfer DE Malachi Moore is also an alumnus of Pope John.

Mike Lonsdorf (Immaculata)

Immaculata also doesn't have a lengthy history as a Rutgers feeder school, but it has produced a handful of very talented players, including RB Theo Riddick and DE Tashawn Bower. Extending an offer to OL Mike Lonsdorf should help Rutgers stay in the running for the next blue chip prospect the Somerset County school produces, and aside from Lonsdorf's abilities on the field and in the classroom, makes a lot of sense strategically.

Tyreek Williams (Timber Creek)

Timber Creek is always among the most talented teams in South Jersey, and has sent prospects like Quanzell Lambert and Miles Nash to RU. Rutgers has not landed a TC prospect since Nash in 2013, and has missed on some good ones: Adonis Jennings, Kareem Ali, Cam Chambers, to name a few. Taking a talented linebacker from the Sicklerville school is definitely a double impact -- a good player at a position of need, and perhaps a stronger bond with a school Rutgers definitely needs to recruit hard. It does not hurt that Rutgers first 2017 commit, Naijee Jones, is also a Timber Creek athlete.

Korab Idrizzi (Bergen Catholic)

Korab fit the pattern of an under-recruited late bloomer from a strong local program, but ultimately this was a swing and miss, perhaps as a result of Campanile brother solidarity. Bergen Catholic has not been a productive hunting ground for Rutgers - the only scholarship football player Rutgers landed since 2007 is John Tsimis, who was a risk at the time because he had some significant injury history in high school, missing his senior season with an ACL tear. It's hard to fault Ash for taking a chance on Idrizzi to try to build a bridge to Oradell Avenue, but the likelihood is most Bergen Catholic kids are not coming to Rutgers if they have other options. The ones who want to play big-time football have dreams of playing at private/Catholic schools, and tend to view Rutgers as a fallback - that's why so many of them end up at schools like Notre Dame, BC, Northwestern, Stanford, Duke, etc, or playing for Ivies. The Guarantano saga is emblematic of Rutgers recruitment of Bergen Catholic - always the bridesmaid (or safety school), never the bride. It's unclear whether the way Idrizzi's recruitment went down will strain the relationship, and its possible we will not be able to answer that question solely from looking at recruiting results - a drop from one in a decade to none is hardly perceptible.

Compare and Contrast

Coach Ash clearly used his first recruiting as a way systematically to reach out to local powerhouses.  Kyle Flood didn't seem to place the same priority on deliberately taking kids from NJ powers - his class always seemed to end with a few random Florida guys, maybe a Midwest guy or two, and perhaps a DC area kid, with only a handful of late NJ pickups (Najee Clayton from Paramus Catholic was a good one last year). If Coach Ash is able to parlay some of these late plays into future payoffs down the road, Rutgers is going to be in a very strong position. Evident from much of what Coach Ash has shown so far, there is going to be long-range thinking in every aspect of the program, especially recruiting -- nothing random, and everything done for a reason.