PISCATAWAY — By the time Rutgers head coach Chris Ash took the podium in the team meeting room of the Hale Center Wednesday, his staff received 18 letters of intent from players in the 2018 class. While there were some last-second shake-ups on the first day of the early signing period, the first edition of it went relatively smoothly for the Scarlet Knights.
“When I just look at our class in general, I think we've addressed a lot of our needs,” Ash said. “First and foremost, we've got a couple of quarterbacks coming in, and they're going to be here mid year; and to be able to have them on campus to create competition and depth in our quarterback room is going to be very, very important. And we can't wait to get those guys here. You look at the secondary, we signed a lot of DB’s, how many of them will help us next year, I don't know, but after next season we're going to lose a lot of DB’s that are on our roster and we needed to replace those guys now and not wait till next year. I think we've got some outstanding guys coming in at that position.”
The most prevalent signees on the day were the pair of quarterbacks.
“They are different, so to speak, in their skill set. Arthur is a little bit bigger. Jalen is a little more athletic. They can both throw the ball well,” Ash said. “I think they're both competitors. They're both leaders, and excited to have them both in our program. Did we necessarily by design go out and get two different styles of quarterback? Not necessarily. It's just the way it worked out. We wanted to get the best players that we could get in our program.”
Sitkowski was one of just six New Jersey recruits who signed Wednesday morning. What the Scarlet Knights lacked from the Garden State, they plucked from New York. Rutgers signed six kids from the Empire State, including two kids from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn in defensive backs Kessawn Abraham and Christian Izien.
“We're really blessed to have outstanding high school football here in our state and the surrounding states,” Ash said. “We've got great coaches. I think in the state of New York there are outstanding coaches and I think (Erasmus Hall head coach) Danny Landberg has done a great job with that program and he's built them up to be a consistent winner. He's developed the players, and we're fortunate that we've been able to get some of them. And I think he does a great job, just like so many other coaches in our area.”
A little further out of state came Raiqwon O’Neal, an offensive lineman from Conway, South Carolina. The Scarlet Knights fought off a couple of Power Five programs for the 6-foot-5, 270 pound prospect, including his home state school South Carolina and fellow Big Ten programs Maryland and Indiana.
O’Neal projects to compete at either tackle spot when he enrolls in January.
“I expect a guy who is a big athlete, he’s hungry to learn,” said offensive line coach AJ Blazek. “He’s a guy that’s going to be all over film. He’s going to want to come in, asking a lot of questions already. ‘Hey, I’m ready to start, what can I do, what can I get?’ And I told him ‘hey, enjoy Christmas. Because when you get here, we’ll have plenty of football.”
Not every freshman will play in their first season in Piscataway, and many won’t play in their positions, but plenty will feature on special teams.
“After year one, when we went back and looked through and analyzed everything, we said ‘we need to get more guys on the field that can run,’’ said special teams coordinator Vince Okruch. “So we used that spring ball semester to get the newcomers who came in to get acclimated to it and then a lot of our summer program, they had things to work on to contribute on special teams. So yeah, they’re all going to help. Again, we got better in that phase but we’re looking to get better.”