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Who will be Chris Ash’s Brian Leonard (Part II)

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Introducing the case for each.

In part one, each of the least four head coaches were reviewed with their philosophies and the skill position player who that coach was willing to be forever be associated with. These were not necessarily the best players on the team, nor the guy who looking back would be viewed as the face in retrospect. We got some interesting comments from our readers too!

First let’s review Brian Leonard’s impact to the program, students, and the fan base. Below is a good snippet, courtesy of OTB contributor Cara Sanfilippo:

My love of Rutgers football starts with Brian Leonard. I’m going to date myself a little bit here, but I arrived on the banks the same year as Greg Schiano. Rutgers Football was a non-entity, and despite my father having season tickets, I maybe went to one game while I was there. That all changed in 2005, with Rutgers first appearance in years at a bowl game, a tradition that would continue on for 9 of 10 seasons. It would begin an exciting period for the Scarlet Knights, and it all started with Brian Leonard arriving on the banks in 2002.

Many people will credit Ray Rice for Rutgers rise to success, and in many ways those people would be right. However, those same people might not remember that there would be no Ray Rice without Brian Leonard. Brian Leonard was a 3 star recruit who chose to join an abysmal Rutgers team, over other prominent scholarship offers, due to Rutgers loyalty to this older brother Nate. And loyalty was exactly what he showed his school. He played an active part in the recruitment of fellow 3-star running back Ray Rice, and even shifted his role in his final season to a lower-profile fullback position to allow Rice to shine and become the future of the program. This was despite his nomination as a Heisman candidate, and truly displayed his unselfish nature and his commitment to the success of his team.

To me, the best part of college football is heart. These young men play, in most cases, because of their love of the game. The reason I love Brian Leonard is because to me he displayed this characteristic better than any other. Drafted in the second round, he never fully amounted to his potential in the NFL, but worked hard to match his natural talent with the strength and skill set required by his competition. While Ray Rice was quick and stealthy, similar to current star Janarion Grant, Brian Leonard had a fire and physicality that made watching him so much fun. While there were of course many records that lead to his success in the 2007 Draft, including being ranked first all-time points scored (272) and first all-time combined touchdowns (45) at RU, I will always remember him for his famous “Leonard Leap.” Watching him hop over defenders on his way to the goal line put Rutgers on the map, and earned him the top spot of my list of favorites.

Thanks Cara and now back to the original question.

The 2017 Rutgers football recruiting class was covered in detail. Here are some of the high-level reasons why some of the incoming skill position recruits resemble Presley, McMahon, Laviano, and of course Leonard.

Running Back

As one of our readers pointed out in part 1, Elijah Barnwell is the most complicated of any possible contender for the title of “Ash’s Brian Leonard”.

Pro: He, like Presley, is a local legend with tremendous football skills and desire. Ash indicated they recruited him since Day 1.

Con: Crystal ball predictions had him 100% toward RU, but he didn’t actually commit until the last minute. His speed may limit him. His emotion and passion, like Laviano before him, could be portrayed negatively if the team struggles.

For thought: Elijah is the younger brother of Nadir Barnwell, a four-star recruit, and a prize of Flood’s 2013 recruiting class. Like Elijah, Nadir was talked up during the ‘13 class as having tremendous character. Unfortunately, Nadir could not stay out of trouble off of the field and would have been academically ineligible in 2015 before ultimately being dismissed from the program. For a player with the talent to be a Jabrill Peppers-like player before there was a Jabrill Peppers, Nadir’s situation makes you think the staff might have purposely not tried to put too much pressure on Elijah. Having Elijah commit late in the midst of the overall signing day excitement itself diverted what could have been significant (and potentially negative) media attention.

Others: A unique situation is Jonathan Taylor had he stayed with this recruiting class. The staff knew mid-season he had committed elsewhere, so they had ample time to find a replacement for he and Lovett. Don’t be surprised if the public finds out on a rainy day in a few years that Taylor was this staff’s number 1 target from Day 1 and would have held this distinction.

Quarterback

Johnathan Lewis overwhelmingly has had the most love from the fan base since signing day.

Pros: Because he fits the system as a local absolutely not pro-style passer, has been compared to Cardale Jones but multiple people including Ash, and Lewis is viewed as a family-oriented human being. He also showed improvement in 2016 as a bonus after the staff had their eyes on him over the higher ranked Tommy Devito the entire recruiting cycle dating back to 2015.

Cons: This offense was HORRIBLE last season so it’s a lot to ask for a young quarterback to put the team on his back. Mike McMahon ended up being pretty good and his teams still didn’t win. McMahon also ran a 4.59 40 yard dash which he needed to not get killed at times, and throwing JLew in too early could give him shell shock. Lewis was less highly ranked by 247 composite than Tom Savage, D.C. Jefferson, Laviano, Dare, and Oden.

For thought: Cardale Jones had an up and down career with the Buckeyes, though his highs were ethereal (upsetting Alabama in your 3rd start?!?!?!?!). Any Rutgers fan will accept a Big Ten title game win no matter what the circumstance.

Receivers

Bo Melton is a natural choice.

Pro: With RU athletics in his blood, a steady recruiting cycle, and already well rounded he should have success even early on and can be phased in as appropriate.

Con: How will he get the ball if we don’t see improvement from the offense. If RU completes 5 passes combined against Michigan and Ohio State again, it looks bad for the entire receiving corps.

For thought: Could a receiver really be “the” guy?

Everett Wormley / Shameen Jones

Pro: Both players seemed steady as building blocks from their rather early commitments. Wormley looks smooth in his route running on the field which could bring stability. Jones will make plays in space or traffic with good blocking as long as he has time to get open.

Con: Looking “smooth” can occasionally be confused with lack of effort. We still can’t be certain this unit can get off press coverage to allow time to get open, what plagued last year’s group.

Others: Raheem Blackshear will likely be all over the formation, who along with Eddie Lewis, Travis Vokolek, and Hunter Hayek all committed late were not necessarily scholarship recruiting targets for Day 1, so they fall out of consideration. Tim Barrow could end up on defense though I would not be surprised if he became the Janarion Grant or Leonte Carroo of this class. Tyler Hayek could also play defense and offensively projects more as a home run threat which is it’s own unique situation.

Thinking outside the box

Micah Clark

Pros: The most physical ability at this point of any recruit he could become Warren Sapp, playing both sides of the ball and even catching touchdowns in short yardage. Our own Mike Voza echoed what Todderick Hunt indicated that Clark could play anywhere on the defensive line, anywhere on the offensive line, or even tight end.

Cons: Like wideout, if the Quarterback / play calling is incompetent, there’s no love for the big boys. Too much versatility can sometimes hinder the pursuit of a niche. And a guy like Darius Hamilton even being a solid rotational contributor as a true freshman was not embraced as the high quality player he would become initially.

Tyshon Fogg

Pro: A game-changing linebacker can absolutely help turn a program around and be the leader of the defense like a QB is on offense.

Con: Linebacker play was below average putting it lightly with this team last year. Is that due to scheme/personnel? If plays outside rather than the middle, that may reduce the leadership component.

Others:

There’s a lot to like about this recruiting class, but it would take an incredible performance from anyone else to really be the Brian Leonard in this class. Even though for example if Jamaal Beaty, Simmons, Bordner, Fatukasi, etc became an All-Big Ten performer I don’t think the staff or fan base would be THAT shocked.