As the spring nears, all eyes in the college football recruiting world have turned to the class of 2019. Since Chris Ash became head coach at Rutgers in December 2015, he and his staff have worked hard in recruiting New Jersey, but have had just moderate success so far with landing elite players each year within the state. To be fair, the previous coaching regime certainly put the new staff in a hole they needed to dig out of from the start. It appears they may have now have finally reached the ground level and can now build on achieving more success in the third full recruiting cycle for Ash at Rutgers. While there have been some solid wins for Ash the past two cycles, the 2019 class is a pivotal one, as the rebuild under his direction enters year three.
In his first full recruiting cycle with the class of 2017, Ash did land Micah Clark and Bo Melton, who were two of the top three prospects in the Garden state per 247 Sports. It was the first time the program landed any top ten recruit in New Jersey since the 2013 class, so it was a big win to land two of the top three. Additionally, Rutgers added two other top 25 players in the state, Johnathan Lewis and Jamaal Beaty. Overall, Ash signed 11 of the top 40 players in the state for the class of 2017 per 247 Sports, which was a respectable haul in his first full recruiting cycle on the banks.
Rutgers had less success with the 2018 class, which wasn't surprising coming off of a 2-10 season the year prior. They ultimately signed three players in the top 25 and five players in the top 40 per 247 Sports. Athlete Daevon Robinson (9th) and Isaih Pacheco (17th) were the most notable recruits who joined the program from New Jersey in the cycle that just concluded in February. For a full look into where all the 2018 recruits from New Jersey went this past cycle, click here.
The good news is that Ash and the staff are off to a solid start with the class of 2019 in regard to recruiting the Garden state. Only three of the top 25 players in New Jersey per 247 Sports, have verbally committed so far in the 2019 cycle. Two pledged to Rutgers. QB Zamir Wise, who is ranked 11th in the 2019 class per 247 Sports, gave his verbal commitment to the program last September. Jaaron Hayek, the younger brother of current Scarlet Knights Tyler and Hunter Hayek, is ranked 24th per 247 Sports, also gave his verbal pledge to Rutgers last November.
In addition, Rutgers is actively recruiting many of the top recruits in New Jersey in the class of 2019, having made roughly 30 offers so far, and seem to have positioned themselves well to have a legitimate shot to have more success this cycle in landing top in-state talent. 4-star running back Rahmir Johnson is from Bergen Catholic, is a top ten recruit in the state and played for current Rutgers running back coach Nunzio Campanile last season. 247 Sports lists Boston College, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Rutgers as the four most actively involved right now. Campanile could make a huge impact overall this cycle, based on his reputation and relationships built across New Jersey during his high school coaching career.
One of the top in-state linebackers, Brian Ugwu from Hillside, told New Jersey Advance Media’s Todderick Hunt this past week that Rutgers and Minnesota are in the lead for his services so far.
Hayek’s teammate, top 20 in-state wide receiver Charles Njoku from Wayne Hills, is also being heavily pursued by Rutgers.
Another great sign was last Friday’s announcement from John Olmstead of St. Joseph’s of Metuchen, who narrowed his list down to 10 schools and included Rutgers. Olmstead is the top offensive tackle in the state and is a national 4-star recruit. Rivals and Todderick Hunt of NJ Advance Media list Olmstead as the top recruit in the 2019 class for New Jersey, while 247 Sports ranks him 4th.
I am truly thankful to every school that has offered me a chance to continue my academic and athletic careers. It has been an honor to meet all of the coaches who recruited me. After many conversations with my family and much prayer, I will be considering these ten schools. pic.twitter.com/VWo7qGQvlP— John Olmstead (@JOHNNYO_72) March 16, 2018
It won’t be easy in landing the 6’6”, 300 pound lineman, who lists the usual suspects from the Big Ten along with Rutgers, including Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, as well as Minnesota. The other three non-Big Ten schools that Olmstead is still considering are LSU, Ole Miss and Notre Dame. Could Olmstead shun the national powers and stay local like former top offensive tackle Anthony Davis did by playing at Rutgers a decade ago? Only time will tell and while it’s fair to be skeptical of Rutgers’ chances in facing such steep competition, the fact is Ash and the coaching staff have done a good job staying in the mix with a top nationalrecruit that holds over 30 power five offers.
Olmstead spoke with Adam Friedman of Rivals about his top ten and had this to say about his hometown team:
“They are very big for me,” he said. “I literally live five minutes away from the Rutgers stadium. That’s a big factor, staying home and have having Jersey Pride. I have a good relationship with the offensive line coach and coach Ash. I’m very fond of the program and they are rebuilding right now. I think they’ll be very good in the future.”
It sounds like Olmstead is a dream recruit, as he is a great student and has a reputation of being a leader and compassionate member of his community. Greg Tufaro of MyCentralJersey.com has a great profile on the young man here. It is worth a read.
This recruiting cycle is monumental for Ash, as he continues to rebuild the program from the ground up. There is no doubt that he and his staff have upgraded the talent on the roster since their arrival and he sounded very confident as to where the program was heading into year three at the start of spring camp two weeks ago. Winning three Big Ten games last season was a step forward and hopefully it showed top local recruits in the class of 2019 that real change is occurring. If Ash can figure out a way to land elite talent within New Jersey year over year, he would have cracked the code that no Rutgers coach has ever accomplished before him.
Yes, while former coach Greg Schiano was the most successful in recruiting the garden state, he never had classes year over year consistently with five of the top ten recruits in New Jersey. That mark may not be realistic ever, or at least for now. However, if Ash can land two to three of the top ten and land double figure recruits in the top 40, it would be a major step forward on the recruiting front for Rutgers football. Perhaps 2019 will be the class that we look back on years from now that truly set the program’s direction under Ash on a higher plain.