It has been almost seven weeks since the Scarlet Knights squared off with Nebraska during Championship Week in Piscataway. It was a 28-21 loss for Rutgers that gave them a 3-6 record to end the season.
This may not sound like a season that had fans doing backflips. Let’s take a closer look. Rutgers’ three wins this season matched their total from the previous two seasons, none of which came in Big Ten play. Long story short, Greg Schiano has the Scarlet Knights trending upwards and that was visible on the field. And it continued in the recruiting game.
Rutgers left signing day with a 2021 recruiting class ranked 41st in the nation and came in at No. 9 in the Big Ten. According to 247Sports, Schiano and the Scarlet Knights were able to land seven of the top-20 recruits in New Jersey. This includes three who were ranked in the top-five — Alijah Clark, Khayri Banton, and Shaquon Loyal.
“Football is showing a heartbeat again and that gets people excited,” Schiano said on Wednesday during his signing day news conference. “You could just see that pride. I remember right before I left, that class was going to be something else. There could be arguments; was it going to be top five, top 10. It was going to be in the top 10. And some guys decommitted and left. Do those rankings mean anything? Not really, but they mean something or they wouldn’t have them. And just the perception was that we were there. We were now able to get the tops. And now I think that’s where we are headed.”
Schiano has a plan and part of it was to recruit heavily in New Jersey. Keeping some of the top talent at home will help Rutgers get back to where they were when Schiano first left. Outside of the Garden State, the Scarlet Knights will continue to be aggressive as well.
“There’s 16 from New Jersey which is something I’ve always said, our backyard is the most important in building this program,” Schiano said. “We stayed consistent in bringing guys from Florida to be apart of our program. We got five from Florida. Kind of a new part of our recruiting is the state of Ohio. Obviously I spent some time there coaching and I’m familiar with some places so we’re going to make that an active area to recruit.”
This is part of the culture that Schiano is trying to bring to the program. This is a word that is used often at many schools within different sports. Whether it was on or off the field, the culture change in Piscataway was obvious from the day Schiano stepped back on campus.
This particular recruiting class is led by three New Jersey players with four-star ratings. Schiano made it a point to say that Rutgers will not blindly jump at players just because they are rated highly.
“We are not ever going to take a five-star to sacrifice him not fitting into our culture,” Schiano said. “Why? Because that’s not the program we are. We don’t do that. A five-star who doesn’t fit our culture can do more harm than good.”
Rutgers already has four verbal commitments from members of the Class of 2022, including Taj White of Hudson Catholic. The 6-5, 270-pound offensive lineman had been one of the top targets for the Scarlet Knights. White brought some more good news to the program as he committed on the eve of signing day.
The Scarlet Knights also have one verbal commitment from the Class of 2023. The future is bright and Schiano and his staff are already hard at work in the recruitment of different classes. That is something that has fans and the community at large looking forward to the rebuild.
“That pride in Rutgers football is tangible,” Schiano said. “I can’t get out into the community, I don’t. But I talk to a lot of people on FaceTime, telephone, WebEx. It’s a lot of, ‘hey coach, we’re fired up. Bang.’ And all that stuff. And I convey that to our team because I thought at times, maybe this program felt a little bit on an island here in Piscataway and I think that it is helpful for these guys.”