Rutgers reaches out to young talent

Rutgers is moving to the Big Ten next season. One of the Scarlet Knights' first commitments in the 2014 recruiting class is a quarterback from Michigan. Coincidence?

Well, yes, actually.

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said not to expect a run on players from the traditional Big Ten states. Quarterback is a position Flood will look at nationally, and verbal pledge Tyler Wiegers just happens to be from Detroit Country Day in Beverly Hills, Mich.

"Our recruiting footprint has not changed," Flood said. "It always starts with New Jersey, and we always need the best players in New Jersey to commit and sign with Rutgers."

The game plan may not have changed, but the results might soon be different.

The top players from the underrated and relatively talented state of New Jersey have traditionally escaped the clutches of the home team, whose name has been synonymous with losing for the better part of its football history. Only one 2013 ESPN 300 in-state player, Nadir Barnwell, signed with the Knights, and the early results don't look good for 2014.

Five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers from nearby Paramus (N.J.) Catholic could visit Rutgers once more before deciding Sunday, but even if he does make it to Piscataway, the Knights are likely to miss on him.

While Rutgers will still strive to net at least half of the state's top 2014 and 2015 prospects, the 2016 class is earmarked as a potential recruiting cycle during which the Scarlet Knights could hit a home run in the Garden State.

Whether it is innovation, coincidence or a mixture for both, Rutgers has sent out multiple offers to prospects who just wrapped up their freshmen seasons. In all, Rutgers has offered four in-state freshmen and two from Maryland. It's an inexact science, knowing how many offers a program has out, but by ESPN's count, no BCS program has offered more freshmen than the Knights.

Jarrett Guarantano is a 2016 quarterback out of perennial powerhouse Bergen Catholic in Oradell. He had not played a down of varsity football but earned a Rutgers offer before his freshman season. His father is James Guarantano, who graduated in 1992 as Rutgers' all-time leader in receptions and is ranked sixth in program history. Although James' name is throughout the Knights' record books, the family said they will explore all of Jarrett's options.

Rutgers' only option, the elder Guarantano said, is to offer the elite in-state players -- freshmen or younger.

"I think they have no choice but to do it," he said. "If they don't and they lose them, everyone says, 'Holy mackerel how is Notre Dame, Ohio State, West Virginia taking your kids? Are they taking them because they didn't show enough love early on, didn't try to build relationships?' That's what they have to do."

For Jarrett, an early offer from Rutgers means the Knights will always be in the mix. The same goes for 2016 defensive lineman Rashan Gary (Scotch Plains, N.J./Scotch Plains-Fanwood), a top performer at a recent Nike Football Training Camp.

"Rutgers was the first to give me a chance, to give me a college football scholarship [offer]," Gary said, "so they always will be in my top 10, top five."

Flood said his staff's quick trigger is not necessarily a move to get a jump on the competition but more a perfect storm of factors – one of them being earlier access to game tape.

Technology has streamlined the recruiting process for coaches. Flood said he remembers having to snail mail a VHS tape to high school coaches so they could copy a player's highlight on it and send it back to the staff.

Now coaches can watch a player's highlights online and possibly evaluate a hundred or more prospects in a day. A coach could be watching a prospect's latest game less than 24 hours after the final whistle.

"It's amazing," Flood said, "and the quicker we have the tape the quicker the evaluation happens and then we can make our decision. We're making our decision earlier and kids are making their decisions earlier."

Flood said there will not come a time when Rutgers begins offering prospects during their freshman year at the same rate it offers juniors.

"It should be a unique situation. Sometimes they're an elite player, other times you might have a significant relationship," Flood said. "But I don't know if you want to have too many of those."

Flood says he won't recruit outside of the Mid-Atlantic region, save for the state of Florida, because there is enough talent in New Jersey and the surrounding areas to compete in the Big Ten. With that plan in mind, Rutgers needs to start winning more local recruiting battles, and 2016 could spark that shift.