Greg Schiano proved to be a great closer in his first 60 days as Rutgers head coach, locking up what may be the school's best recruiting class ever. Now the 33-year-old Jersey native is moving fast to try and make a run at a class that could make the Scarlet Knights a national player.
In mid-February, Schiano hosted Rutgers' Junior Day, and the event drew 150 of the state's top prospects, including big-timers Chris Olsen, a QB and TE Freddie Rivera. The recruits toured the campus and the athletic facilities. Then went to the Georgetown-Rutgers men's basketball game. "It was great, when they brought us in, the entire arena, 11,000 people, gave us a standing ovation," says Olsen, who some are calling a top-five QB prospect after throwing 22 TDs and just 4 INTs last season for Wayne Hills. "I was really impressed by the whole experience."
Olsen's growing interest in Rutgers is emblematic of the program's surge. Last year, in the summer before his junior year, the strong-armed 6-4, 218-pounder turned heads at Miami's quarterback camp and was offered on the spot. He's also been offered by BC and Northwestern, but Olsen said Rutgers didn't even bother sending him letters before.
Olsen's dad, Chris, who is the coach at Wayne Hills HS and a 26-year veteran of New Jersey prep football, says Rutgers wasn't on their radar before Schiano arived and brought his big-dreams approach. "This is the first time there has ever been a buzz about Rutgers football," says the elder Olsen. "There is a sense of excitement and coaches and players alike all over the state feel like Rutgers is going to turn over every stone in the state to find talent."
·Southern Cal OC Norm Chow is really going to miss N.C. State -- especially Wolfpack QB Phillip Rivers, whom the former BYU passing guru calls one of the two smartest quarterbacks he's ever been around (Ty Detmer was the other). "It made leaving [State] the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Chow says. "He was so eager and so willing to learn."
· Ran into Chris Weinke down at IMG's pre-draft training camp in Bradenton, Fla., last week, and the Heisman winner reports that he is in the best shape of his life thanks to a strict 7-5 workout regimen heavy on stretching. Incidentally, the former Seminole standout raved about FSU QB signee Joe Mauer, who, like Weinke, is a product of St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Durham Hall. "He's gonna be great," Weinke says of the 6-4, 215-pound high-school senior. "He's waaaay better than I was at that stage. I think he's the best I've ever seen at that level because he has such a great understanding of the position and he has outstanding footwork and arm strength and the maturity too."
· Bolstering the nation's second-worst defense won't be easy, but Duke has already gotten some encouraging signs thanks to the arrival of 24-year-old freshman Jim Scharrer. The 6-4, 235-pound ILB, who turned down offers from Penn State, Nebraska and Ohio State in '95 to play pro baseball, has flashed the hard-nosed style the Blue Devils have been lacking. "Obviously, he's a little rusty," says Duke ILB coach Brad Sherrod. "But he has shown some really good closing speed and he's a very tough kid."
· Last year, the talk of Virginia Tech's pro-timing day was Michael Vick's 4.25 forty. This February, the buzz was punter Vinnie Burns, whose 4.35 on the suped-up Mondo surface was the fourth-fastest on the squad. But coaches say there's no truth to the rumor that the 5-11, 173-pound soph will get a trial at WR.
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