While the Rutgers staff focuses on keeping top talent home in New Jersey, an extension of the local talent branches out beyond the Garden State.
Look no further than across the Hudson River at Bronx (N.Y.) Cardinal Hayes, where Rutgers secured a commitment from three-star wide receiver Shameen Jones in the class of 2017 and has its eyes locked on top four-star offensive tackle Qadir White.
“They have to recruit (the New York City area),” said Cardinal Hayes head coach CJ O’Neil. “They are going to have to. When they go after national kids, they’re going to have a rough time competing against an Ohio State, some of the big Florida schools, some of the big SEC schools — so they have to recruit their backyard.”
Jones and White headline a nearby high school football program with Division-I talent on the rise from its younger classes.
O’Neil thinks highly of his do-it-all wide out as a natural athlete, and one that is ready for the bright stage that the Big Ten has to offer.
“He’s just a kid who is so comfortable on the football field,” O’Neil said. “He catches the ball so smoothly. (People) talked about Mickey Mantle never looking like he was struggling or doing anything when he was catching a ball and Shameen … has the similar traits of him. Everything’s just very easy for him. He catches so naturally, he moves on the field. When he breaks out from underneath his body, he transitions into routes as well as any kid that I’ve seen play. He sticks under his body and explodes out extremely well, and I think that’s his tools.
“In terms of who he is, he’s a kid — he’s a really enjoyable kid to be around, he’s a hard worker … just a great kid who’s a good student and really has his priorities correct.”
White, who said he hears from Rutgers the most and recently visited campus with seven of his high-school teammates for the July 30 barbecue, ballooned into a national prospect on the precipice of his junior year.
“He possesses a natural ability to want to finish, which is a really nice way to put it for offensive line,” said O’Neill, who compares the 6-foot-7, 300-pounder to a handful of former Cardinal Hayes linemen currently in the NFL. “He enjoys the position, which is another thing that has got to be part of it. You’ve got to enjoy being an offensive lineman and he really takes to it. His size and tools are just starting, really. He’s such a big kid at this point that he’s really just learning how to move his body correctly — and he’s doing it at a really high level.”
O’Neil went a step further and said what puts White over the top in the trenches is his attitude. The football coach since 2003, O’Neil directly compared White’s mentality and approach to NFL veteran Willie Colon.
A Cardinal Hayes alumnus, Colon played nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets.
“The kid wants to be a player and that’s something you can’t really just teach, especially in the big guys,” O’Neil said. “Willie (Colon) made a career out of that. Willie was a guy who was finishing. He was a guy who was going to finish a block to the end blow of the whistle, and Qadir has that same kind of nasty, grittiness about his personality. Now, you combine that with the fact that he’s 6-foot-7 and he’s so long and his work ethic is just tremendous.”
With the attention garnered by the latest wave of student-athletes on O’Neil’s football team, Cardinal Hayes could be a name to keep an eye on for local recruiting in the years to come.
Jones was the first in the class of 2017, and White remains a top priority for the Rutgers staff as it builds recruiting momentum for the class of 2018.
As far as the vibe around the Ash’s program is concerned, the first impression has been a positive one in the Big Apple — especially within O’Neil’s locker room.
“They seem very diligent and very focused on taking Rutgers into the Big Ten and being successful, which is going to be a big task,” O’Neil said. “They know they need players to do that. I always say that I’m a way better coach when my kids are better, when I have better players and it’s part of the task that should be organized to come off as very high-energy, which is great.
“I think they got a great opportunity in front of them and every coach, they’re going to come in and be successful right at that point right now as they’re starting to take over the program. They have very high aspirations and it’s going to be very fun to watch it develop over the next several years and see how they develop the program and how they compete in just a brutal, brutal conference.”