The 2004 Recruiting Class: Filling in the Trenches

What were some of the highlights of this year's Rutgers recruiting class? For that, I combed through a database of more than 600 Rutgers recruits. The database spans almost 30 years, from 1978 through 2004.

The 2004 Recruiting Class: Filling in the Trenches

By the time you read this article, it will be at least slightly irrelevant, and hopefully it will be completely useless.  That's just the way it is in the hectic world of college recruiting, where things can change as quickly as a defensive back can run a 40-yard sprint.  And so it is again this year.  This summary of the 2004 Rutgers recruiting class was, out of necessity, assembled in advance of National Letter of Intent Day, but a lot can happen as those little pieces of paper come rolling from the fax machine.  The Scarlet Knights probably stand to lose at least one commitment, and could gain at least one more.  And one of two things will happen: a good class could become a little better or worse, or a good class could become simply fantastic.  The balance could swing with the decision of a north Jersey standout. 


For Whom the Bell Toals

In all likelihood, fourth-year head coach Greg Schiano has already put the finishing touches on his latest class, but New Jersey's top recruit visited last weekend and will announce his decision after this article is loaded onto the website.  If the planets align, linebacker Brian Toal of Don Bosco Prep will pledge to play his college ball for the State University.  Sure, it's a small chance, but it's there.  Toal parceled out one of his precious five official visits to Greg Schiano, rather than Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech or Ty Willingham of Notre Dame—the same Ty Willingham who spent seven hours in the Toal house two weeks ago trying to convince him otherwise. 

Waiting for Toal's decision has driven die-hard Rutgers fans to distraction, but even if Rutgers doesn't land Toal, this year's recruiting season has provided further proof that Schiano has the program headed in the right direction.  Whether Toal signs with Schiano today or chooses to go elsewhere, he was intrigued enough to visit the State University on his final weekend.  He saw something special in Piscataway, and did more than say the right thing.  Toal gave the State University a fighting chance, and that makes him a local hero, no matter where he decides to play ball next fall. 


Signs of a Revival

Besides Toal's visit, the Rutgers faithful were treated to other signs that the Knights' fortunes may indeed be on the upswing.  Hackensack's Jean Beljour appeared on the MSG network at the network's request, pulled off his t-shirt, and revealed a shining Scarlet jersey and an ear-to-ear grin.  And other programs begin to take notice of what was going on in New Jersey: Sometimes their message boards were complimentary, and sometimes they were hate-filled, but the number of Rutgers-related posts on Internet recruiting sites surged—people are beginning to notice. 

Not all of New Jersey's top players came to visit, but it seemed that everywhere the competition looked, "Rutgers" was listed in the "Favorite Schools" section.  Although Schiano missed out on a number of high profile recruits, he convinced them to take official visits to the Banks.  Camden's Shukree Barfield, Eastern's Phil Trautwein, New Brunswick's own Dwayne Jarrett, and Toal each checked out the program up close.


Rutgers University's 2004 Football Recruiting Class

Barring any last minute commitments, signing day surprises, or—the unimaginable—a second recruit from Don Bosco Prep, the following players will send national letters of intent to Rutgers today.







Mike Teel




Wyckoff, NJ

Keith Taylor




Elizabeth, NJ

Mike Gilmartin




Estero, FL

Renold Fenelus




Fort Lauderdale, FL

Bruce McKever




Belle Glade, FL

Jean Beljour




Hackensack, NJ

Darren Salinardi




Jersey City, NJ

Joe Salinardi




Jersey City, NJ

Mike Ziarnowski




Somerville, NJ

Jeremy Zuttah




Edison, NJ

Anthony Miller




Edison, NJ

Dwayne Jones




Lakewood, NJ

Jon Fields




Matawan, NJ

Dimitri Linton




Oakland Park, FL

Jeremy Ito




Redlands, CA

Jamaal Westerman




Brampton, ON

Chenry Lewis




Paterson, NJ

Corey Hyman




Fort Lauderdale, FL

Chazz Lynn




Wayne, NJ



Recruiting by the Numbers

What were some of the highlights of this year's Rutgers recruiting class?  For that, I combed through a database of more than 600 Rutgers recruits.  The database spans almost 30 years, from 1978 through 2004.  It covers the tenure of five coaches, includes the entire period once referred to as "Bigger Time", and even a few years of "Little Time."  Of course, the recruiting process was almost genteel then compared to today, and the players recruited by what was essentially a Patriot League football program were often less talented than today's Big East monsters.  But history provides a little continuity and a lot of perspective.  How impressed should we be with that flashy new recruit from Mercer County?  Is he supposed to be the next Rusty Hochberg, the next Albie Mallon, or the next Melvin Cobbs?  Where do the new kids stack up in the pantheon of Rutgers recruiting classes?


Top Ten with a Bullet

Two incoming players were rated highly enough to place among the top ten Rutgers recruits of all time.  Offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah of J.P. Stevens High School in Edison is the sixth best player ever to commit to the Scarlet Knights.  Star fullback Dwayne Jones from Lakewood rates as the third best Rutgers recruit of all time, behind only Nate Robinson and Berkeley Hutchinson: that also makes Jones the top Rutgers running back recruit of all-time.  Schiano is now responsible for bringing in six of the top ten recruits in Rutgers history—Robinson, Hutchinson, Jones, Rikki Cook, Zuttah, and Davon Clark.  If the planets were to somehow align and Brian Toal decided to ply his trade in Scarlet, he would raise the total of top ten players to seven.


All Recruiting is Local

The 6-4, 290 pound Zuttah, in addition to being among the top 10 recruits of all time, is also best player ever recruited from Middlesex County, Rutgers' heartland.  Schiano also signed Zuttah's teammate, wide receiver Anthony Miller, the 8th best Middlesex recruit of all-time.  Zuttah finished ahead of Highland Park's Bruce Presley (1991), Varnell Johnson of East Brunswick (1993), and Jack McKiernan from what was then Madison Central High School in Old Bridge (also 1993).  Schiano fared well in his own home turf, picking up the top two Rutgers recruits ever from Bergen County, Mike Teel and Jean Beljour.  Teel and Beljour finished in front of Sam Johnson of Bergen Catholic (2003), John Komar (Lodi, 1992), and Shane Smith (Teaneck, 1999).  Toal would be the best ever.  Dwayne Jones, the fullback from Lakewood, was the best ever recruit from Ocean County, displacing Ryshaun Conover (Lakewood, 1999), Jack Bloom (Toms River, 1997), Brian Duffy (Brick, 1999), and Mark Segaloff (Toms River, 2001). 

Schiano brought in no players from the following counties: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Morris, Salem, and Warren.


Broadening and Strengthening the Recruiting Base

Schiano continued to tap new pipelines in his recruiting efforts, and none is more important than the one that produced his new signal-caller, Mike Teel.  Teel is the Scarlet Knights' first-ever commitment from Don Bosco Prep School in Ramsey, arguably one of the five most important recruiting targets in the entire state.  Don Bosco produces three to four Division 1-A prospects per year and is smack in the middle of Schiano's home turf of Bergen County.  Schiano also continued to tap into Paterson Catholic, another standout North Jersey public school that had never yielded a player to the Knights until Schiano's tenure.  Linebacker Chenry Lewis, defensive end Rashawn Ricks (2003), and defensive tackle Davon Clark (2001) each played for the Cougars.

Rutgers also returned to familiar ground with the 2004 class.  Keith Taylor is the eighth recruit from Elizabeth High School, following players like Raheem Orr (1999), Shawn Devlin (1992), and Malik Jackson 1990).  Jean Beljour is the sixth recruit from Hackensack, and Zuttah and Miller are the seventh and eighth recruits from J.P. Stevens.  Stevens and Elizabeth have produced the most Rutgers recruits of any New Jersey High School, with eight players apiece.



The Best Rutgers Recruiter Ever?

It's been discussed at length in chat rooms and on message boards, but what do the numbers say about Greg Schiano's recruiting acumen?  The numbers clearly bear out that Greg Schiano is, by a wide margin, the best recruiter we have ever seen.  Grading players based on a scale of one through ten, one being a marginal 1-A recruit and ten being a top national recruit, Schiano's average recruit has had a rating of 5.62.  The next best recruiter was Terry Shea, but Shea is nearly ¾ of a percent behind at 4.96.  And Shea's classes were pock-marked with high-profile recruits who never made it academically.  Neck-and-neck with Shea at 4.93 points per recruit is Doug Graber, who also suffered some high-profile defections.  But Schiano has sprinted to the head of the pack and is lengthening his lead.


Linebacker U?

No, it's not exactly Penn State, but linebacker has clearly been the best-recruited position at the State University.  In the 1980s, it was players like Tyronne Stowe (Passaic, 1983) and Shawn Williams (Burlington, 1988).  In the 1990s, it was recruits like Brian Sheridan (Union, 1983) and Scott Peeler (Cherry Hill East, 1994).  And in the new millennium, it's players like Will Gilkison, Berkeley Hutchinson, and William Beckford.  Who were the top five signees in history?  Hutchinson, Raheem Orr, Lamar King (DeMatha Catholic, 1994), Brian Sheridan (Union, 1993), and Rashawn Ricks (Paterson Catholic, 2003).  Schiano and Doug Graber were the most accomplished at signing linebackers: Schiano has signed four of the top ten and Graber five.  If Brian Toal sends a letter of intent to Piscataway this afternoon, he would be the top linebacker ever recruited to Rutgers.


South Jersey: Still One Wall Missing

In four years, Schiano has made major recruiting strides, erecting walls in northern and central New Jersey, mining south Florida for speed and talent, and working overtime to repair relations with the New Jersey high school coaching community.  But if there's one weakness to Schiano's recruiting effort—and he has proven to be a master recruiter—it's been his inability to reverse the negative perceptions of the State University in southern New Jersey.  For now, the wall in that fertile portion of the state remains unassembled, left wide open to the jackals from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten.  This year was no different, as Rutgers was nearly shut out in southern New Jersey.  Although the one south Jersey player they did sign was top-rated running back Dwayne Jones of Lakewood, Schiano's success in southern New Jersey will probably remain modest until the won-loss record improves.


Reviewing the 2004 Class by Unit

How does the 2004 recruiting class stack up against previous recruiting classes by unit?  Here's a summary of the results at each position and how they rate historically.



2004 Class Historical Rank: #3 All-Time

Best Class All-Time: 2002 (Beckford, Hutchinson, Gilkison, Bynes)

How could Schiano be expected to top the 2002 linebacker class, which included Berkeley Hutchinson, Wil Gilkison, Papa Beckford, and Terry Bynes?  He may never top it.  Hutchinson, the star Long Branch linebacker, was rated 9.89 out of a possible 10, Gilkison was the fifth best linebacker ever recruited, Beckford scored a 7.03, and Terry Bynes rounded out the best class ever signed at Rutgers.  So what did Schiano do to try to top his 2002 act?  He signed two outstanding linebackers in putting together what will probably be the third best linebacker class in Rutgers history, behind the 2002 class and Doug Graber's 1992 haul, which included News Tribune Player of the Year Rusty Swartz of Edison and consensus first team All-State selection Mike Brestle from Absecon. 

The 2004 class features Immaculata's Mike Ziarnowski and Paterson Catholic's Chenry Lewis.  Ziarnowski, a rock-solid 235-pounder from central New Jersey, was another early commitment who was highly rated by recruiting services despite playing at a high school that is not traditionally a powerhouse.  Ziarnowski may eventually put on additional weight and move to defensive end, where his 4.6 speed will be even more of an asset.  Ziarnowski's 7.03 score makes him the 10th best linebacker ever recruited by Rutgers, and is identical to Beckford's score as well as that of Paulsboro native Wayne Hampton, Terry Shea's landmark 1996 recruit.  Lewis, at 6.90, checks in just a shade below Ziarnowski.  Lewis was a consensus first team All-State selection rated similarly to Colonia's Piana Lukabu, recruited in 2001 and since moved to defensive end.  If Schiano's fax machine spits out a piece of paper on signing day that has the words "Brian Toal" scribbled on it, this class would be off the charts.



2004 Class Historical Rank: #2 All-Time

Best Class All-Time: 2001 (Ryan Cubit, Chris Baker)

This year's class has only one quarterback, but he's a blockbuster.  Mike Teel, fresh from winning a state championship with the Ironmen of Don Bosco Prep, will strap on the pads and try to win a Big East championship for his State University.  Mike will probably redshirt this year, but he's clearly the quarterback of the future.  Teel's score of 7.58 places him as the second most highly recruited triggerman ever signed by the Scarlet Knights, behind Ryan Cubit, who has since transferred to Western Michigan, and ahead of Chris Dapolito (2000) and Mike McMahon (1997).  The top five quarterback recruits in Rutgers history, in order, are Cubit, Teel, Dapolito, McMahon, and Anthony Cali.  Schiano has now signed five of the top 10 quarterback recruits in school history.



2004 Class Historical Rank: #7 All-Time

Best Class All-Time: 1999 (Krystoff Kaczorowski, Rich McManis, Brian Duffy)

Thanks to Zuttah, Schiano can now claim to have brought in the most highly rated offensive lineman in Rutgers history.  Zuttah, a consensus top 100 recruit nationally, stunned the recruiting community when he chose to be a hometown hero over offers from football powerhouses such as Ohio State.  His score of 9.07 places him well above Hoboken's Ivan Ramos, recruited in 1995 by former coach Doug Graber but subsequently plagued with academic problems.  Zuttah is almost certain to redshirt in 2004 while learning from fifth-year senior Brian Duffy, a member of the best offensive line class in Scarlet history in 1999.  How significant is Zuttah's commitment in the annals of Rutgers recruiting?  He's also the sixth best player ever signed by the Knights, right behind Rikki Cook (Montclair, 2001) and just ahead of Raheem Orr (Elizabeth, 1999). 

But Zuttah wasn't the only road grader signed this year.  Corey Hyman, a center/guard from Florida, also signed.  Hyman rated a 5.84, which places him historically with the likes of current Scarlet Knight Sameeh McDonald (Newark, 2001) and Allen Mitchell (Abington, Pennsylvania, 1987), one of Big Dog's former teammates.  Rutgers also signed one more Florida lineman, Mike Gilmartin, and lost another, Akeem Robinson, who was in play up until the very end because of his talent and versatility: schools projected him anywhere from offensive line to tight end to defensive line.  Also in Schiano's haul this year was local star Jon Fields, a guard from Matawan-Aberdeen Regional High School.  Fields scored roughly the same as 2002 recruit and projected starting center Will Vogt.

It's not the largest offensive line class in history: that distinction belongs to the 1998 Terry Shea class, which contained a whopping nine offensive linemen, only five of whom would ever play a down for Rutgers.  But while this year's line class isn't as large as the 1998 class, it is much more highly regarded, with an average rating of 5.54 versus 4.69 for the 1998 class.  It's also not a stretch to be bringing in five offensive linemen: if this class of roughly 20 players were distributed in the same proportions as a depth chart, Rutgers would be looking to bring in four offensive linemen.  



2004 Class Historical Rank: #3 All-Time

Best Class All-Time: 2003 (Justise Hairston, Orlando Kane, Jamar Brittingham)

Schiano landed three running backs in this year's class, but wasn't quite able to surpass last year's all-time best class.  However, two members of last year's class are not currently with the team, so the long-run impact of this year's class could end up being greater than the 2003 class.  The headline running back is Dwayne Jones, a Super Prep All-American and Prep Stars Dream Team selection.  Jones battled injuries throughout the year, but is still the best running back ever signed by Rutgers, with a score of 9.62.  Jones beat out former Scarlet Knight Rikki Cook (Montclair, 2001), who scored a 9.48.  Dwayne also checks in as the third-best player to ever sign at Rutgers, behind Nate Robinson (10.0) and Berkeley Hutchinson (9.89).

Joining Jones on the Banks are two other talented runners.  Dimitri Linton, the Class 5-A Player of the Year in Florida, was generally considered under-recognized, and his score of 4.39 reflects that, but Rutgers fans should recognize two former Rutgers recruits who arrived on the Banks with the identical score: Albert Smith and Ted Blackwell.  Smith, a Union native, rushed for 2,269 yards between 1982 and 1985, and still holds 7th place on the Scarlet Knights career rushing list.  Blackwell, from New Providence, graduated in 1980 with a whopping 4.75 yard rushing average and over 1,800 total yards.  MSG Tri-State Heisman All-Star Jean Beljour may eventually end up in the secondary, but was a very productive rusher in high school.  Beljour's 7.58 rating is identical to current Rutgers fan favorite Brian Leonard, so fans should be in store for a treat when Beljour eventually hits the field.



2004 Class Historical Rank: #15 All-Time

Best Class All-Time: 2003 (Nate Robinson, David Harley)

While the 2004 defensive line recruits didn't score as highly as other years, this shouldn't be a surprise for defensive linemen: there are many more developmental players than superstars, and defensive line is one of the positions that sees players progress the most from signing to graduation.  Rutgers brought in four players this year, and most of them won't be needed for immediate help.   

Each player has impressive size and speed that should translate well to the defensive line.  Jamaal Westerman, an import from Ontario, is likely headed for defensive end.  Renold Fenelus from Fort Lauderdale High School will eventually man the middle.  At 6-4, 265 pounds and with 4.8 speed, Fenelus was largely unheard of in recruiting databases.  But Schiano and staff liked what they saw and offered quite some time ago.  Both players scored a 3.90, reflecting their "under the radar" status.  Two other players that came in with similar ratings were Kory Kozak (Macungie, PA), who spent four years on the Banks starting in 1988, and Gary Gibson (Lafayette, NY, 2000), the senior tackle who has quietly put together a productive career.  Schiano also signed the Salinardi twins, Darren and Joe, from Hudson Catholic.  Their score of 3.58 is identical to that of outgoing senior Marty Pyszczymuka (Sparta, 1999), who eventually became a stalwart at center after moving to the offensive line.  One of the twins is expected to follow suit. 



2004 Class Historical Rank: #12 All-Time

Best Class All-Time: 1995 (Jason Smith)

There are two wide receivers in the 2004 recruiting class, and both, to some extent, can point to extenuating circumstances for the lack of attention they received from the recruiting community in 2004.  Anthony Miller, a 6-0, 170-pound burner from J.P. Stevens High School in Edison, committed to the Scarlet Knights early in the process.  Miller would probably have seen his star rise even farther had he not volunteered to switch to quarterback for his senior year.  For that reason, Miller was probably relieved to have secured an early spot in Rutgers' 2004 class.  Miller is an almost certain redshirt candidate for the Scarlet Knights, who are very deep at wide receiver.  Miller's score of 6.35 still rates as the 10th best wide receiver recruit ever, just behind Atlantic City standout Steven Harper, who signed on with Doug Graber in 1993.

Miller's incoming wingman, Keith Taylor, probably felt even more neglected in 2003.  Playing in an Elizabeth offense that wasn't exactly receiver-friendly, Taylor didn't exactly post eye-catching numbers and was generally ignored in post-season honors.  But Schiano, who has always said that coaches should recruit with their eyes and not their ears, noticed early on that Taylor had attributes that you can't teach, such as speed and size.  Taylor stands an impressive 6-4 and weighs 175 pounds, and he should put on a bit more weight at the college level.  That he was able to fly so far under the radar in 2003 is perplexing, but many underappreciated high school receivers have gone on to impressive college careers: Lodi's Jim Guarantano, a 1988 Lodi High School graduate and 1988 commitment to Dick Anderson, came in with a lower score than Taylor's but enjoyed a fine college career.



2004 Class Historical Rank: #10 All-Time

Best Class All-Time: 1997 (Jason Ohene, Dante Siciliano, DeWayne Thompson, Riley Jefferson)

Rutgers needed to re-load the pipeline in the secondary with a few more players, since Brandon Haw and Nate Jones graduated in 2003 and Eddie Grimes leaves after 2004.  Schiano signed two defensive backs for the incoming class.  Wayne Valley's Chazz Lynn battled through injuries in 2003, which certainly reduced the attention paid to him by college recruiters, but Schiano saw enough to offer him very early.  Lynn, the son of former Giants defensive coordinator and former New York Jet player Johnny Lynn, has the defensive backfield in his bloodlines.  Chazz's score slots him in historically just ahead of players such as Derek Ward of Kingsway Regional, a 1993 signee, and right alongside Aaron Brady, a standout from Hanover, Pennsylvania, who signed in 1995 and eventually ended up at linebacker. 

Also coming in with Lynn is Bruce McKever, a tall corner from Belle Glade, Florida, William Beckford's alma mater.  McKever was a relative unknown when he signed on, but Syracuse thought enough of him to invite him for a visit, but the Orangemen were pretty well stocked at running back/defensive back for 2004 and did not offer a scholarship.  But Schiano was intrigued by McKever's 6-2 frame, which is rare in a cornerback and makes him well-suited to cover some of today's bigger wide receivers.  While McKever's score of 3.85 shows that he was definitely flying under the radar in 2003, Rutgers has been very successful in bringing in less-recruited athletes and turning them into strong secondary men: Bryan Durango (West New York, 2002), Keith Price (Jersey City, 1990), Eddie Grimes (Hialeah, FL, 2001), and Shaun Smith (Oakland, 1989), all came in with lower scores than McKever.     


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