Recruiting In The Trenches

The old axiom that you win in the trenches bears special meaning to the Rutgers University football team who until recently ran smurfs out onto the field masquerading as offense and defensive linemen. Taking over in December of 2000, Coach Schiano made it one of his first priorities to recruit offensive and defensive linemen. <p>This article examines those first four recruiting classes of what is affectionately known as "the big uglies."

The old axiom that you win in the trenches bears special meaning to the Rutgers University football team who until recently ran smurfs out onto the field masquerading as offense and defensive linemen. Prior to Head Coach Greg Schiano arriving at Rutgers, often it was hard to tell the skill players apart from the linemen. The Scarlet Knights were severely overmatched on both sides of the line, in terms of size, speed, strength and depth. Taking over in December of 2000, Coach Schiano made it one of his first priorities to recruit offensive and defensive linemen. This article examines those first four recruiting classes of what is affectionately known as "the big uglies."

Year 1 (2001)

Handicapped by a late start in recruiting, Head Coach Greg Schiano recruited just four offensive linemen as part of his first recruiting class. Mark Segaloff, Mike Clancy, Randy Boxill and Sameeh McDonald. Of the four, only McDonald developed into a starter and solid player. Both Clancy and Segaloff rarely played and both are no longer with the team. Randy Boxill, originally recruited by Miami, brought great expectations with him to the Banks. As a former Miami recruit and spring enrollee, many expected Randy to start as a true freshman. Boxill was plagued by injuries in 2002 and 2003, but rebounded to land a spot on the two-deep in 2004, but by the end of the season, lost his spot in the rotation. The expectations for Randy seeing playing time in 2005 are not high.  


On the defensive side of the ball, the Class of 2001 included Davon Clark, Piana Lukabu, Alfred Peterson and Ryan Neil. All four arrived on the Banks with tremendous potential until fate stepped in. Clark arguably the highest rated recruit of the four arrived at Rutgers out-of-shape and with a poor attitude. Suspended once, Davon worked extremely hard and was given a rare second chance by Coach Schiano. Things were starting to look up for Clark as he was preparing to battle for the starting center position, when he foolishly decided to hold a gun from a "friend" used in a homicide. Today, football is the very least of Clark's worries. Lukabu after struggling the first couple of years came into his own last year and finished with 33 tackles and 6½ sacks despite being suspended for three games.  Piana is expected to see significant playing time this year. Alfred Peterson was one of the original Florida recruits and burst on the scene as a true freshman earning All-American honors in 2001. Unfortunately, his freshman year was his most productive as he shuttled in and out of the starting line-up over the next 3 seasons. Peterson could look like LT on some plays and TL (Too Little) on others. He graduated last year. Ryan Neil has overcome a devastating knee injury in his sophomore year to become one of the true playmakers and leaders on the team. Ryan returned from the potentially career-ending injury to earn First Team All-Big East honors this past season. Neill tallied 43 tackles, 8 sacks and 13 tackles-for-losses. Ryan has become exactly what Coach Schiano said about him before Ryan ever arrived at Rutgers: "You talk about a motor; this guys motor never dies. He's going to be fun to coach."

Summary: Of the eight lineman recruited in Coach Schiano's first year, Sameeh McDonald and Ryan Neil have become everything that was hoped for when they were recruited out of high school. Peterson looked like he was destined for greatness after his freshman year, but the next three years were typified by inconsistent play. Piana Lukubu showed last year, that he still might fulfill the potential expected out of him out of high school.  Randy Boxill has largely been a disappointment and Segaloff and Clancy are no longer with the team --

Overall Grade B+.


Year 2 (2002)

Arguably, the best of Coach Schiano's five recruiting classes, Schiano recruited a number of impact players who were to go on and play major roles for the Scarlet Knights. Terry Bynes, Clark Harris, Ryan Hart, Brian Leonard, Will Gillickson and William Beckford all are part of the class of 2002. The offensive line recruits were Haines Holloway who never enrolled in school and William Vogt who supposedly was the heir apparent to former starter Marty P'zmuka at center but was initially beaten out by converted DT Davon Clark and after Clark, was suspended, by converted TE, Ray Pilch. Vogt continues to practice at center but is not expected to see playing time in his final season at Rutgers. The 2002 class also brought in transfer John Glass, from Division II New Haven who has consistently been one of Rutgers best offense lineman, earning Second Team All-Big East honors last year. The defensive linemen that were part of the class of 2002 were; Joe Henley, Luis Rivas and Val Barnaby. Henley a high school teammate of Will Gillickson was one of the first verbal commitments to the 2002 recruiting class. Switching between center and defensive tackle, Henley failed to earn a place on either depth chart and has decided to focus on academics and is no longer with the team. Luis Rivas played on the two-deep as a true freshman and started as a sophomore. He missed spring camp in 2004 while recovering from groin surgery. Luis lost his starting job to David Harley in 2004 but played regularly as a backup. Val Barnaby while not spectacular has been steady. He is expected to start again this year. J'Vonne Parker only played one year at Rutgers. He transferred to Rutgers after two years at Howard.  He was ineligible to play in 2002 under NCAA transfer rules.  Schiano then suspended Parker from the program in 2003. Going into 2004, Parker was not expected to contribute, after missing an entire year due to conditioning concerns. However, injuries at DT provided an opportunity during 2004 spring camp and Parker earned a spot in the DT playing rotation that went three deep.

Summary: Of the offensive linemen to join the team in 2002, only John Glass has been a significant contributor. William Vogt will in all likelihood either back-up Dan Mazan or Dave McClain at center. On the defensive side of the ball, Luis Rivas should make the 2-deep and Val Barnaby is expected to start again --

Overall Grade C.

Year 3 (2003)

By 2003, only Sameeh McDonald and John Glass were contributors on the offensive line and at that point McDonald was still a back up. Able to recruit just two offensive linemen, Mike Fladell and Pedro Sosa, Coach Schiano turned to the junior college ranks and brought in Ron Green and Clint Dato. Mike Fladell was lightly recruited out of high school and has been a career back up to this point. Pedro Sosa was a highly regarded offensive lineman. Sosa made the two-deep as a true freshman, although he did not play. In 2004, Sosa saw his first action when Sameeh McDonald was injured. Pedro struggled and eventually was replaced in the line-up by freshman Jeremy Zuttah, where he spent the rest of the season on the bench. Sosa certainly has the ability to emerge as a starter this year. The first high profile JUCO All-American brought in by Coach Schiano, Ron Green was expected to be Rutgers best OL. Green shared the starting right-tackle position in 2003, moving over to LT last year and although he started the season, he struggled, often being beaten at the point of attack. Considering what was expected of Green, his career at Rutgers was largely a disappointment. Clint Dato, another junior college transfer initially competed for a starting job in spring camp until suffering a knee injury and missing most of the season. In 2004, Dato played sparingly and spent the rest of his career at Rutgers buried on the depth chart. Although recruited as a linebacker, Eric Foster was moved to defensive end. Redshirted as a true freshman, Eric earned his way into the playing rotation last year and is expected to replace Alfred Peterson in the DE rotation. Rashawn ("Rocky") Ricks was moved from LB to DE as a true freshman but did not play in 2004 due to his involvement in a fatal car accident. Ricks is on this year's roster and a wait and see approach is in order. David Harley transferred to Rutgers from Pasadena, California Community College as part of the class of 2003 and had two productive years as a starter for the Scarlet Knights. Nate Robinson was a late addition to the 2003 recruiting class, signing a letter of intent with Miami but being denied admission from the University. Nate promptly enrolled at Rutgers right before summer camp opened. Still rehabilitating a knee injury suffered as a high school senior, Nate did not play until late in the season. Robinson has flashed glimpses of his potential the past two years as injuries at DT provided an opportunity to practice with the first and second teams. 

Summary: The jury is still out on Pedro Sosa, Nate Robinson and Rashawn Ricks. David Harley, Eric Foster and Ron Green have or were all serviceable players for the Scarlet Knights, but not by any means spectacular. Still, from the 2003 class, only two starters emerged and both of them were junior college transfers --

Overall Grade C-.

Year 4 (2004)

In 2004, Schiano recruited offensive linemen Jeremy Zuttah, John Fields, Mike Gilmartin, Corey Hyman and Darren and Joseph Salinardi. To help solidify the defensive line, Mike Ziarnowski, Jamal Westerman, Ronald Fenelus, Chenry Lewis and transfer Cameron Stephenson were recruited. Of the 21 member recruiting class for 2004, 11 were either offensive or defensive lineman. Jeremy Zuttah is the most highly recruited offensive lineman to ever play for the Scarlet Knights and despite being shuffled around from position to position showed why he had received over 30 scholarships offers. Zuttah practiced at every position on the offensive line in summer camp and emerged as a backup.  Zuttah ended up starting five games at three different positions and more than exceeded the hype surrounding his recruitment. Zuttah should excel on the offensive line this year, regardless of the position. John Fields missed all of last season as a medical redshirt and ended up not practicing with the team.  As of the writing of this article, Fields is getting his first opportunity to practice with the team.  Corey Hyman, in addition to Jeremy Zuttah was the other true freshman to make it onto the field last year. The fact that Hyman played as a true freshman speaks to his ability, but also to the lack of quality depth and injuries on the offensive line. Corey is expected to make the two-deep as a sophomore this year. Cameron Stephenson transferred to Rutgers from Los Angeles Harbor Junior College. Recruited as an offensive lineman, Stephenson was switched to the defensive line in summer camp. He played his first game for Rutgers against Temple but suffered an ankle injury limiting his playing time the rest of the season. Stephenson will most likely be a backup this year. Mike Gilmartin originally committed to South Carolina last year but decomitted after changes on the Gamecock coaching staff.  He redshirted last year and, at 270 pounds, may need another year of physical development before he is ready to contribute. He will have an opportunity to compete for a spot on the two-deep. While twin brother Darren did not enroll in 2004, Joe Salinardi redshirted last year. Darren is now enrolled and will compete along with his brother for playing time along the defensive line. Jamaal Westerman, the second Rutgers recruit from Canada, enrolled at Rutgers in spring 2004. Westerman redshirted this past season and will have difficulty seeing the field this year. Mike Ziarnowski redshirted this past season and will compete this season for a place in the playing rotation.  He will have difficulty cracking the two-deep rotation. Chenry Lewis was highly recruited out of Paterson Catholic High School and should push for playing time this season. In addition to the recruiting class of 2004, highly recruited out of high school, Dan Mazan transferred to Rutgers from Penn State.  Mazan is expected to replace Pilch as the starting center next year. Ramel Meekins played on the second team last year as a true freshman walk-on. Meekins performed well in spring camp as a rash of injuries created opportunities. He played this past year on the three-deep rotation at DT and will compete for a starting job this summer. Carl Howard originally signed with Virginia Tech but requested his release during summer camp.  He transferred back home to Rutgers in time to enroll for the fall semester.  As such, his freshman redshirt also satisfied NCAA transfer requirements. Howard will compete for a position on the two-deep this season.

With the exception of Zuttah, Hyman and Meekins, the class of 2004 is hard to evaluate. Most have yet to see the field, however, what is striking about this class is the potential talent and depth. By September 3rd, up to five members of the class of 2004 could be starters --

Overall Grade A-.   

Year 5 (2005)

Although it is far too early to make any evaluation on the Class of 2005, Dave McClain, an offensive lineman from Pennsylvania who enrolled at Rutgers this spring has "potentially" the best chance to play as a freshman. Mature both physically and emotionally, it wouldn't surprise people to see McClain start as a true freshman

Conclusion (Offensive Line)

When Head Coach Greg Schiano arrived on the Banks four years ago, he understood that the offensive line is one of the cornerstones of the team. Yet, for the first three years of the program two recruits, Sameeh McDonald and Pedro Sosa and two transfers John Glass and Ron Green emerged as the only contributors to the program. Overall, Schiano recruited ten offensive linemen in those first three classes. On the positive side of the ledger, recruiting the offensive line has improved considerably since 2003. Jeremy Zuttah, John Glass, Corey Hyman, Dan Mazan, Pedro Sosa and Dave McClain are the type of offensive linemen that help build championship programs. Still, you can never have enough quality offensive linemen. Returning it's two best starters (Zuttah and Glass), Dan Mazan should be an upgrade at center over Ray Pilch. There is potential depth to field a decent 2-deep. Much will depend on the development of the underclassman and whether or not Coach Flood can mold this group into a cohesive unit. 



Conclusion (Defensive Line)

When Schiano first arrived at Rutgers, the defensive line was last in the Big East in rushing defense. The defensive line was undersized, slow and lacking strength and conditioning.  Schiano made the recruitment of a defensive line, one of his top priorities. He also used his much-improved strength and conditioning program to convert LBs into legitimate defensive ends, as Raheem Orr became a prime example. The defensive line next to the wide receivers is the second deepest unit on the team. Despite losing four seniors off the two-deep, including two starters, Schiano still returns a two-deep of experienced players. He has also redshirted the next group of linemen, which is essential to have a successful program. Rutgers led the Big East in sacks last year and the defensive line was primarily responsible for these sacks. While Schiano also must replace losses on his best defensive unit, Chenry Lewis, Carl Howard, Eric Foster and others should ably provide the 2005 Scarlet Knights with depth. The defensive line should again be one of the better units in the Big East this year.

Mike and the Big Dog's LLC

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