With between 200 and 300 Florida high school players signing on to play big time college football during any given year (371 signed on this past year), it's no wonder that Florida, Florida State, and Miami can't possibly sign the state's top prospects each year. Indeed, schools like Tennessee (D. Morley - Miami Killian HS), Georgia (Jeffrey Owens - Plantation HS), and Louisiana State (Ricky-Jean Francois - Carol City) have successfully bolstered their programs by filling in positions of need with top Florida talent. Schools like Pittsburgh, Louisville, West Virginia, and North Carolina State have capitalized as well, giving prospects that were altogether overlooked, or simply passed by the top tier schools a chance to make a name for themselves and an opportunity to fulfill their dream of playing, someday, for pay.
With the arrival of Greg Schiano to the state University of New Jersey, Rutgers has become a player as well.
Rutgers stuck its head into the fray from day one. Rutgers current QB, Ryan Hart, was a product of that now forgotten first recruiting class - a disaster averted, it was a class that was put together as if by magic, in the time span of just a few short months. Eleven prospects of that class were Florida high school graduates - while some are gone, others have had productive careers at Rutgers and will leave the State University with a respected college degree in hand.
A cup of New Jersey, sprinkle a bit of NY, a dash of Connecticut, and add Florida to season ... and what you have is a class that has left a lasting mark. A FB whose exposure has gone national and beyond, a QB that, despite his ups and downs, has a chance to be the guy that leads RU to the promised land and on his way is putting his spin on the Scarlet record books - some good, some not so good. A shifty RB who initiated the Dillard HS to Rutgers pipeline, and who is no doubt chomping at the opportunity to leave his own mark. And a silky smooth WR, one of the best in the state, that will be playing on Sundays once his time on the Banks is over. And of course, we can't possibly forget the former 1st Team All-Palm Beach County recipient, Tres Moses, overlooked by too many because of his size.
Markis Facyson ... Shawn Tucker ... Ryan Hart ... Tres Moses ...
And that was just the beginning.
Fast forward to last year. A tall and wiry WR prospect out of Dillard HS caught everyone's attention at RU's New Jersey camp. He earned himself a scholarship based on performance and potential. Chris McClover, a bona fide Top 100 FL prospect by the end of the year, has continued to grow since we last saw him. But he was already all of 6'3" ... Rutgers was the school that came in early, and despite late interest it was that early attention that was the difference maker. McClover, who has the raw skills to become an All-Big East WR has blossomed physically. Now standing at 6'5" - in case you're wondering, that is not a typo - McClover eagerly awaits to begin his collegiate career. And the beauty of it all - unlike his predecessors, he won't have to be thrown into the lion's den once the sun comes up.
Hailing from Ives Estate Dr. Michael Krop, Chris Dirksz may be the defensive steal that Rutgers plucked out of south Florida that RU fans will be reminiscing about years from now. Dirksz, who played LB and on the defensive line during his senior year was a playmaking marauder in high school. Possessing the athletic ability to run a back from behind while maintaining the strength to fill gaps on the D-line, how is it that Dirksz slipped through the cracks? Truth be told, he almost didn't ... loyalty, however, resonated with Dirksz and when push came to shove, the academic prestige of Rutgers could not be overlooked.
Persistence, once more, paid dividends.
Rutgers has gone head to head with the Big 3 for some of Florida's top talent - last year they went after Deuce (a.k.a. Antone Smith) and were one of 5 finalists still standing once decision time came. Rutgers, despite what others may say, did come astoundingly close to landing one of Florida's top overall prospects when the 2003 class was announced - Bryan Pata. Contrary to popular belief, Pata was not busy recruiting Big Nate to Miami on his visit and nearly became a Scarlet Knight himself.
But with talent practically sprouting out of the ground, Rutgers does not need to butt heads with the three-headed monster - at least not very often. They can pick their battles. This is not to suggest that Rutgers shouldn't, can't, or won't do so in the future.
The fact is, with the abundance of talent in Florida it's simply not necessary.
In Part II, we'll start our camping trip in Palm Beach County, home of Suncoast High School and alma mater of Scarlet Knight to-be, Vantrise Studivant.
Next: Day 1 - Rutgers at Suncoast HS
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