THE 2002 RUTGERS FOOTBALL RECRUITING CLASS:
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Rutgers head football coach and former boss Butch Davis faced similar situations in creating a plan for their respective football teams. Davis, who coached at the University of Miami prior to joining the National Football League, took command of the Cleveland Browns expansion franchise just a few months after Schiano, Miami's defensive coordinator under Davis, took on the challenge of resurrecting a Rutgers football program that remained mired in mediocrity after the unsuccessful tenure of Terry Shea, who was fired in 2000 after a 5-year tour of duty and who would eventually resurface as the quarterbacks coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Davis took on the prospect of building a competitive NFL franchise from scratch. The Browns roster was nothing more than a blank piece of paper when he set his bags down in Cleveland to begin charting the team's future. Davis had to establish team policy, create a comprehensive training program, scour the ranks of the cast-offs and free agents to locate pockets of talent, and orchestrate not one but two player drafts: the expansion draft, which gave Cleveland a chance to pick over other team's spare parts and overpriced veterans, and the NFL's annual spring draft, which gave Davis the opportunity to draft younger but unproven players who had completed their college eligibility. One of the players taken in that college draft was Rutgers senior quarterback Mike McMahon, who departed the Scarlet Knights for the Detroit Lions and took with him his talent and experience, both of which were in short supply at Rutgers. McMahon's teammate Shaun O'Hara, former 215 pound offensive line walk-on who built himself into an NFL player through hard work and dogged determination, also left Piscataway to play for Davis in Cleveland.
While Davis had a significant amount of success rather quickly with the Browns, he also possessed a number of advantages. The most obvious one- money- allowed the Browns to bid competitively for NFL talent- if Davis wanted a player, he simply assembled an offer that was attractive versus other clubs and let the player choose. While the Browns franchise had fallen on hard times, they had a long and proud history and an extremely loyal fan base. The National Football League also gave Davis a substantial boost by providing an expansion draft that, although consisting of players that other teams considered expendable, offered a number of talented football players, a slew of middle-range talent to fill out a depth chart, and a bit of younger talent that was either a year or two away from proving itself or pinned down by a positional numbers game.
Schiano couldn't offer money, operated in a geographic location that had placed college sports far down on its list of priorities, and would have been flatly refused if he asked Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese for permission to pluck a few established starters and talented underclassmen from conference rivals Miami, Virginia Tech, or Boston College. Schiano also had to do it all himself: creating the marketing strategy, combing the state and speaking to every high school coach, and assembling a depth chart from a roster that lacked both experience and raw talent. Schiano didn't have a few holes to fill- he faced chasms. While limited to only 25 scholarship offers per year, Schiano has attempted to assemble a roster that features not only a strong starting 22 but the depth to last an entire season without crumbling like the clay that lines the river's banks. In many ways, creating a depth chart with the substance to last 11 games while offering hope for the future is just as important as finding 22 quality starters to step onto the field each Saturday. Terry Shea was successful at neither of these tasks; Schiano must succeed at both in order to earn a longer tenure.
Rutgers still faces a long road to glory: even players who started for Schiano as freshmen in 2001 won't line up to receive their diplomas for another three years. But their talent should begin to soak into the roster over the next few years. The real question is: will the talent be adequate to help Rutgers University turn the corner? Evan a coach who finds a handful of talented blue chip players must still fill in the gaps with solid players who eventually challenge for starting positions. These players occasionally start as freshmen, most typically in the early stages of a rebuilding process, but more often they redshirt during their first academic year then serve as backups for another year or two while they continue to mature physically. Hopefully, during one of those two seasons, they begin to demonstrate the potential to fill a starting role. A recruiting success rate of 50%, meaning that half of the incoming players eventually provide significant contributions to the team, still provides a coaching staff with roughly 12 players per year with the ability to eventually compete at the 1-A level. According to these rates, the average coaching staff will toil for about four years before they are able to complete a two-deep chart with solid players at each position. To accelerate this process, a coach has to reap a much more potent harvest each winter.
While the blue chip players- the Dream Team members, the Top 100 elite- are a source of constant battle between each of the 110 schools that offer Division 1-A football opportunities, there are only so many of these players to go around. A growing team like Rutgers that needs to create, not replenish, its power source, needs to recruit very successfully and steadily from the next tier of players. These are the players who are described not by words like phenomenon or stud but by adjectives such as strong, solid, and hard-nosed. One of the primary challenges faced by Schiano's predecessor Terry Shea was recruiting enough solid football players to actually create a consistent "program" his classes occasionally yielded two or three bright stars and a few serviceable players but failed to buttress the roster to the extent required to survive both injuries and attrition. For every Raheem Orr and Mike McMahon there was a Frank Rompalo or Kenny Whiteside. When the blue-chippers like McMahon and Orr eventually moved on and gave way to players like Shane Smith and Jermaine Thaxton- highly regarded players who never suited up for Rutgers- the program was doomed to failure. Shea gambled on the big names and lost, and the Scarlet Knights had little else to fall back on.
How has Greg Schiano fared in his first two years of recruiting? Has he upgraded the overall talent level? Has he produced not just the big names but the quantities of solid football players necessary to fill out an 85 player roster and create the depth that the program needs to compete in the Big East? How can he be fairly evaluated when many of these players have yet to enroll in their first class, let alone play their first down? I tried to evaluate this empirically using a rating system that gives each incoming recruit a score (the "QRS Score") rating them from 1 to 10 based on honors received while playing high school football. Other inputs were rankings from major recruiting services and preseason publications. The QRS system allows not only for individual classes to be evaluated but for different recruiting years to be compared by evaluating the average scores of each class. The data, including the 2002 recruiting class, span 15 years, three coaches, and 324 recruits.
The answer is that, overall, Schiano's first two classes are the two best hauls in the last 15 years, which is also nearly the entire lifespan of "big time" football at Rutgers. The 2001 recruiting class was the best that Rutgers had ever seen, edging out Terry Shea's 1999 class with an average QRS of 5.79 versus Shea's 5.74. Shea's 1999 incoming players included highly regarded players like Raheem Orr, Krystoff Kaczorowski, and Brian Duffy. Schiano countered with Rikki Cook, Davon Clark, and Ryan Cubit. The 2002 class, which will be focused on a bit later, was better still- in fact, the best in the last 15 years with an average QRS of 5.99. Here is a ranking of the 15 classes covered in the database and their average QRS scores:
Rank Year QRS
1 2002 5.99
2 2001 5.79
3 1999 5.74
4 1997 5.68
5 1990 5.24
6 1991 5.20
7 1995 5.04
8 1998 5.03
9 1993 4.86
10 1992 4.82
11 1994 4.44
12 2000 3.97
13 1996 3.88
14 1988 3.69
15 1989 3.16
In addition to higher average scores, Schiano's classes also addressed the need for quality depth by avoiding the top-heavy construction of many of Shea's classes. In the 2002 class, for example, 28% of the QRS scores were 7.0 or higher, compared with Shea's 2000 class in which only 8.3% of the players received a QRS rating higher than a 7.0. More impressively, while 71% of Shea's last class scored between 0 and 4.0, scores that delineate the lower third of possible scores, only 16% of Schiano's 2002 class received scores that low. While Schiano was still able to land a respectable number of big names, what was more important for the future of the program was his ability to fill the remaining slots with players who will create the foundation of the program rather than recruits who will be perennially labeled with phrases such as "provided quality depth." or "was a valuable member of the scout team."
A closer look at this year's incoming freshman class provides ample evidence of the depth of Schiano's recruiting efforts during the past two years. The class was, overall, the best in the last 15 years, with an average rating of 5.99 on a scale from 1 to 10. Schiano also did very well at several key positions; 4 positions in the 2002 class placed in the top 3 classes historically, and one position- linebacker- was the strongest ever recruited. A comparison of the 2002 class to the all-time recruiting results at that position follows.
2002 Average QRS: 7.51
Historical Rank: #1 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 2002
Berkeley Hutchinson, the star Long Branch linebacker who will be without a doubt the most heralded recruit to ever lace up his cleats on the soft green sod of Rutgers Stadium, is the headliner in the incoming recruiting class. Hutchinson scored an impressive QRS score of 9.89 out of a possible 10.0, easily outpacing last year's marquee recruit, running back Rikki Cook, who was rated a 9.48 and had previously held the distinction of being the most heralded recruit to ever step on the Banks. Both Hutchinson and Cook finished safely ahead of current starting defensive end Raheem Orr, who netted an 8.88 in 1999, and 1990 Doug Graber recruit Malik Jackson, who is also from Elizabeth, New Jersey. Jackson became one of the best secondary men ever to don the scarlet and white. While enthusiasm for Hutchinson's arrival is understandably subdued- he is not expected to qualify as a freshman- his talent remains as evident as it was on the Fridays and Saturdays that he spent terrorizing Shore Conference opponents.
But Hutchinson is by no means the only quality linebacker in the 2002 recruiting class. Will Gilkison, an impressive physical specimen who stood out at several senior camps, is the fifth best linebacker ever recruited. The Red Bank Regional star earned a score of 7.71, which places him just behind another well-known Rutgers linebacker, Brian Sheridan, who received a 7.98. Sheridan was the 1993 Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year and a repeat New Jersey All-State honoree. Gilkison, among other honors, was the MVP of Nike's New Jersey mini-camp and was rated in the top 150 players nationally by several recruiting services. Schiano also landed highly regarded Floridian William Beckford, whose score of 7.03 ties him with 1996 linebacker recruit Wayne Hampton, a Paulsboro native, who was converted to defensive end and was a standout at the State University. Hampton was also the second best player to ever come out of Gloucester County behind Kingsway Regional running back Gary Fauntleroy of Swedesboro. Beckford holds the distinction of being the most highly regarded Floridian ever signing to play on the Banks. Completing the incoming linebacking corps is fellow Floridian Terry Bynes, whose score of 5.43 is about equal to that of current running back Marcus Jones. Beckford, Hutchinson and Gilkison account for three of the top 10 linebacker recruits in history. Only one other time did the school sign 3 of the top 10 players at that position: in 1994, when Doug Graber landed Scott Peeler from Cherry Hill, Lamar King from Maryland, and Rashied Richardson of Passaic.
2002 Average QRS: 7.13
Historical Rank: #3 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 2001 (Ryan Cubit, Chris Baker)
The second strongest position in the 2002 class was quarterback. Schiano brought in two quarterbacks with this year's class, and both are top-notch. Anthony Cali from Northern Burlington High School rated a 7.30 while Ryan Hart from Fort Lauderdale, Florida scored a 6.95. Where does this place them historically among quarterback recruits? Cali places fourth and Hart lands in sixth place just outside of the top five. The top five quarterback recruits, in order, are Ryan Cubit, Chris Dapolito, Mike McMahon, Anthony Cali, and Chris Baker. Schiano has signed three of the school's top five quarterbacks.
2002 Average QRS: 6.15
Historical Rank: #6 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 1999 (Krystoff Kaczorowski, Rich McManis, Brian Duffy)
Schiano brought in large quantities at two other positions, landing four running backs and four offensive linemen- both are equally impressive. At offensive line, the headline recruit is Haines Holloway, the best offensive line recruit to come on board at Rutgers. Holloway, a 6-2, 280 pound star from Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, NJ, scored an 8.66, edging out 1994 Hoboken standout Ivan Ramos as the best line recruit in history. Holloway also ranks sixth all time among all recruits, just behind Elizabeth's Malik Jackson. Randy Boxill (who will likely miss the season with a knee injury), massive Ron Green from Linden by way of Dixie Community College in Utah, and William Vogt complete the position.
2002 Average QRS: 6.19
Historical Rank: #4 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 1992 (Terrell Willis)
The running back recruits are even slightly better than the offensive linemen, averaging out with a QRS score of 6.19 versus 6.15 for the line. The best recruit in the group is Gouverner, New York star Brian Leonard, who scored a 7.58. Just behind Leonard is Levittown, Pennsylvania product Jamar Brittingham (7.11), a late signing who was a first team all-state selection and one of the Top 75 players in talent-rich Florida. Markis Facyson (Fort Lauderdale, FL, 5.94) and Canada's Jason Nugent complete the running back class. Look for one or more of the runners to get a look at defensive back with the recent defection of senior Tony Berry.
2002 Average QRS: 5.48
Historical Rank: #3 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 2001 (Davon Clark, Alfred Peterson, Ryan Neill)
Schiano brought in three defensive linemen in 2002 and ended up with the third best crop of defensive linemen in school history. Val Barnaby of Somerset, Joe Henley of Red Bank, and Luis Rivas of Miami, Florida averaged out to 5.48, which placed them just a hair behind the 1990 class, which flashed a uniquely metropolitan flavor. All three defensive linemen in the 1990 class were from the New York- Philadelphia eastern corridor: Dan Robertson (Cherry Hill, NJ), Kareem Williams (Philadelphia, PA), and Mike Connor (Oakland, NJ), hailed from New Jersey or eastern Pennsylvania, and averaged 5.49, barely nudging out the 2002 class. Neither class, however, came close to the 2001 defensive line haul of Davon Clark, Alfred Peterson, and Ryan Neill. That trio should continue to have a prominent impact on Rutgers football for several more years.
2002 Average QRS: 4.74
Historical Rank: #9 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 1995 (Jason Smith)
Schiano didn't land a receiver from New Jersey in the 2002 class; all three players were from the Sunshine State. The headliner was Shawn Tucker, a 6-1 speedster from Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. Tucker was dripping in honors: he was an Orlando Sun-Sentinel South Florida All-Star, ranked as the 6th best player in the South Florida/Broward area by the Miami Herald, and was selected to the first team All-Florida Team. Tucker's QRS score of 5.54 places him just behind Somerville's Sean Carty (1998, 5.62 QRS) but ahead of Hackensack High star Walter King (1996, 5.26 QRS). Scoring just behind Tucker and also ahead of King is the second wide receiver recruit of 2002, Suncoast High standout Darren Halliburton. Let's hope that both Tucker and Halliburton play at least as well as King, a steady receiver and fan favorite. The third 2002 wide receiver, Frederick Robinson, placed far down the list of incoming recruits at his position with a QRS score of 3.31. However, less fanfare coming in doesn't always equate to production levels going out: two Bergen county standouts, James Guarantano of Lodi (1988, 2.82) and Teaneck's Chris Brantley (1989, 2.49), were unremarkable as recruits but completed their Scarlet careers as two of the steadiest receivers in school history.
2002 Average QRS: 3.06
Historical Rank: #13 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 1997 (Jason Ohene, Dante Siciliano, DeWayne Thompson, Riley Jefferson)
Schiano recruited only two defensive backs in 2002. Bryan Durango of Memorial High School in West New York, New Jersey spent his high school career as a tailback on the football team and a Hudson County track standout. Durango wasn't as highly recruited as other defensive backs in New Jersey, and as a result received a relatively low score. Dondre Asberry of Miami, Florida was a signing day addition to the class. While neither was heavily recruited by big-time schools, both are relatively tall (5-11) and appear to have the speed to play defensive back. Both, however, will likely redshirt in 2002.
2002 Average QRS: 6.08
Historical Rank: #3 All-Time
Best Class All-Time: 1998 (Rob Ring, Damien Jamison)
Schiano brought in Clark Harris from Southern Regional. Harris was an all-Region choice by Prep Stars and was selected to the Star Ledger's All Ocean County team. Harris picked the Knights early over Hofstra and Syracuse and faded from a lot of colleges' recruiting radars afterwards. Harris may eventually end up at defensive end due to his height, frame and wingspan. While Harris didn't receive as much notoriety as some of his incoming teammates, he is a talented player and should easily contribute more than Damien Jamison, who had academic difficulties and never showed up at Rutgers.
Specialists weren't ranked by their class average, since the recruitment of kickers and punters is much less frequent than other positions. It's not uncommon, at least at the State University, to see several years pass without a scholarship being offered to a punter or kicker. Nonetheless, Rutgers did very well at each position in 2002. Punter Joe Radigan of Hoboken was first team All New Jersey and was rated as the #2 punter in the East by Prep Stars Magazine. He is the most highly regarded punter recruited by Rutgers. Kicker Justin Musiek is tied with Lee McDonald, a 1995 recruit from DeMatha Catholic High School, as the highest rated kicker recruited. Musiek is also a fine athlete who could end up at a number of positions.