Friday Night Writes

Where will Greg Schiano find the next unexpected hero? Once again National Signing Day has come and gone. Those of us who frequent have spent months debating the relative values of these guys. Who's better, 6'2" and runs a 4.5 or 6'0" and runs a 4.4? Who can play? Most importantly, who will come to the Banks?

We rejoiced when they chose us as D.C. Jefferson did back in August. We were heartbroken when they turned to other schools, as Jefferson did when he switched his commitment from Rutgers to eventual National Champions LSU in October. Eventually we were vindicated when he spurned LSU two months later to return to the banks.

It's those little back-and-forth stories that give us hope that Rutgers can attract the next Ray Rice even when all hope is gone.

Overall, did Schiano get what he wanted -- what we all wanted? Do these players got game? Only time will tell. Time and hard work. Now, just as Greg Schiano prepares to start the cycle again as he courts a new batch of Juniors, he also is beginning the work to convert this bunch of young men into champions. As it has always been, the cycle continues.

Who are these young men? has profiled all of them already, so I'll just talk about just a few.

As always, there are student-athletes from Florida. Four of the new class hails from the Sunshine State. From the oak and azalea-lined streets of a small, quaint town called Bartow, not far from Tampa comes one of eight new Wide Receivers, a young man named Malcolm Johnson. This young man makes up for a lack of straight-ahead speed with a surprising leaping ability and became famous at Bartow High School for his eye-popping big plays. He has since turned into one of the top wide receiver prospects to come out of talent-rich Florida this season.

Greg Schiano has also begun to open new recruiting contacts outside of the traditional State of Rutgers. Two of his latest are WR Morgan Carter from Woodbridge, Virginia and Defensive Back Wayne Warren from Salisbury, Maryland. Salisbury is a county seat in central Maryland, better known as the hometown of Terminator star Linda Hamilton. Salisbury is very much a baseball town that hosts a total of three minor league teams, but a sprinkling of NFL players have come from this area as well, and Warren is hoping to become the next one. Wayne Warren has been a starting quarterback for his entire high school career, counted as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, yet has him listed as a defensive back/wide receiver. He was wooed by Auburn, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, but has chosen to play on The Banks of the Raritan.

Long Island is not generally known as a particularly talent-rich football recruiting zone, but every year there are a few Long Islanders with bowl aspirations and talent. This year Rutgers has reeled in two young men, highly recruited defensive tackle Scott Vallone from Saint Anthony's High School (actually, downstate NY) and an early commitment (last April) from 6'7", 320-pound offensive lineman Devin Watkis, from Middle Island. Watkis had offers from Duke, Maryland, Connecticut and Syracuse but he also decided he'd rather don Scarlet.

Finally, from New Jersey come nine young men lead by stud offensive lineman Art Forst. Among them is a relatively unknown and lightly recruited linebacker from the shadows of Rutgers Stadium, Marvin Booker from Piscataway. Booker concluded his recruiting last summer, so he was able to spend quality time excelling during his senior year, racking up 113 tackles and 5 sacks on the way to an 11-1 season.

What do these young men from around the country have in common? Possibly most important next year is that each is going to try to break in at crowded positions on a young Scarlet Knights team. Malcolm Johnson may be the hero of Bartow, but at Rutgers, he'll try making a name for himself behind two 2000 yard returning starters and seven other freshman receivers. What hope does Wayne Warren have of getting playing time at defensive back behind the talented McCourty brothers? Marvin Booker is hoping to become an answer at linebacker where Rutgers has many riches, and Devin Watkis hopes to become a starting offensive lineman behind alongside Forst and sophomore Anthony Davis. For each, it's the battle and continued determination to improve that will mold these young men into the leaders of tomorrow.

Rutgers has a history of giving every athlete an honest opportunity to excel. Two important items On Greg Schiano's list of enticements for opportunity at greatness are:
2007: Gary Brackett wins a Super Bowl ring with the Indianapolis Colts
2008: Shaun O'Hara wins a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants

What do these guys have in common? Neither was recruited out of High School. Neither was worth a football scholarship, and nobody would have noticed if they had never played a down. Both walked on at Rutgers, worked hard and developed themselves into better players than the stars with scholarships that they worked alongside. Both earned the respect that made them starters and team captains. Both were signed to NFL teams as undrafted free agents. Both became NFL starters and captains.

Both are now Super Bowl champions in consecutive years.

I doubt that anyone could have predicted this outcome when these men started their Freshman years at Rutgers, but these men have become unexpected heroes for Rutgers fans everywhere.

Nearly everyone on the message boards here at has a favorite player -- the fish that got away. There are safeties Will Hill and Brandon Smith who could have chosen any college in the country. It's hard to fault them for choosing football powerhouses like Florida and Michigan. There are also talented players like J.B. Fitzgerald and George Baker who courted Rutgers right up to the end, but finally decided that their football careers would go in another direction. One man like this is a rookie defensive lineman on the Giants who spurned Rutgers when he graduated from Orange High School in 2002. After a fine career at Penn State, Jay Alford returned to New Jersey by way of the Giants and delivered the final sack that ended Super Bowl XLII.

It's always a bit sore when someone you admire passes over the school that you love, but Greg Schiano can and will turn this class of fine students and athletes into the next generation of Scarlet Knights. To all of the seniors that we've followed over the past year, we wish the best of luck and a bright future, even if they decided to go elsewhere.

However, just as Greg Schiano files away those letters of intent and turns to enticing the next generation of juniors and preparing the team for the 2008 season, turns in the same direction. Over the next several months there will be more interviews and films of the latest batch of prospective Scarlet Knights. The players will be hitting the weight rooms, and one or two of those less known freshmen that joined the Scarlet Knights will start the hard work and the long hours on the road to glory, just like Brackett, O'Hara and Alford.

They will be the next unexpected heroes.

The opinions above are those of the author. If you disagree, please feel free to express your own opinions on the Message Boards.

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