Jersey Recruits Bond, Talk About Staying Home

New Jersey's 2011 class is strong and deep, and Rutgers already doled out 20 offers within the state. The class is also connected with one another, and there is a strong push from within to keep many of the recruits home to play at Rutgers. And many of the top recruits in the state, from Savon Huggins to Miles Shuler to Gary Nova to Tanner McEvoy to Damiere Byrd and so, are talking about it.

St. Peter's Prep of Jersey City running back Savon Huggins holds more than 50 offers, yet he remains a frequent visitor to Rutgers.

He hustled from the Penn Relays to drive an hour north to catch Rutgers' spring game, and again spend time speaking with coach Greg Schiano.

While Huggins is the highest of the high-profile recruits giving Rutgers a serious look, he is not the only one. In fact, he is far from it.

Many of the members of New Jersey's talent-rich 2011 class have been to Rutgers multiple times this spring, and there is constant communication among the players about the difference they can make in their home state if they remain there for college.

So far Rutgers offered 20 players from New Jersey, and Saturday's Scarlet-White spring game brought nine of them, including class of 2011 commit Andrew Campolattano from Bound Brook High, to the campus.

"I think right now things are looking great,'' Campolattano said. "The local kids are really starting to understand the potential Rutgers has to make some noise at a national level.''

New Jersey has produced strong classes before, but there has never been the bond from the north to the south that exists now.

The players text with each other, communicate on Facebook and talk on the phone. And when they see each other on visits or at events, playing together at Rutgers is a talking point. The latest of those face-to-face conversations took place at the spring game.

Max Issaka
"I enjoyed it very much and it was mind blowing,'' said Woodbridge defensive end Max Issaka, who is considered a strong Rutgers lean. "The Jersey guys will stay. It's hard to say when it's all gonna come together, but it will.''

Huggins was the headliner of the New Jersey kids holding Rutgers offers to attend the spring game, but he was not alone.

In addition to Huggins, Campolattano and Issaka, St. Peter's Prep offensive lineman Keith Lumpkin and safety/running back Sheldon Royster, Union City offensive lineman Josue Matias, Bergen Catholic of Oradell receiver Tanner McEvoy, Sayreville defensive tackle Daryl Stephenson and Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey quarterback Gary Nova all attended.

For Nova, it was his third visit of the spring, and second in three days, although he left midway through the spring game to attend a relative's birthday party in Edison.

"The visit at Rutgers went well,'' Nova said. "I got a chance to sit down with coach Schiano before the game for about 20 min. We just talked about the scrimmage game, and hopefully none of his players get hurt.''

Stephenson, a regular at practice this spring, will announce his college intentions on his birthday, May 11, but there is little suspense.

He told last week he was 95 percent certain he was heading to Rutgers, and nothing transpired Saturday to change that.

"My visit to the spring game was very nice and informative, even though they answered all of my questions prior to this visit,'' Stephenson said. "I took a special guest with me -- Susan, who is like my second mother -- who had a lot of questions and concerns. She got a lot of answers and she was very happy with the information she gathered.

"She was very impressed with the tutoring and study hall information, the availability of the advisers, the training program and the lab availability. She thinks I am too young to commit yet but she is a Rutgers fan. The more I go to visit Rutgers the more I enjoy it, and appreciate the opportunity they are offering me to further my education.

"Wherever I go I plan to be a significant part of the team giving 110% of myself both on the field and in the classroom. There are way more pros than cons for Rutgers.''

During the spring, the only New Jersey player holding a Rutgers offer who did not make it to campus was Manchester Regional of Haledon athlete Taques Franklin, but for good reason. Franklin didn't hit schools' recruiting radar until last week, and was quickly offered by Rutgers on Friday. He was scheduled to attend the spring game, but a last-minute schedule conflict kept that from happening.

But a big part of the reason Rutgers is heavily involved with so many of the New Jersey's top recruits is the prep work by the coaching staff, which began building relationships with the players long before recruiting for the 2011 class kicked into high gear.

And the idea of the players staying home and trying to bring Rutgers its first championship is omnipresent.

Tanner McEvoy
"I hear it floating around,'' said McEvoy, the Bergen Catholic star whose brother, Colin, is a walk-on at Rutgers. "It's kind of out there, but you have to take it seriously because it would make sense. If we all went to Rutgers, or a school, together …we could have a lot of talent in New Jersey this year.''

It is not just a North Jersey thing, either. The Jersey Shore and South Jersey are also involved.p> Although Neptune running back Charles Davis and Long Branch athlete Miles Shuler did not make the spring game, they have both been to Rutgers plenty of times since the fall. In fact, Davis is a heavy lean toward Rutgers, but the duo stayed at the Penn Relays to watch Usain Bolt, the world record holder in the 100 meters, run for Jamaica.

In South Jersey, Rutgers is doing well with Winslow Township of Atco receiver Bill Belton and is making up ground with Timber Creek Regional of Erial receiver Damiere Byrd and is now a player in his recruitment.

None of the recruits expect all the players to remain in-state, and that was clear when Holy Spirit of Absecon linebacker Anthony Sarao committed to Stanford in February.

But at least the conversations are happening in an attempt to keep the majority of the class home.

"As far as people talking about keeping the Jersey kids together, it's something I've heard throughout the recruiting process,'' Nova said. "It's probably going to be hard to get us all to stay home. Kids have different things they are looking for in a school and that's going to make them go where they feel comfortable with their situation.

"It would be nice if all the talent would get on the same page and stay home but I don't think it will happen.''

Scarlet Report Top Stories