The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are not winning over the highest-rated prospects in the recruiting territory known as the “state of Rutgers” — and that’s okay.
I know recruiting victories for elite players generally go hand-in-hand with on-field success, but that’s just not what Rutgers has been at its peak, when the Knights were lighting the Empire State Building scarlet, or what the program will be in the very near future.
The Scarlet Knights’ greatest conquest, their 2006 season, did not come on the backs of highly-touted future superstars. While there’s no denying the talent of that team, as many of those players have experienced continued success in the NFL, stars Brian Leonard, Ray Rice, Tiquan Underwood, Eric Foster and Courtney Greene did not arrive in Piscataway as saviors of a program desperate for an awakening.
However, that is ultimately what they will be remembered as.
Riding high off their rebirth, Rutgers actually did haul in some top recruits in the following seasons. Five-star future first-round draft pick Anthony Davis, who hailed from nearby Piscataway High School, was the first. The next class featured another highly-ranked offensive lineman, Art Forst, and the 2009 group was highlighted by what was expected to be Rutgers’ greatest recruiting victory ever: QB Tom Savage.
In 2011, RU nabbed the state’s top prospect in RB Savon Huggins, who was dubbed by some as Rice 2.0. However, for all of the hype, these high-profile recruiting wins did not leverage the Knights’ 11-win 2006 season into greater success, let alone match it. While Rutgers did not take a big step back, as three consecutive bowl games following 2006 was instrumental in landing an invite to the Big Ten, recruiting wins brought RU some good prospects, but nothing tangible like BCS bowl games or conference titles.
All the flack the program received last year for its string of de-commitments cannot be placed solely on head coach Kyle Flood, as Rutgers’ administration has been a monthly nightmare the past couple years. However, Flood’s seat should still be hot. Winning over the region’s top-rated recruits is a battle Rutgers is just not fit for right now, but if the coaching staff is not getting the most collegiate-ready players, their attention to player development needs a bit more focus.
The imprint left by Flood’s predecessor, Greg Schiano, is gone — this is now Flood’s program. No one is expecting the Scarlet Knights to take the Big Ten by storm and win a conference championship in year one, but the coach needs to demonstrate that he is getting the most out of what he has on his roster, most notably with players like QB Gary Nova, who has never seemed to progress after promising early play.
Schiano may have been knocked for being a mediocre game coach, but there was no denying his ability to find diamonds in the rough and mold them into stars. If Flood can’t do the same, his tenure as Rutgers’ head man should be over soon.
Philip Nelson made the decision to leave the Minnesota Golden Gophers this offseason and transfer to join the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. However, Nelson will never get a chance to take a snap for Rutgers as the school has dismissed him from the football program after an incident that has left one young man in critical condition. While the investigation is still ongoing, it was the right call for Rutgers to cut Nelson loose.
Nelson has been formally charged with one count of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault for allegedly kicking 24-year-old Isaac Kolstad in the head during a fight in downtown Mankato, Minnesota. After another unidentified man had knocked Kolstad to the ground, surveillance video shows Nelson delivering at least one kick to the left side of Kolstad’s head, leaving the former linebacker at Minnesota State in critical condition with a severe head injury.
While Nelson and his legal team will argue in court that it was not Nelson who delivered the debilitating blow but the other, unidentified man, Rutgers could not afford to stand around and wait to see how the legal proceedings went in this case. Too often, the Scarlet Knights have been in the media for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s a public relations blunder or player abuse from a coach, Rutgers has found themselves with a poor public image.
That makes their decisive action with Nelson in this instance a refreshing change of pace. While Nelson will have his day in court to decide the legal ramifications of his actions, the fact remains that he attacked a man lying on the ground with a kick to the head. That isn’t someone who deserves the opportunity to play college football and Rutgers has come out on the correct side of this issue with Nelson’s dismissal.