Maryland, Rutgers Find Plenty of Talent in Each Other's States

The Washington Post's Eric Prisbell talks about the University of Maryland football team's upcoming game against Rutgers University, and head coach Ralph Friedgen reacts to the Terps' disappointing losses and the performance of his key players.
By Eric Prisbell and Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 25, 2009

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- At 6 feet 6 and 200 pounds, Bishop McNamara wide receiver Brandon Coleman has all the physical attributes college football teams covet. So it made sense that Maryland's coaches cultivated a relationship with him, invited him to practices and became the first school to offer him a scholarship.

But another contender for his services emerged this spring, delivered by a helicopter that landed on the football field of a Maryland high school after a 40-minute flight from New Jersey. A limo then transported this foreign suitor -- Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano -- to McNamara.

From there, the interstate battle was on.

While there is little evidence of an on-field rivalry between Maryland and Rutgers -- Saturday's game at Byrd Stadium marks just their second meeting since 1942 -- a competition in the recruiting trenches is fast emerging, as coaches from both schools increasingly find themselves going head-to-head for the same prospects.

Neither team is a national championship contender, and both face daunting recruiting challenges annually from more history-rich teams such as Penn State and Notre Dame. But because of its unprecedented success this decade, Rutgers is making it more difficult for Maryland to poach players from New Jersey, while also recently encroaching on the Terrapins' regional recruiting turf.

"Obviously, it is a battle," said Dave Sollazzo, Maryland's defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator.

John McNulty, a former Rutgers offensive coordinator and current wide receivers coach of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, said Rutgers "really just started to make that big push into Maryland. Your first job is to protect your home turf."

John Finnegan, the football coach at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J., said "there is a real competition between the schools. I think Maryland has had a foothold on New Jersey for as long as I can remember. But I think Greg Schiano has just done a great job of getting after and making sure that anyone that is of division I quality, that he goes after them and goes after them hard."

Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen and Schiano took over at their respective schools the same season: 2001. While both inherited reclamation projects, Schiano's challenge was greater. Rutgers, one of college football's long-standing punch lines, had been to only one bowl game in its history and had won just 11 games in its previous five seasons combined.

New Jersey offered one of the nation's deepest pools of talent, prospects that often helped bolster several teams -- Penn State, Notre Dame and Syracuse among them -- but not necessarily the Scarlet Knights. Before Schiano started winning at Rutgers midway through this decade, "everyone coming in to New Jersey had a good shot at getting someone they wanted," said Sollazzo, who is in charge of recruiting the northern portion of the state. "Now you've got to work extremely, extremely hard to get them out because of Rutgers's success."

That success has made Maryland's task more difficult, but not impossible. By plane, train or automobile, Sollazzo visits New Jersey a few times during the season and spends significant time there during the offseason. In all, Maryland has nine players from the Garden State, more than it has from any state other than Maryland (48) and Virginia (16).

Maryland beat out Rutgers for linebacker Alex Wujciak, a native of West Caldwell, N.J., who attended Seton Hall Prep. During the final month of his recruitment, he narrowed his choice to Rutgers and Maryland, with the campus in College Park and the desire to get away from home the deciding factors.

"I knew that, being a Jersey guy and leaving the state, it was definitely going to open the eyes of other players in New Jersey," Wujciak said.

If ever there was a New Jersey prospect who seemed destined to play at Rutgers, it was Tony Logan, who attended Piscataway High and lived in the shadow of Rutgers Stadium.

He rode his bike to Rutgers games, hung out with players on campus and had a personal relationship with Schiano. Logan coached Schiano's children in basketball and can recall afternoons sitting in Schiano's office as the coach told him about the team and Logan's potential in the program.

"They are kind of like family," Logan said of Rutgers's players and coaches.

But Logan also had attended Maryland's football camp since he was 13, catching the eye of then-offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. Logan eventually built a relationship with Sollazzo. And while it was difficult for Logan to turn away from Rutgers, he said the deciding factor was getting out of state. He didn't like how the Rutgers campus was so spread out, and he could see himself at Maryland even if he didn't play football.

"It's a great recruiting battle," said Logan, now a sophomore wide receiver for the Terrapins. "Even though people don't see it as a rivalry, I see it as a great rivalry. These schools are fighting over New Jersey's kids, some top-notch kids. Based on their success, that's who is going to get them."

Just as Maryland has sought to keep Washington area prospects at home Schiano has recruited heavily in the "State of Rutgers," his name for the area within a three- to four-hour drive from the school. Seven Rutgers players are from Maryland and two more are from Woodbridge, including freshman running back De'Antwan Williams, who rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries against Howard on Sept. 12. In the month and a half before gaining a commitment from Williams in December 2008, members of the Rutgers coaching staff, including Schiano, flew to visit him twice in a helicopter.

Schiano's connections to this area are also helped by the addition of first-year running backs coach Randy Trivers, the former head coach at Northwest High in Germantown. A Silver Spring native who earned a master's degree from Maryland, Trivers coached current Rutgers safety Joe Lefeged, who was named All-Met Defensive Player of the Year at Northwest in 2006.

Just after Gary Emanuel was hired as a Rutgers assistant in the spring of 2008, he called Bryce Bevill, who coaches Coleman at McNamara, to let him know he would be recruiting Bevill's area for the Scarlet Knights. Emanuel told Bevill: "I heard you got a big guy. I am coming to get him."

Maryland offered Coleman a scholarship on Aug. 29, 2008; Rutgers offered on Jan. 26, 2009. Coleman's top three choices are Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Maryland. He said he feels the same level of comfort with Rutgers as he does with Maryland, and he is hoping to go to the game Saturday.

"I know Maryland is going to fight," Coleman said. "I know Rutgers is going to fight. So that's going to be a good game. It will be a good chance for me to see what both teams are about."

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