Big 10

How New Jersey Became Jim Harbaugh’s Most Important Pipeline State

May 10, 2016

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At 6:13 PM ET on Monday night, Rutgers sent out a press release announcing the “Rutgers Football Tri-state Showcase,” a June 8 camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, which will feature coaching staffs from the Scarlet Knights, Ohio State and Temple.

Initially, the Buckeyes’ presence at the de facto satellite camp was curious. If Urban Meyer wanted to set up shop in the Garden State, why would he do so at a camp bearing the name of a divisional opponent, in that school’s own backyard?

But after taking a look at the rest of college football’s satellite camp slate for this summer, the reuniting of Meyer and former Ohio State defensive coordinator and new Rutgers head coach Chris Ash made more sense.

As fate would have it, June 8 also happens to be the day Michigan will be hosting its previously planned satellite camp at New Jersey’s Paramus Catholic High School, less than six miles away from Fairleigh Dickinson.

What a coincidence.

The Wolverines’ scheduled summer trip to New Jersey had already been a hot topic of conversation prior to Monday. NJ.com columnist Steve Politi declared it “an act of war on Rutgers,” while Paramus Catholic president Jim Vail told the website he invited the home state school to participate in the camp alongside Michigan and that Ash declined.

But for anyone who’s paid attention to Jim Harbaugh‘s recruiting since he arrived in Ann Arbor in 2015, his upcoming trip to the Tri-state Area should hardly come as a surprise. While they’ve taken a national approach on the recruiting trail, the Wolverines have keyed in on New Jersey in the past year, something that can also be said for fellow Big Ten foes Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and of course, Rutgers.

But nobody in the conference—or the country for that matter—had more success in the Garden State in 2016 than Harbaugh, who landed six players from New Jersey as part of Michigan’s No. 5 nationally ranked class in February.

“It’s always been a good tradition of great football players coming out of that state, the Garden State,” Harbaugh said on signing day. “We’re looking for nuggets of gold anywhere. There’s good, there’s better, there’s best.”

This past year, New Jersey was home to the best—literally—with Paramus Catholic laying claim to the nation’s top-ranked player in 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, who committed and signed with the Wolverines on national signing day. Even prior to that, New Jersey had already made a big contribution to Harbaugh’s first full recruiting cycle at his alma mater, as he received letters of intent from four 4-star Jersey prospects—running back Kareem Walker, athlete Ahmir Mitchell, wide receiver Brad Hawkins and defensive end Ron Johnson—and one 3-star prospect—defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour.

Altogether, Michigan signed four of New Jersey’s top 10 players for 2016.

“I definitely see that as a key factor, seeing all the New Jersey guys coming in and seeing the love that we get in Ann Arbor being from New Jersey,” said Mitchell, the state’s fifth-ranked player, who committed to the Wolverines over Rutgers. “That definitely solidifies the security blanket for us.”

Targeting a talent-rich area like New Jersey isn’t exactly a ground-breaking approach.

Even before Harbaugh was hired, Michigan had already found success with Jabrill Peppers, who was the highest ranked player to come out of New Jersey since 2000, according to 24/7 Sports, until Gary took that title this spring. At Ohio State, Meyer has also found steady success in the Garden State, landing a New Jersey native in each of his past four recruiting classes—including the state’s fourth-ranked player in 2016, 4-star athlete Jordan Fullerand Penn State has long considered the Tri-state Area one of its primary pipelines, as has Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.).

“I love New Jersey. I recruited there for many, many years,” Meyer said last fall. “It’s very much like Ohio. I think the respect I have for the high school coaches, the seriousness they take, not just in coaching football, but you get those really good New Jersey high schools, I think it’s a lot like here.”

How would Meyer rate his success in the state that gave him Will Hill at Florida in 2008 and Eli Apple while with the Buckeyes in 2013?

“We’ve done OK, probably not good enough,” he said. “We can always do better.”

Doing so, however, is only going to be tougher moving forward, with his arch-rival’s recruiting footprint now firmly implanted throughout the state. Perhaps that’s why Meyer is so willing to aid Ash’s effort this summer, as any slowdown of the Michigan momentum in the state can be considered a victory for the rest of the Big Ten—and is also something Rutgers wouldn’t be capable of accomplishing on its own.

Except one opposing satellite camp—no matter the star power present—still pales in comparison to the effort Harbaugh has put forth in New Jersey over the last 16 months. The second-year Wolverines head coach hasn’t merely recruited New Jersey, he’s entrenched himself in it, as evidenced by Michigan hiring former Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge last offseason.

Partridge has since been promoted from director of player personnel in recruiting to linebackers coach for the Wolverines and earlier this year Scout.com named Partridge its 2016 National Recruiter of the Year.

A day after his satellite camp, Harbaugh will give the commencement speech at Paramus Catholic’s graduation.

“I was asked to do it,” Harbaugh said of his upcoming speech. “My default is usually, ‘Yes,’ when asked to do things.”

Of course, there’s the obvious benefit of further increasing his already strong presence in New Jersey, specifically at a school that happens to possess 2017 4-star linebacker Drew Singleton and 3-star defensive tackle Corey Bolds, as well as 2018 quarterback Allan Walters, each of whom the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions peg to land in Ann Arbor.

And with all three Paramus products also possessing offers from Rutgers, it’s no surprise Ash has taken notice of Harbaugh’s summer plans.

“Do I necessarily like it? No, I don’t. I don’t want another coach from another program to be able to to come to our state and be able to basically present their logo and their team and their program in our state,” Ash said, per Keith Sargeant of NJ.com. “But the rules are rules. It’s legal. I can’t complain about it. I gotta go out and do it myself if I get the opportunity.”

With that opportunity yet to come, Ash finds himself enlisting the help of his former boss for a mutually beneficial cause.

But at this point, both are playing catch-up to Harbaugh, who continues to plant more seeds than anyone in the Garden State.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report’s Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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