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Rutgers making progress among local recruits under Greg Schiano

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Henry Hughes

Rutgers has never been a prime destination for local recruits. In the past two decades only 10 players from area high schools signed with the Scarlet Knights. Indiana, meanwhile, has the same amount of locals on this year’s roster.

The Tampa Bay area, though, is starting to become more of a priority for Rutgers, especially with the arrival of coach Greg Schiano, who has hired for his second stint at the school this offseason. 

The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach used his area ties to become a highly regarded recruiter during his three seasons as an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Ohio State (2016-18). 

Two years ago, Schiano was named the Big Ten recruiter of the year by 247 Sports and finished second nationally in the site’s annual rankings. His status was due to landing top-level talent such as former Berkeley Prep standout Nicholas Petit-Frere, a five-star prospect who is projected to be a starter on the Buckeyes’ offensive line this season. 

Schiano knows plenty about the players on Berkeley Prep’s roster. After all, his son played for the program and he spent two years helping out the staff following his departure with Tampa Bay. 

Those connections paid off once Schiano returned to Rutgers. He fortified his defensive line through the transfer portal by adding Malik Barrow (Ohio State/UCF) and Mayan Ahanotu (Minnesota). Barrow was a former standout at Tampa Catholic and IMG whose college career has been derailed by injuries. Ahanotu, the son of former Tampa Bay defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, starred at Berkeley Prep. 

The reinforcements up front continued this past weekend with the commitment of Tampa Bay Tech defensive lineman Henry Hughes. The 6-foot-6, 228 pound rising senior had 17 tackles and three sacks this past season. His stats are even better in the classroom, where he holds a 4.75 grade point average.

RELATED: Local list of 2021 football commits

“Rutgers has everything I’m looking for,” said Hughes, who picked the Scarlet Knights over offers from Illinois, Minnesota, Syracuse and Western Kentucky. “I personally feel like they have all of the tools I need to be successful in life, from my dream of owning my own engineering company and to the goal of playing in the NFL”

With Hughes committing, Rutgers has landed at least one local in three straight recruiting classes. The others are Clearwater Central Catholic linebacker Jack del Rio (Class of 2020) and Riverview defensive back T.J. Robinson (Class of 2019). That marks just the second time in the past 20 years the Scarlet Knights have accomplished that feat.

That trend should continue with Rutgers already extending offers to several area underclassmen, mostly from Berkeley Prep.      

Rutgers’ area recruits the past 20 years

Class of 2021

DL Henry Hughes, Tampa Bay Tech

Class of 2020

LB Jack del Rio, Clearwater Central Catholic

DL Wesley Bailey, Clearwater Academy

Transfers

DL Mayan Ahanotu, Minnesota/Berkeley Prep

DL Malik Barrow, Ohio State/UCF/IMG/Tampa Catholic

Class of 2019

DB T.J. Robinson, Riverview

Class of 2015

DL Marques Ford, East Bay

Class of 2014

OL Marcus Applefield, Weeki Wachee

Class of 2013

Ath Janarion Grant, Pasco

Class of 2010

WR/DB Jeremy Deering, Leto

LB Fred Overstreet, Jefferson

Class of 2004

DB Robert Baham, Jefferson

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College Football

College football: Athlete update

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The top performances from former area stars in week five of the college football season. 

DB Dane Belton, Jr., Iowa: The former Jesuit standout had one of the Hawkeyes’ six interceptions in a win over Maryland.

QB Devin Black, Sr., Bethune Cookman: The former Armwood standout accounted for 258 yards (131 rushing, 127 passing) and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in a loss to South Carolina State.  

DL Zachary Carter, Sr., Florida: The former Hillsborough standout recorded three tackles and a sack in a loss to Kentucky.  

QB Austin Day, Sr., Marist: The former Clearwater standout threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Valparaiso. 

RB Jerome Ford, Jr., Cincinnati: The former Armwood star ran for 67 yards on 17 carries in a win over Notre Dame. 

RB Dominic Gonella, So., North Dakota State: The former Bloomingdale standout ran for 37 yards on seven carries in a win over North Dakota. 

WR Travell Harris, Sr., Washington State: The former Jesuit standout had seven catches for 46 yards in a win over California. 

DB Kym-Mani King, Jr., Iowa State: The former Mitchell standout recorded three tackles and picked off a pass in a win over Kansas. 

RB Keyvone Lee, So., Penn State: The former American Collegiate standout ran for 74 yards on eight carries in a win over Indiana. 

DB T.J. Limehouse, Jr., West Florida: The former Armwood standout recorded a team-high 16 tackles in a win over Delta State. 

LB Micah McFadden, Sr., Indiana: The former Plant star recorded eight tackles in a loss to Penn State. 

QB Braxton Plunk, Jr., Mount Union: The former Plant City standout threw for 313 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Otterbein. 

QB Tyler Riddell, Fr., East Tennessee State: The former Chamberlain standout threw for 268 yards and a touchdown in a win over Wofford. 

WR Mike Roussos, Sr., Columbia: The former River Ridge standout averaged 19 yards per kickoff return and 15 yards per punt return in a loss to Princeton. 

RB Deon Silas, Fr., Iowa State: Ran for 30 yards and a touchdown on three carries in a win over Kansas. 

RB Brian Snead, Jr., Austin Peay: The former Armwood standout ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in a loss to Tennessee State. 

TE Michael Trigg, Fr., USC: The former Carrollwood Day/Seffner Christian standout had two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in a win over Colorado. 

RB Treshaun Ward, Fr., FSU: The former Tampa Bay Tech standout accounted for 95 yards (66 rushing, 29 receiving) in a win over Syracuse. 

LB Kee Whetzel, Sr., West Florida: The former Countryside standout recorded 10 tackles and a ½ sack in a win over Delta State. 

WR Mario Williams, Fr., Oklahoma: The former Plant City star had three catches for 29 yards in a win over Kansas State. 

LB Stephon Williams, Jr., West Florida: The former Calvary Christian standout recorded five tackles and 1 ½ sacks in a win over Delta State. 

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College Football

Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits

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Since arriving at Iowa State five years ago, Matt Campbell has guided the program to four straight bowl appearances, including a Fiesta Bowl win this past season that vaulted the Cyclones to No. 9 in the final AP poll, the highest ranking in school history. 

That success is due in part to the talent accumulated in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area. 

There are currently five local players on the roster, all of whom were recruited by Campbell’s staff. Anthony Johnson, a former standout at St. Petersburg, starts at cornerback. Two other defensive backs, T.J. Tampa (Lakewood) and Kym-Mani King (Mitchell), should get significant playing time this season. 

It does not end there. 

This offseason Iowa State had perhaps its biggest haul of local talent with three offensive stars — Wiregrass Ranch quarterback Rocco Becht, Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines III and Berkeley Prep athlete Xavier Townsend — all committing to the Cyclones as part of the 2022 class.  

Gaines is a four-star recruit while Becht and Townsend are both three-star prospects according to 247Sports. The addition of that trio helped the Cyclones’ current recruiting class rise to No. 5 in the Big 12 and No. 23 nationally. 

The recruiting efforts are not just limited to the staff. Becht, who committed in April, said he tried his best to get more offensive talent from the area to join him. 

“I talked to Greg and Xavier everyday,” Becht said of his recruiting pitch to that duo. “I was on them from the beginning.”

Rocco Becht

Iowa State’s staff also zeroed on those targets — and the area.

“The Tampa Bay area is a huge priority,” said Cyclones assistant head coach/linebackers coach Tyson Veidt, who recruits locally. “Some of our best players are from there and it has helped us develop some all-around continuity.”

Iowa State has a knack for landing playmakers in the bay area, particularly on the defensive side. It started more than a decade ago with linebacker Jeremiah George (Clearwater) and defensive back Leonard Johnson (Largo), both of whom played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL careers. 

There has been even more of an emphasis on the area with Campbell and his staff.

That comes from experience. 

Before taking over the Cyclones, Campbell was an offensive coordinator (2009-11) and head coach (2012-15) at Toledo. During his time with the Rockets, the program landed several prospects from the area, including former Lakewood star Bernard Reedy, who went on to play in the NFL. 

In fact, Campbell had at least one local commit in each of his recruiting classes as Toledo’s head coach. That helped the Rockets rank among the top two recruiting classes in the MAC in three of the four years during Campbell’s tenure. 

The trend has continued at Iowa State. 

And it is having an impact, especially with the camaraderie among locals. 

“Well, of course, the decision was for me and my future as a student athlete,” said Townsend, who committed to the Cyclones on Sunday. “But it was icing on the cake knowing a couple of my boys are coming up with me.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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