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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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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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Football: Local list of 2022 commits

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The Tampa Bay area always produces a tremendous amount of football talent. This year is no different. Several seniors have already pledged their allegiance to colleges. Here is the list, which is expected to grow considerably in the next few months. 

Armwood

WR Kye Stokes

College: Ohio State

Berkeley Prep

LB TJ Bullard

College: UCF

TE CJ Hawkins

College: Florida

Related: Berkeley Prep’s CJ Hawkins commits to Florida

Calvary Christian

OL Preston Cushman

College: Mississippi

Carrollwood Day

DL Brandon Cleveland

College: North Carolina State

Clearwater Academy

CB Rhyland Kelly

College: Minnesota

Clearwater Central Catholic

LB Melvin Jordan 

College: Oregon State

Gaither

DL Mario Eugenio

College: Michigan

Hillsborough

RB Jordaan Bailey

College: Pittsburgh

DB Adrian Ramsey

College: Howard

LB Joseph Sipp Jr.

College: Colorado State

Jesuit

WR Jaydn Girard

College: Wake Forest

ATH Junior Vandeross

College: Toledo

Related: Jesuit’s Junior Vandeross commits to Toledo

King

OT Tony Livingston

College: Florida

Related: Tony Livingston transfers to King

Lakewood

TE Amari Niblack

College: Alabama

Pinellas Park

PK Robert Gunn III

College: Clemson

Related: Pinellas Park’s Robert Gunn III commits to Clemson

Sickles

WR Javohn Thomas

College: USF

Tampa Catholic

OL Chris Williams

College: Florida A&M

Wharton

LB Daveon Crouch

College: Boston College

Wiregrass Ranch

QB Rocco Becht

College: Iowa State

Related: Wiregrass Ranch’s Rocco Becht commits to Iowa State

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Pinellas Park’s Robert Gunn III commits to Clemson

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Kickers typically are not offered scholarships while they are in high school. Most at the Division I-A level arrive as walk-ons with the chance to earn a scholarship based on their performance. 

Robert Gunn III is not your typical kicker. 

The Pinellas Park senior is ranked as the nation’s best at the position in the Class of 2022 according to Kicking World. That lofty status got the attention of college coaches.

Gunn III already has offers from six colleges, including Clemson and Texas.

The offer from the Tigers came on June 13 during an unofficial visit. Two days later, Gunn III ended the recruiting process by committing to Clemson. 

“I wanted to go to Clemson because of the people and how they care about the school so much,” Gunn III said. 

The Tigers have been successful landing area special teams stars. Former Jesuit and IMG standout Aidan Swanson will be a redshirt sophomore punter for Clemson this season. 

Now the Tigers will have an area kicker, too. 

This past season, Gunn III hit both of his field goal attempts and had 16 of his 19 kickoffs go for touchbacks. He also averaged 44 yards per punt.  

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