Rutgers exceeded expectations in its first season as a Big Ten member, going 8-5 with a dominant victory over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl. How did the Scarlet Knights fare with their first recruiting class in the Big Ten? Rutgers finalized a 25-member class Wednesday that was heavy on linemen but also featured some solid additions at wide receiver, defensive back and elsewhere.
After a swell of attrition before signing day in 2014, Rutgers bounced back a bit this year.
ESPN.com caught up with coach Kyle Flood to discuss the class.
You talked a lot today about becoming a championship program. How does this class put you closer to that position?
Kyle Flood: Competing for championships is our goal every year. This year, we were fortunate enough to win a bowl championship, which was great. Now we want to win division championships, conference championships, final-four wins and ultimately national championships. This class strengthens our team in every way. Adding nine linemen was important to me. Getting the quarterback we wanted was important to me. Getting the tailback we wanted in probably the most talented room in our building, to add a guy like Charles Snorweah, that was important to me also.
How does playing in the Big Ten affect your approach to recruiting linemen?
Flood: You always want to have great players at every position. What playing in the Big Ten emphasizes is you'd better have depth, more than a couple of them. We were very fortunate this year; we started the same five offensive linemen in every game. We were not that deep on either line and I don't know if we could have sustained if we had a few injuries. I don't think we can count on that every year. We built some depth last year with the players we took and now taking four more, we've continued to build some depth.
The offensive line is always a hard spot for players to play early. Do you see that potential with any of these recruits?
Flood: The two inside guys are probably the most physically ready, [Zach] Vanesky and [Jonah] Jackson. Zach Vanesky is a two-time Golden Gloves champion boxer. I believe he's 19-4 in the first year he's ever wrestled. So he's probably more physically ready to go than some of the other guys, and Jonah would probably be second.
How about the defensive line recruits?
KF: I think Marques Ford. Marques has a chance to come in and impact our program right away as a pass rusher. A guy like Sidney Gopre, with a year of prep school, will be physically more mature. We recruited Isaiah Johnson for that purpose. And then you get a guy like Kaiwan Lewis, who just transferred here from South Carolina. He's a guy that's played in a lot of games. When you take a guy like that, you always count on him contributing right away.
What effect did the Big Ten membership have as you recruited both in your area and in the traditional Big Ten footprint?
KF: Here's where it comes up: If you're recruiting the right players, they're competitive and those guys want to compete for championships. Playing in a conference like the Big Ten gives you access to the [Playoff], gives you access to the national championship if you have the right kind of season. We saw that play out this year with Ohio State. There's no doubt the best players in our recruiting footprint want to play in the best conference and we feel like the Big Ten is the best conference.
Where it also helps is the visibility of the Big Ten Conference, of the Big Ten Network, on a national level. That allows us to go to Chicago and get an offensive lineman [Jack Shutack] when the pool in our traditional footprint is not what it normally is. It allows us to go to California and get a linebacker [Isaiah Johnson], it allows us to go to Georgia and get a tight end [Anthony Folkerts]. Those things become more possible because of the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network.
You have so many great players in the state, Pennsylvania and the region. How much time did you spend in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, the states most associated with the Big Ten?
KF: We don't spend as much time there; that's pretty obvious. We recruit them for very specific purposes and we try to identify a position of need before we go to our satellite areas: Texas, California, Illinois, Georgia. In last year's recruiting class, we were able to get a quarterback out of Michigan. This year, we were able to get an offensive tackle out of Illinois. Last year, we took a tight end out of Texas. This year, we took a tight end out of Georgia. If you identify your needs well enough, you can go to a satellite area and be really effective.
What are your thoughts on the defensive backs you brought in?
KF: A guy like Blessuan Austin from Queens was a 6-foot-1 high school quarterback who becomes a corner at Milford Academy. I was able to see him play live, another guy who, because of a year of prep school, is more physically mature. Guys like him would have the inside track, but the players that can help us win Big Ten football games, they're going to be on the field.
You said you got the quarterback you wanted. What about Michael [Dare] stood out most to you?
KF: Michael's your traditional pro-style quarterback. We were able to have him in camp for a live evaluation. We got a chance to see what we realized right away was a pretty big arm. Michael was not a known commodity when he came to camp, and then we were able to move him around a little bit. He's a two-sport athlete, football and basketball, so he can do everything we want to do within our system. It's just going to be a matter of him getting with our coaching staff and learning the system, but a prolific passer in high school.