PISCATAWAY - Rutgers' final football recruiting class for the Big East Conference filled a major need in the secondary and added depth at running back, the defensive line and quarterback. It even included a foray into Big 10 territory.
Coach Kyle Flood announced the signing of 23 players Wednesday, including five who already have enrolled in classes and will be eligible for spring practice.
In keeping with the tradition started by former coach Greg Schiano, the majority came from New Jersey with the rest coming from New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Florida. The new venture was signing a linebacker from Michigan.
"As the head coach, I feel very comfortable saying that it filled all of our needs," Flood said at a news conference. "I think if I rewind myself to when I was a position coach, you always want more. I think if you polled the assistant coaches, you'd find they all want more. That's just the nature of the job, but I feel very good that we have filled all of the needs that I set out to get before we got into this class. What I'm most excited about is I feel like we have a bigger, faster team going forward."
Among the players signed was Egg Harbor Township tight end/defensive lineman Eric Wiafe, a first-team Press All-Star. Wiafe joins EHT alum Tejay Johnson, a cornerback who will be a redshirt sophomore next season.
"Eric is a big, thick, strong defensive end who runs well to the football and (another) player from Egg Harbor (Township) High School, with Tejay Johnson being somebody who is going to have a chance to compete at that corner position as well," Flood said.
"I'm really excited that Eric Wiafe is the type of defensive lineman, physically, that we want to continue to recruit. He runs well to the ball, but at the same time we haven't had to sacrifice size to get him in our program."
Flood didn't seem to sign a can't-miss star for Rutgers, which went 9-4 last season and finished tied for the conference title. However, he believed he snared players who will fit well into the program.
The key need was in the secondary, which lost five of the six players who saw time.
Defensive backs Nadir Barnwell of Piscataway High, Anthony Cioffi of Jonathan Drayton, Bryant Gross-Armiento of American Heritage in Florida, Delon Stephenson, who spent last year at Milford Academy, and T.J. Taylor of South Brunswick all will be joining the Scarlet Knights.
Barnwell was rated the eighth-best player in New Jersey this past season and might be the best of the bunch.
"We feel he is someone who can come in immediately and help us in the secondary," Flood said. "He will have an opportunity to do that. Now, he did have a shoulder surgery after the season ended that will allow him to participate in spring but in a noncontact fashion. He will do a lot of excellent learning and really get (used) to the types of drills we do here. But the contact portion he will not get until the fall. That's when he will really get the opportunity to compete."
With Jawan Jamison's decision to enter the NFL draft, Savon Huggins was the only tested running back on the roster.
Dontea Ayres of Wicomico High in Delaware, Devan Carter of Brighton High in Rochester, N.Y., and Justin Goodwin of Madison, N.J., will get a chance to play next season.
While quarterbacks Gary Nova and Chas Dodd are back, Flood has high hopes for Chris Laviano, a four-year starter for Holy Trinity on Long Island. Flood, after all, played in the same league as a youth.
"I am very familiar with the league Chris played in and because of that, it did not take long for people from there to tell me that we needed to recruit this young man," Flood said. "That started at a young age and Chris led Holy Trinity to the Catholic League championship game as a freshman. I don't know if that feat has been repeated or has been done before. He is a special football player."
Rutgers secured a plethora of defensive linemen besides Wiafe -including tackle Josh Klecko, the son of former Jets' great Joe Klecko and brother of former Eagle Dan Klecko.
The one area Rutgers came up short was on the offensive line, signing only Dorian Miller of Metuchen.
"He is physical, aggressive, strong and an inside player," Flood said. "From looking at him from a strength perspective now, he is someone that should be able to come in an add depth at an early age.
"I think that position is tough to play early, but we have had a couple."