Absegami High School football coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. recalls Greg Schiano always wanting a South Jersey player in his Rutgers University recruiting classes.

That attention to detail is why many of the state’s high school football coaches have endorsed Schiano’s return as Rutgers head football coach.

“He’ll be a tremendous ambassador (for Rutgers),” said Scuderi, who was Rutgers’ director of recruiting operations under Schiano in 2007. “He’s a tremendous closer, and his ability to relate with people from any walk of life is his biggest attribute. He’ll do an unbelievable job of recruiting and keeping kids in New Jersey.”

The Rutgers Board of Governors approved an eight-year, $32 million contract for Schiano on Tuesday. The coach was introduced at a news conference Wednesday morning. Schiano went 68-67 from 2001-11 at Rutgers. Schiano left Rutgers to take the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL.

During his first tenure, Schiano often visited South Jersey high schools, sometimes arriving by helicopter.

“He really made a conscious effort to build relationships with all the state’s high school coaches and players,” Scuderi said.

Rutgers fans campaigned for Schiano’s return. Many Scarlet Knights fans expressed their frustration on social media when negotiations between Schiano and Rutgers appeared to break down last weekend.

“I think Rutgers needed a little bit of a splash,” Cedar Creek High School coach Tim Watson said. “He was the consensus for most of the fans. Sometimes you have to give the people what they want.”

Rutgers finished 2-10 this season. Five graduates of Press-area high schools played for the Scarlet Knights. Sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco of Vineland led the team in rushing with 729 yards. Junior wide receiver Bo Melton of Cedar Creek led the team in receiving with 30 catches for 427 yards. Other locals on the Rutgers roster were sophomore offensive lineman Owen Bowles of Cedar Creek and freshman linebackers Nihym Anderson of Vineland and Mohamed Toure of Pleasantville.

Rutgers hasn’t had a winning season since 2014. The Scarlet Knights are a combined 3-21 the past two seasons.

Pleasantville High School coach Chris Sacco said it would be a boost for New Jersey football for Rutgers to be successful.

“You look at these other states, and they have one or two big-time college programs in their state that a lot of kids look to go to,” Sacco said. “If Rutgers can establish itself and compete in the Big 10, that establishes the state as a better football program, too. I think that would help the state get more recognition on the high school level as well.”

Most New Jersey high school football coaches welcomed Schiano’s return. Vineland coach Dan Russo emailed the Rutgers Board of Governors to push for Schiano. When talks originally broke down, Russo took to social media to voice his displeasure.

“I don’t know him personally, but I know his body of work,” Russo said. “I’m going to support him 100%. Every time I’m watching college football, it seems like some New Jersey kid is doing something great at another school. Hopefully, (Schiano) can keep them home. I feel like he’s the guy.”

Schiano captured the attention of the state’s high school football coaches during his first tenure, especially after Rutgers beat Louisville 28-25 in a nationally televised game in 2006. Schiano’s slogan of “keep chopping” was adopted by many of the state’s high school coaches.

“He was able to brand the program,” Scuderi said.

Scuderi said Schiano can not only build on his past success at Rutgers but also his stint as head coach of the Buccaneers from 2013-14. Rutgers produced more than its fair share of NFL players under Schiano, including current Cincinnati Bengals long snapper and Southern Regional graduate Clark Harris.

“Most kids that are playing at that level have ambitions of playing in the NFL,” Scuderi said. “He was one of 32 people in the entire world at one point to be an NFL head coach. That automatically gives you instant credibility.”

Contact: 609-272-7209 MMcGarry@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMcGarry

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