Among the large group of recruits who visited Rutgers Tuesday when the men’s basketball team blew out the Penn State Nittany Lions (65-45) were several blue chips who played together on the same Newark youth soccer team. Jaylen McClaina four-star junior defenseman at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, played wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback as a youth Kay Sandersa four-star physical athlete from Bergen Catholic in Oradell, was playing running back and linebacker at the time.
“I think our two strengths were our speed,” McClain, whose father played Maurice at Syracuse, told NJ Advance Media on Wednesday.
Yasin Willisa four-star power running back at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, joined his old teammates on Tuesday where they envisioned a future together at Rutgers.
“I’ve always been high on Yasin,” said Brick City Lions general manager Nasir Gaines. “When he was a kid we used to call him OJ Simpson and Eric Dickerson like he would just run past you, stiffen you up or run over you.”
Each is a national recruit with more than 20 offers in tow. But for a few hours, the trio got lost in the Scarlet Knights hometown.
“We spent time at the basketball game and then did the photo shoot,” said McClain, who primarily hears from coaches at Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame, USC and Rutgers. “We talked a little bit about (playing together at Rutgers). We played together for Brick City in eighth grade and kept that connection, so it was cool to visit and talk to them. Especially at Rutgers, our home school.”
Sanders, who plays up to four positions on either side of the ball at an elite level, added, “There were a lot of my old teammates there so it was really fun to be in a collegiate atmosphere with them.”
All three were offered by Penn State, which appreciates McClain and Sanders so they could work there as well. Or each recruit could go his own way. But Rutgers’ proximity offers an advantage that competing schools don’t have.
This was Sanders’ second visit to Rutgers Junior Day this month, and McClain has been to the Rutgers campus more times than he can count. Willis, who runs with a chip on his shoulder and can play linebacker and safety in college, has also seen Rutgers many times.
It’s all part of Greg Schiano’s plan to bring top local players to campus and build relationships that will give Rutgers a chance to keep them at home in the end. Despite flashy offers from more established Power Five programs, Rutgers needs to be there to win it. And having signed 14 four-stars from transfer portal or high schools since returning to Rutgers in December 2019, Schiano will not resign from any school.
The trip also brought players from South Jersey and/or the surrounding states. Like the linebacker sophomore Salem (NJ). CameronSmitha member of “The Next 25” who recognized many young, up-and-coming recruits at the game.
“The atmosphere was exciting and the fans and culture were engaging,” said Smith. “I spent time with Lotzier Brooks (of Millville) and the Sabb brothers (both of whom were offered by Rutgers). I have seen too John Stein (a class of 2023 OL from Washington Township) who enrolled early.”
Freshman from Glassboro (NJ). Xavier Sabb was one of six recruits who received offers from Greg Schiano that day. Though he has yet to play his first high school snap, Sabb is an Under Armor All-American who will also play point guard on the hardwood.
“We had a meeting with the coach in his office,” said Sabb, whose two other brothers were also praised. “This was the second time I met him after meeting him in November. He told us about “culture, family, trust” and said he likes my talent and wanted to offer me a scholarship.”
Millville junior quarterback Zacob Zamotwho throws for arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the state appears to be on the verge of receiving an offer after his recent trip to Piscataway.
“I’ve had a good conversation with Coach Ciarrocca for a while,” said Zamot, who also speaks with coaches from Penn State, Syracuse, UCF, UConn and Temple in hopes of getting his first offer. “I love his knowledge of the game and look forward to working with him in the future. He loves my arm strength, athleticism and decision making.”
Zamot analyzed his two biggest playmakers, each offered by Rutgers, starting with Ta’Ron Hailewho earned his on Tuesday after gaining weight since his last trip to Hale Center.
“Ta’ron has the size and speed,” Zamot said of his classmate. “He’s very strong, so he’s a great blocker for the running game and the screens. He also has great hands and can catch up in traffic.”
Greg Schiano was the first coach to offer Millville speedster Lotzeir Brooks in August 2021, and Rutgers is still at it.
“Brooks is very special, a generation player,” said Zamot. “He has speed, tremendous athleticism and great hands. He’ll catch a rock if you throw it at him, and he’s extremely difficult to cover because he’s such a great route runner. He has the it factor. He calls for a double team and has beaten double coverage many times.
“They’re both humble and pretty quiet guys, but they’re great athletes and great teammates.”
Teammates that Greg Schiano hopes will one day be the Scarlet Knights. If the student section at Jersey Mike’s Arena, who serenaded the recruits entering the gym on Tuesday, has anything to do with it.
“Jaylen, Kaj, Yasin, these guys are special,” Gaines said. “I pray they can play together in college. That’s a good combination.”
MORE FROM TODDERICK HUNT
– The NJ.com Top 50 Football Recruits List, January 2023
– Being in the Big Ten is a boon for Rutgers recruiting
– Pipeline to Piscataway, Pt. 1: How Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall became Rutgers Prep
– Pipeline to Piscataway, Pt. 2: When Erasmus players join Rutger’s family
– Recruitment of black football players to Rutgers during America’s struggle for social change
– Cameroon, Canada, CHOP: He took the long road to Rutgers, but now he’s “home”
– Family, Football and NFL Dreams: NJ’s Best DBs, Teammates and Best Friends – Bellamy & Gould
-How Rutgers lured Kentucky’s Gavin Wimsatt, Greg Schiano’s QB star coup
– Destiny, Despair and Endurance: The Story of Newark’s Shaquan Loyal
Courage in the face of violence in Camden: “I have to get my mother and family out of here”
Thank you for trusting us to deliver the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting us with a subscription.
Todderick Hunt can be reached at [email protected].