ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Bruce Springsteen. Frank Sinatra. “The Sopranos.” Salt water taffy.
These are a few of New Jersey’s notable imports.
Add “football talent” to that list.
When No. 4 Michigan (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten Conference) faces Rutgers (2-3, 0-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J., the Wolverines will have nine players from New Jersey on their roster, including two of the nation’s top recruits in Jabrill Peppers and Rashan Gary.
The Garden State has become fertile ground not just for Michigan football recruiting, but for college football recruiting in general. Blue-blood programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Miami and Tennessee have plucked some of the Garden State’s top recruits.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gave a perfunctory answer on why New Jersey is such a rich state for mining recruits.
“There’s good football being played there,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Talent and great effort and good coaching.”
Michigan hasn’t just made a point of adding Garden State products to its roster. Michigan has gone to great lengths to infiltrate New Jersey, not just as a means to promote its collegiate brand, but also to bolster the visibility of its football program, magnifying the state as a recruiting hotbed in the past three years.
Off the football field, it’s created a rivalry of sorts with the Scarlet Knights, one that’s decided in the hallways of high schools, in family living rooms and on scholastic football fields rather than at Michigan Stadium or High Point Solutions Stadium. This year, Michigan is in pursuit of Paramus (N.J.) Catholic four-star outside linebacker Drew Singleton — whom Rutgers also offered.
Singleton, the No. 1 recruit in New Jersey and the No. 3-rated outside linebacker in the country by 247Sports, tore his ACL last month and will miss the remainder of the high school season.
Last summer, Michigan had coaches at more than 40 satellite camps across the United States, Australia and the South Pacific. But Michigan’s presence in north Jersey was almost as notable as its kicking camp in Sydney, Australia.
In addition to having coaches at a satellite camp at Paramus Catholic (the alma mater of Peppers, Gary and Michigan offensive lineman Juwann Bushell-Beatty), Harbaugh also delivered the graduation speech at Paramus Catholic.
It did not go unnoticed — or unanswered.
Hours before Paramus Catholic hosted Michigan’s satellite camp, “The Order of the Bull’s Blood” — Rutgers’ oldest and most secret society — decorated the Paramus Catholic football facility with Rutgers magnets, wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalks and left a teddy bear at the 50-yard line.
The group left a note that read, “We have had enough of Michigan. Fence the Garden was brought forth because of Mr. Harbaugh, and us Scarlet Knights are ready to protect our state. We R battle ready.”
It’s also no coincidence that about 30 miles southwest of Paramus, Rutgers coaches joined Ohio State and Temple coaches to host a satellite camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J. that same day.
New Jersey high school football coaches took note of the dynamic, too.
“Listen, Michigan has a great program, but I don’t think they should be setting the terms on how it’s done in New Jersey,” Bergen Catholic coach Nunzio Campanile told NJ.com in May. “Rutgers is the home-state school, and I think we should all respect that.”
Rutgers coach Chris Ash, however, doesn’t see New Jersey as a newfound recruiting hotbed. Even when he was a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2010-2012, Ash said he scoured New Jersey for prospects.
“You look around the college landscape, and they’re getting top New Jersey players all over,” Ash said. “Something that attracted me to the job was, if we can keep our fair share of New Jersey players at home, then we can build an outstanding program.
“I saw it firsthand from recruiting here, and from recruiting at other universities.”
The short series between Michigan and Rutgers, who have two of college football’s oldest programs, enters its third year on Saturday — and is tied 1-1.
The recruiting rivalry, however, is young, and continues to unfold.
“If there are great players in this state, the traditional college football powers are going to recruit them,” Ash said. “I understand that. It’s our job to recruit them to stay. Anybody who comes in is a rival. It’s our job to try to out-recruit or build relationships with people in our state, to want them to stay here.
“Michigan did an outstanding job with its (2016) class, getting the majority of New Jersey’s top players to go there. It’s our job for that not to happen in the future.”
Michigan’s players and coaches from New Jersey
|Joe Beneducci||RB||Far Hills, N.J.|
|Juwann Bushell-Beatty||OL||Paramus, N.J.|
|Michael Dwumfour||DT||Wayne, N.J.|
|Greg Froelich||OL||Maplewood, N.J.|
|Rashan Gary||DE||Plainfield, N.J.|
|Ron Johnson||DE||Camden, N.J.|
|Jabrill Peppers||LB||East Orange, N.J.|
|Cheyenn Robertson||LB||Union City, N.J.|
|Kareem Walker||RB||Wayne, N.J.|
|Jedd Fisch||QBs coach||Livingston, N.J.|
|Chris Partridge||LBs coach||Paramus, N.J.|