Published Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 2:42 pm / Updated at 6:23 pm
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Chatelain: New Jersey, Maryland attractive to Big Ten recruiters

Jim Delany did it for money. No one would argue that.

The East Coast TV markets theoretically will pump millions into Big Ten athletic coffers, helping fund the next round of shiny facilities and coaching salaries.

This is why the commissioner invited Rutgers and Maryland to be No. 13 and 14.

But recruiting season has revealed an intriguing byproduct of expansion. Those two new states in the Big Ten footprint — New Jersey and Maryland — suddenly are prime territory for the league's best coaches.

“Rutgers says going to the Big Ten is going to help them, and it is immensely,” said John Fiore, head coach at Montclair High School in northern New Jersey.

“What it's also done is open venues for the rest of these guys to come in and recruit. That kid that didn't really want to go away from home because he wanted mom and dad to be able to see him? Now he can go away from home and at least four times — between Maryland and Rutgers — your parents are going to be able to come see you play.”

Fiore, who's led Montclair High for 14 years, has always seen Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin coaches in the Jersey bleachers. Now he's seeing more of Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern.

The numbers back him up.

Let's chart Nebraska's top seven peers in the Big Ten. In 2012, they cumulatively signed only four players from New Jersey. In 2013, they grabbed just six.

This year, they signed 13, including Michigan recruit Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 1 cornerback. Ohio State grabbed four-star athlete Noah Brown. Penn State signed four-star receiver Saeed Blacknail and four-star tight end Mike Gesicki. Even Northwestern poached a four-star defensive end, Garrett Dickerson.

The 13 signatures from New Jersey matches the number those seven Big Ten contenders signed from Florida. It far exceeds crops from Texas (five) and California (four).

Big Ten signees from the state of Maryland (eight) were higher than past years, too. Michigan signed two, Penn State two, Wisconsin two. New Jersey is more fertile recruiting ground, though.

About 100 Jersey prospects are signing with FBS schools this year, Fiore said, which should be a record for the state. Montclair has three kids in that group, including high-profile defensive end Darius Slade, who had committed to Nebraska, then Michigan State, but signed Wednesday with Ohio State.

Slade was turned at the 11th hour by new Ohio State pitchman Larry Johnson.

Johnson, the longtime Penn State assistant who joined Urban Meyer's staff in January, has recruited New Jersey and Maryland for years. The Buckeyes will surely make more waves on the East Coast in the future.

What about Ohio State's peers? It's too soon to draw conclusions, but as the Big Ten footprint expands, it's possible the Big Ten won't need the South as much.

Consider 16 of Ohio State's 22 signees come from the footprint. At Michigan, it's 12 of 16. At Michigan State, it's 18 of 22. At Iowa, it's 17 of 21, including one from Brooklyn, N.Y., and two from Washington D.C.

Penn State, Wisconsin and Northwestern are more geographically diverse, but each signed at least half its class from the footprint.

Nebraska is the outlier. The Huskers' status as a western outpost makes it harder to entice prospects from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Bo Pelini has shifted his focus to the South. Only six of NU's 24 commitments came from the Big Ten footprint.

But going forward, the Huskers are clearly interested in New Jersey, home to former Huskers Rich Glover, Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar and the Peter brothers. Montclair High's junior quarterback, Elijah Robinson, has already received a scholarship offer from Nebraska.

Rutgers and its Jersey fans don't quite feel like Big Ten citizens yet, Coach Fiore said. Not until September, when Penn State comes to Piscataway.

“When they play that first Big Ten game at home, packed house, get that feeling, it'll kick in.”

Rutgers' new recruiting rivals have no interest in waiting that long.

* * *

Video: Omaha.com signing day playlist:

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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