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Five Things to know about Rutgers commit AJ Surace

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Surace
Photo credit Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Rutgers football received a verbal commitment from 3-star quarterback AJ Surace, who announced his decision via Twitter.

The class of 2024 signal caller has starred for Notre Dame high school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. He finished his junior season completing 131 of 231 pass attempts (56.7%) for 1,731 yards along with 21 TDs and 6 INTs. In addition, Surace had 32 rushes for 189 yards, 5.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns last season.

In three seasons at Notre Dame, two as the full-time starter, Surace has completed 263 of 478 attempts (55.0%) for 3,645 yards along with 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.  He has carried it 80 times for 361 yards, 4.5 yards per rush and 6 touchdowns in his high school career.

Here are five things to know about AJ Surace.

Top QB in New Jersey

Surace is ranked the top ranked signal caller in the state by every major recruiting service. In addition, 247 Sports composite rankings list Surace as the No. 10 recruit in New Jersey, the No. 44 QB and No. 502 overall prospect in 2024 class. He could certainly move up the rankings during his senior season.

Solid Offer List

Rutgers beat out three other Big Ten teams and an SEC team that was ranked No. 1 for a time last season. Surace holds offers from Tennessee, Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana, Pitt, Boston College, Duke, and Temple. However, he decided to commit to Rutgers early in the recruiting cycle. Winning recruiting battles against two other Big Ten East foes is always a positive. Surace was a desirable prospect on a national level. Keeping him home is just part of why he was a top priority for the staff with the 2024 class. His potential is high and credit Schiano and Ciarocca for getting it done.

Football Family

AJ’s father is Bob Surace who has been the head coach at Princeton since 2010. He is a four-time Eddie Robinson Jr. National Head Coach of the Year finalist. Surace has turned the Tigers into an Ivy league powerhouse. He previously coached for the Cincinnati Bengals for nine seasons. At Princeton, he’s won four Ivy titles with an innovative and explosive offensive system. The elder Surace has had a quarterback win the Offensive Player of the Year honors in the league four times.

Both Sean Gleeson and Andrew Aurich served as offensive coordinator under Surace. Obviously, Gleeson was fired bby Rutgers in the middle of last season. Aurich is entering is third year at Rutgers and previously worked for head coach Greg Schiano with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His relationship with both Bob and AJ is said to be strong. That was obviously a plus in his recruitment.

AJ has grown up around the game and there is an inherent value in his long term exposure. His coachability, understanding of offensive philosophies and what to expect as he transitions to college are all aspects of Surace’s profile that are positive intangibles.

Right Fit for OC Kirk Ciarrocca

First, I admit I was surprised that Surace ultimately chose Rutgers after former Princeton OC Sean Gleeson was fired in October. Here is what Surace told Todderick Hunt of NJ Advance Media regarding the situation.

“There was definitely a time when I wasn’t sure who the offensive coordinator was and I wasn’t as consistent in my communication with Rutgers,” Surace told NJ Advance Media on Sunday. “Obviously, I’m really grateful for coach Gleeson. I see him as a mentor and I’m sure wherever he goes next, he’ll be successful. So, there was a little bit (of tension when he was fired). But when they hired coach Ciarrocca, and I got to communicate with him, I fell right back in love.”

It’s a real positive that offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca was able to turn things around with Surace’s recruitment. The most important thing is that Surace really does appear to be a tremendous fit for what Ciarrocca looks for in a quarterback.

Surace does not have the strongest arm, although it is not weak either. However, his accuracy is a strong suit. He runs a pretty sophisticated high school spread offense which features RPOs and zone reads. In addition, Surace is known as a strong leader, as well as displaying a high IQ in his decision making and ability to read defenses.

Here is what Ciarrocca described what he looks for in a quarterback last month after he was announced as the new offensive coordinator.

“Well, I think there’s this thing in football, right,” Ciarrocca siad. “If you throw a forward pass, if you throw the ball forward, the guy has to catch it in order to advance the football. So I value accuracy among everything, right. I would love for arm strength, the better the arm, the more things you can do, the better you can stretch the field. But the ball still — it doesn’t matter if you can throw it 70 yards down the field; if the guy is not going to catch it, it doesn’t matter. So accuracy is No. 1.”

Ciarrocca continued, “No. 2 is — and this is in no particular order. No. 2 would be functional intelligence, right. He has to be able to think deductively and learn from his mistakes. And then the third thing is leadership.”

Lastly, Ciarrocca summed up how he evaluates a QB by saying, “They are the three things that I look the most at. And when I go out and evaluate a quarterback, they are the things I’m thinking about, where is he in these areas. And again, right, you would love to have the guy that can throw it 70 yards, right. So the stronger the arm, the better. But we cannot sacrifice accuracy. We cannot sacrifice leadership. The quarterback position, you know, we are in the largest media market in the United States right here, right. He’s the face of the program. So he’s got to have leadership, also, and be able to lead the team. So they are the three things I look for.”

You can listen to his comments from the presser here as well as my takeaways.

From everything reported on Surace, it almost sounds like Ciarrocca was describing him. Some fans might get hung up on rankings or offers. However, finding the right QB to fit Ciarrocca’s vision and wish list outweighs everything else. It seems like Rutgers found the right singal caller to lead the offense in the future with Surace. His potential to develop under Ciarrocca is an exciting thought to ponder for Rutgers fans.

Early Commitment Key for 2024 class

Surace joins 4-star athlete Gabriel Winowich of Franklin, Michigan and offensive lineman Kenny Jones of Delran, New Jersey in the 2024 class for Rutgers. The key in adding Surace is that he is automatically the face of this class being the quarterback. Having him as a resource to recruit the rest of the class so early in the cycle is invaluable for the staff. His buy-in is a big selling point for recruits considering Rutgers. Especially on the offensive side of the ball as Ciarrocca sells his vision and plan moving forward. Not only is Surace a great addition to the program, the timing is ideal as well.

For Surace’s junior highlights, click here.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. pj43

    February 9, 2023 at 8:27 pm

    With the addition of Surace & Sheppard to the QB room, things are looking up. I’m not sure that Wimsatt will ever develop the accuracy that Ciarrocca needs for his offense, although I think his flaws are mostly mechanical, and that can be remedied with coaching and player dedication. If it’s an inability to make the reads and go through the progressions under game conditions, all of Wimsatt’s athleticism and arm strength won’t make up for it. We’ll know this coming season.

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