Rutgers football is one week into spring camp. One aspect worth covering is that the program welcomed 12 signees from the 2023 class as early enrollees this semester. Spring practice has been the first opportunity for those early enrollees to get onto the field for the first time as Scarlet Knights.
The two highest rated recruits in the 2023 class, JaSire Peterson and Djibril Abdou Rahman, will not join the program until the summer. However, four of the top seven recruits in the class are already enrolled.
They include a pair of offensive lineman from New Jersey, Nick Oliveira and John Stone. Ranked No. 12 and No. 13 in the state per 247 Sports, both have a chance to play major roles up front in the future.
Oliveira was originally committed to Cincinnati before flipping after Luke Fickell ended up at Wisconsin. Stone was the first recruit to commit to the class after a big growth spurt during his high school career. It takes time to develop offensive lineman and getting both of them acclimated this spring is certainly a positive.
The two other top 1,000 early enrollees include defensive backs Bo Mascoe and Athelte Davoun Fuse. Both are from out of state. Mascoe is a cornerback from Kissimmee, Florida while Fuse, who is listed at linebacker on the roster, is from Washington, PA. Both players bring athleticism and plenty of potential.
Ajani Sheppard was a late flip from Old Dominion and was a key addition at quarterback. Purely from a depth perspective, Sheppard is important right away. Rutgers only other scholarship signal callers are Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon.
Last week, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca smiled when asked about Sheppard joining his quarterback room.
“Ajani’s awesome. He brings great energy every day,” said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca. “You would consider him a gym rat. He just loves football. You can’t give him enough information. He always wants more.”
Of course, there is a huge adjustment that Sheppard will need to make. Ciarrocca pleaded for patience with his development .
“He’s got talent. But he’s just learning,” Ciarrocca said. “He’s learning the game of college football. Although he had some great – his high school coaches did a fantastic job with him. They really did. He’s way further ahead than most true freshmen when they get to college as far as how to think deductively and understanding defenses. But he’s still just learning. It’s way too early to evaluate.”
No position group is more wide open than wide receiver. Rutgers welcomed Jesse Ofurie and Dylan Brathwaite as early enrollees. Both add much needed speed to the position group.
While it would typically be unlikely for either player to be fighting for playing time as true freshman, it’s clear that the chance to compete for a role is on the table. Rutgers desperately needs help at wide receiver. Being at spring camp at least gives Ofurie and Braithwaite an opportunity to learn the new offense at the same time as the veterans.
“We have a very green receiver room – not a lot of cumulative snaps in that room − so we’re working hard and we’ll have some different combinations we’re going to look at,” head coach Greg Schiano said last week. “We’ll get better. I’m confident. We have talented young players, we just got to develop them.”
“They’re young. So again, with guys that young that really haven’t played, I’m not going to rush the evaluation process,” explained Ciarrocca. “Coach Brock, we’re blessed to have him. We’ve got a guy who’s trained NFL wide receivers, who’s an unbelievable teacher and has developed guys at the highest level. We also have John Perry, who’s trained wide receivers at the highest level. So they’re in great hands. We just have to be patient and allow those guys to develop and grow every day. They’re going to have some growing pains, I know that. I might not like it when it happens but I’m going to take a deep breath and see where they’re at tomorrow.”
Five other 2023 signees enrolled early as well including defensive back Ian Strong, linebacker Abram Wright, running back Jashon Benjamin, tight end Logan Blake and the top long snapper in the class nationally, Jake Eldridge.
It’s far too early to know how many of the dozen early enrollees could play a role in the season ahead. However, it’s important for a program like Rutgers to have so many incoming freshmen already gaining experience. There will be opportunities this offseason and fall for young players to seize roles on the field. It’s a real a positive to have so many newcomers able to start their development right away in spring camp and benefits the players as well as the program in the long run.
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