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There may not be anything as Jersey as Rutgers Wrestling.
Not even Springsteen.
Throughout the years, Rutgers has rightfully earned a reputation as a New Jersey all-star team. After all, last year’s Scarlet Knight lineup was made up entirely of the state’s finest resulting in the highest NCAA finish in program history. This season, with both of last year’s All-Americans out of the lineup, expectations for the Scarlet Knights are not quite as high. But that’s not all that’s different. There are two starters in the lineup — Nico Aguilar and JoJo Aragona — not from Jersey.
But let’s not forget that Aragona, who is from Pennsylvania, went to high school and was a state champ at Pope John. In New Jersey. Because, well, let’s just say he knows what’s up.
Two out-of-state guys in the Rutgers lineup, despite being such a small number, seemed like a lot. Isn’t this team usually all NJ guys?
So How Jersey Is Rutgers?
Turns out, pretty damn Jersey.
- Rutgers is so Jersey that two of the most transcendent wrestlers in the history of NJ high school wrestling, the only two undefeated four-timers, were also the two to win Rutgers’ first-ever national titles. In 2019, Anthony Ashnault and Nick Suriano shattered the program’s glass ceiling, if you will.
- All 12 All-Americans in the program’s history hail from the Garden State.
- The first out-of-state qualifiers of the millennium didn’t come until Sean McCabe and Tyson Dippery qualified in 2016.
- In the last 20 years, out of 83 NCAA qualifiers for RU, only THREE grew up outside of the state. That’s less than five percent.
- In the same time period, only 10 starters were out of state — 95 percent Jersey boys.
- There was never more than two out-of-state guys in the starting lineup at the same time.
- Twelve times Rutgers fielded a lineup comprised entirely of New Jersey natives.
Comparing Rutgers’ In-State Reliance To Other Programs
So how rare is this? Is it unprecedented in Division I wrestling? What about Division I sports?
I reviewed the 2018-19 lineups of six of the power schools in wrestling-rich states: Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Missouri. Of these, Missouri and OK State had the most in-state guys with seven apiece. Sure, that’s the majority of the lineup, but Rutgers never sends out a lineup with that few in-state guys.
Next, I thought about the smaller, non-blue bloods known for more homegrown talent. I looked at the lineups of Northern Colorado, and recently revived Fresno St. Last year, half of Northern Colorado’s lineup was made up of out-of-state guys, while nine of Fresno’s 10 starters were California boys. Nine is a significant amount, but it’s not quite the 10 Rutgers sent to the Big Ten Championships last year.
Even Rider isn’t this Jersey. Despite its history of running out a competitive squad with lots of in-state talent, the Broncs had four out of staters in its lineup last season.
Lastly, I looked at Rutgers men’s and women’s basketball teams, the baseball and softball teams, the soccer team, and the lacrosse team. None of them had such a drastic difference in terms of in-state vs out-of-state athletes. Only the cross-country team had a similar makeup of homegrown representation, but it doesn’t look like that team will finish top 10 in the country any time soon.
The Garden State Could Be Everything Rutgers Needs
Does this huge discrepancy of New Jersey natives bolster the Rutgers program or hold it back?
In one way, you have to love it because it’s just so Jersey. It’s the classic, “Good, ‘cause we don’t need you” mentality. The state stands as a constant punching bag from outsiders; in NJ, you’re raised with a chip on your shoulder.
But I’m going to play the Jersey Devil’s advocate for a second. For as much as this lineup is loaded top to bottom with New Jersey studs, it’s also quite obviously lacking out-of-state talent. What is keeping Rutgers from landing a coveted A-lister from Pennsylvania or Ohio? How many stone-cold blue-chippers from outside of New Jersey choose Rutgers? The answer might be zero. JoJo was, of course, a #1-ranked blue-chipper from PA, but like I said, JoJo is pretty damn Jersey. I know this is sort of like claiming a Blair guy is Jersey . . . but, I don’t really think it is.
Then there are the big time in-staters who slipped through the cracks, like Mekhi, Myles, and Griffith. Even Cassar, who out of high school was someone who had Rutgers written all over him. What will it take to keep these guys at home?
When Goodale was first hired in 2007 and brought along his Jackson Memorial star and top-three recruit in the country, Scott Winston, there was an expectation the floodgates could open for Rutgers in the state and across the country. That didn’t quite happen as planned. But then in 2013, Ashnault signed and starting making podiums. A Suriano transfer, two national champions, and a top-10 finish later — I think the floodgates have opened. In the years since Ashnault’s signing, Rutgers put five different guys on the podium for a total of 10 All-American finishes. Just last week, it got a commitment from one of NJ’s top prospects in the class of 2021, Dylan Weaver.
So how will this look moving forward? On the one hand, the program has never been as successful as it is currently. On the other hand, there is plenty of intriguing, high-level talent that resides outside of the great Garden State that could help the Scarlet Knights. In the upcoming years, will we continue to see the same Jersey-heavy lineups of the past? Will Rutgers begin landing more of these out of state blue-chips? Does it even need them?
Or do the Scarlet Knights have everything they need?