This afternoon, while on an unofficial visit to campus, DePaul Catholic outside linebacker/defensive end Justin Nelson became the first New Jersey prospect from the class of 2014 to commit to Rutgers, but according to his assistant coach, the ball got rolling on that commitment a long time ago.
"This kid wanted an offer from Rutgers since he came to our school," DePaul assistant Bryan Murray said. "He wanted an offer from Rutgers, and when he got it [in February], I can't even describe the way he reacted. When we told him that Rutgers had offered him, this kid was just ecstatic.
"I think in his heart he wanted to go there from the beginning. He just had to get down there a couple of times and see the overall university and talk to some academic people, just to kind of finalize what he was already feeling. Once he did that today, that sealed the deal for him."
In Nelson, Rutgers added a 6-foot-1, 245-pound athlete who played with his hand on the ground and off the edge this past season. Size concerns may have prevented him from having a host of early offers, but Nelson had picked up a lot of interest from Division I programs.
"If he was an inch or two taller, he probably would have had 20 or 30 offers, in my opinion," Murray said. "He's special. There's no doubt about it."
His skill set and versatility makes him an ideal candidate for the "R" defensive end position Rutgers employs in its defense.
"Rutgers got a great player; Justin brings a unique skill set to the defensive end position," Murray said. "He's tough enough and strong enough to take on the run, but he's also a great edge rusher who gets to the QB. He has great hands and speed off the edge. He's also athletic enough to drop back into coverage and play in a zone-blitz scheme. He's probably athletic enough to play outside linebacker if he has to. We couldn't be happier for him."
Nelson has developed a strong relationship with head coach Kyle Flood and the Rutgers staff throughout his recruitment, particularly his future position coach, Jim Panagos, and his primary recruiter, defensive coordinator Dave Cohen.
"There's nobody better than Jim Panagos. He's fiery; Justin needs that, he loves that," Murray said. "Our guy who coaches the d-line by us is very similar, animated guy. Justin loves that. He takes to that coaching well, so coach Panagos is going to be awesome for him.
"Coach Cohen doesn't beat around the bush. He tells them exactly how it is. I think that in Justin's case, Justin really appreciated that. He knew where he stood with Rutgers right in the beginning, and that open communication is great. Dave does a great job with that."
Nelson will join a Rutgers squad that also features a former Spartan, defensive back Davon Jacobs. The two programs have developed a connection over the years.
"Our school enjoys a great relationship with Rutgers. This is just a great way to continue it," Murray said. "Kyle really has built up a great staff, moving Dave Cohen to defensive coordinator, getting Anthony [Campanile] on full-time, and bringing Darrell Wilson in. Those things are all great positive for them, Justin's going to benefit from playing underneath those guys and getting coached up by guys like that."