For the last quarter century, major college football recruiters have made sure that if they paid a visit to New Jersey, then they had make an educated stop in downtown Jersey City to St. Peter’s Prep to see the talent there.
Over 100 graduates from Grand and Warren have moved on to play college football, some at the absolute highest level.
Just as examples, former Marauder Khalil Wilkes played in the Rose Bowl for Stanford last January. Three former Marauders, namely Savon Huggins, Keith Lumpkin, and Sheldon Royster, are all together again at Rutgers.
However, in those 25 or so years, there hasn’t been a trio of players more craved and cherished by the major college recruiters than current Marauders Jonathan Hilliman, Brandon Wimbush, and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Hilliman will be a senior this season. He’s on the threshold of making his college choice now, with Ohio State and Rutgers among the forerunners.
Wimbush and Fitzpatrick are just juniors. They have two seasons remaining with the Marauders, but they are already among the most coveted players in the country. In fact, one touting sheet has Fitzpatrick as the No. 1 prospect in New Jersey from the Class of 2015.
And yes, all three will be in the same backfield this upcoming season for the Marauders, with Wimbush as the quarterback and Hilliman and Fiztpatrick among the main running backs.
Veteran head coach Rich Hansen has tried to organize all the college coaches wanting to get a shot at his talented players. Hansen admits it has not been easy.
“This has been as difficult as it gets in my career,” said Hansen, who has a handful of other players being recruited by colleges as well. “I feel sorry for the new coaches just starting out in this business, because it gets more difficult every year. You have other people in the mix like street agents, recruiting gurus and family advisors who get involved. I try to insulate the kids and the program as much as possible.”
Hilliman likes the idea that he’s the center of attention from the major colleges.
“It’s very exciting, but it has its pros and cons,” Hilliman said. “It could get annoying. I never thought it would get to this extent.”
Hilliman has Ohio State, Rutgers, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Miami all jousting for position right now.
“I’m happy to be one of the best players coming out of Prep, but my focus is on getting our team to be No. 1,” Hilliman said. “That’s why I want to make this decision early and get it out of the way. This is the deepest team I’ve ever played on. We have a lot of talented players. It’s all about how comfortable I feel and how interested the school is in me.”
Fitzpatrick didn’t realize that he was considered the top prospect in the entire state from the junior class.
“I’m excited and happy, but that could be a negative or a positive thing,” said Fitzpatrick, who is being recruited as a defensive back. “I’ll have a big, old bulls’ eye on my back, with people looking at me. I have been working really hard and I’m happy the work is paying off.”
Fitzpatrick is considering schools like South Carolina and Stanford.
“Stanford is such a great academic school,” Fitzpatrick said. “I feel that if I’m going to go to a school, it better be a good academic school. I never really thought I’d be this recruited at this stage of my life. I thought maybe a few schools would be interested here and there.”
Wimbush is still trying to grasp the situation that he is so highly coveted.
“I don’t know if there is anyone who didn’t dream about being a part of the recruiting process,” Wimbush said. “All these schools are showing me attention. It’s an honor and a blessing that I am considered and it humbles me a little. But I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I’ve seen this earlier happen to Prep football players, but I never thought I could be going through it myself.”
Wimbush said that he’s happy to have his teammates going through the same recruiting rigors.
“It would feel weird if I was going through this by myself,” Wimbush said. “It’s a great thing to have my friends and teammates going through the same process. I know Minkah loves the south and Jon loves the SEC [the perennially tough Southeast Conference]. Wherever Jon commits, we can see where he’s going. I’m just going to look at the schools that fit me best. I’m enjoying the process and it’s a long and drawn out process, but it’s really cool that all three of us are going through it. We talk to each other all the time about doing the same thing. I’m humbled for all three of us.”
“Jon has already been on a few visits, so we can talk to him and that helps a lot,” Fitzpatrick said. “Who knows? Maybe all three of us will end up at the same place.”
That’s what Huggins, Lumpkin and Royster said three years ago. Even though Royster first went to South Carolina, all three are now at Rutgers after Royster transferred to New Brunswick last year.
For now, the recruiting buzz has to take a back seat. The upcoming football season begins in less than a month and the Marauders appear to be one of the state’s premier squads.
“I think the colleges all know when it’s time to pull back,” Hansen said. “I just had a conversation with a Division I coach about that. Either you get the process or the process gets you. It’s not about any college right now. It’s about us and the college coaches know that. We have to get ready for the season.
Added Hansen, “But having these kids presents a different challenge. When all is said and done, we could have the No. 1-rated player, the No. 1-rated quarterback and the No. 1-rated back. The next two years should be really exciting. But when the button gets pushed, these kids better be ready, because everyone is judged on performance. It may be one thing on paper, but it’s another thing on the field.”
Everyone will know for sure next month. But for now, the trio of Prep standouts is certainly gaining a lot of attention for their talents even before the opening kickoff.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.