By Kristian Dyer
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Tim Pernetti was at it again this weekend for Rutgers, and he wasn’t anywhere close to the New Brunswick campus. No longer the program’s athletic director, Pernetti still continues to see his magical vision for the football program live on and grow.
On Saturday afternoon, Manalapan High School wide receiver Saeed Blacknall committed to the Scarlet Knights, adding another talented player to a recruiting class that is currently ranked No. 17 in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Blacknall is no ordinary player, as he is a four-star recruit who is the No. 109 player in the nation and No. 15 nationally at his position; he is already drawing comparisons to former Rutgers and current NFL star Kenny Britt with his blend of size and speed. What Blacknall brings is another marquee talent and game-changer to head coach Kyle Flood’s arsenal, another playmaker for a program that suddenly has an embarrassment of riches in that department.
He is the fourth four-star recruit that Rutgers has hauled in this year, the most in program history at this point in the recruiting calendar. With other top talents still out there and considering Rutgers, more could be coming to the program — and they wouldn’t be considering Rutgers if it wasn’t for the work of Pernetti.
Ousted wrongly from Rutgers this past April after he followed the will of the Board of Governors in the handling of the Mike Rice situation, Pernetti became the fall guy for the university in the days and weeks after ESPN released old footage of the former men’s basketball coach abusing his players. Everything Pernetti did was according to university guidelines and everything had the backing of the top of the administration pecking order. But it wasn’t enough, and this loyal son of Rutgers fell on the sword for his Scarlet Knights.
But his legacy continues to leave an impact that is evidenced in the recruitment of players like Blacknall.
For what Pernetti did was usher Rutgers into the big time with their inclusion in the Big 10. Blacknall’s class will be the first freshmen at Rutgers to experience the move to the conference, a move that takes them to games in Ann Arbor and Columbus and puts them squarely in national coverage on the Big 10 Network. It is a coveted move, a dream move and it was a move that Pernetti boldly pursued when it was thought that Rutgers would be left with table scraps after a feeding frenzy of conference realignment.\
Instead, Rutgers now has a seat at the table and is reaping its reward in players like the one they landed on Saturday afternoon.
For a true national recruit such as Blacknall, who turned down the likes of Alabama and LSU along with future rivals such as Michigan and Ohio State, picking Rutgers would not have been possible a year ago when the Scarlet Knights were left in conference-alignment limbo, in what is now a defunct Big East that lacked credibility and exposure and without a true path to a national championship. Instead, Pernetti sold a program that still hasn’t won anything to one of the most powerful conferences in the nation, and for players like Blacknall, Rutgers suddenly had a legitimate shot at landing their talents.
It was a Pernetti move in taking Rutgers to the Big 10 that helped in part to sell Blacknall on the program, but it was another Pernetti move earlier last year that kept them in the conversation with the star wide receiver all along.
Last January, Rutgers was left hemorrhaging just days before National Signing Day when Greg Schiano left to become a head coach in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pernetti and Flood, then the interim head coach after Schiano left, held that star-studded recruiting class together, and it was Pernetti’s decision to promote Flood to full-time head coach that helped land players such as Blacknall. Flood is highly respected and very much liked in the high-school football circles of the Tri-State Area. He built trust among the area’s powerhouse programs when he was an assistant under Schiano and now he has the credibility to sell the program as the head coach.
Pernetti was pressured to pursue and hire bigger names, such as Mario Cristobal at FIU or a Steve Addazio at Temple. He instead followed his instincts and hired Flood.
And now the recruits are following Flood to Rutgers, and the program will boast the deepest talent pool in their history when the likes of Blacknall step foot on campus.
He may be gone now from Rutgers, far away from a program that he poured so much sweat and tears into day after day. But Pernetti is not forgotten at Rutgers, and on days like Saturday when a Saeed Blacknall verbals to the program, it is clear that his work continues to live on.