It's no secret that Rutgers has struggled to keep New Jersey's top players at home.
Over the last decade, national powers Notre Dame, Florida, USC and Michigan have all taken turns raiding the state, while nearby programs like Boston College and Penn State have also plucked top recruits from the Garden State.
However, the biggest threat right now to Rutgers – and every team that recruits New Jersey with any regularity – is Pittsburgh.
In 2010, the Panthers landed defensive ends T.J. Clemmings of Paterson Catholic (Paterson, N.J.) and Bryan Murphy of Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.). The duo represented two of the top prospects in the state. Clemmings was arguably the state's hottest commodity, while Murphy's recruitment took off after his stellar senior year.
Credit goes to Pitt assistant coaches Jeff Hafley and Tony Wise, who share recruiting responsibilities for the state. The duo has made inroads in New Jersey over the last several years, and it's beginning to pay major dividends.
Wise handles the southern part of the state; he's already landed commitments from Winslow Township (Atco, N.J.) athlete Bill Belton and Timber Creek Regional (Erial, N.J.) linebacker Quinton Alston for the class of 2011.
Timber Creek head coach Rob Hinson said that Wise has done an excellent job developing relationships with area coaches and players.
"Coach Wise does a fantastic job recruiting this area," Hinson said. "He makes it his business to extend himself to you and anything that you might need from Pitt. That goes a long way when you have kids they are actively recruiting."
According to Hinson, Wise's reputation is well-established around South Jersey.
"Coach Wise is genuinely a great guy. The coaches down here in South Jersey all feel real comfortable talking to him."
The Panthers are also targeting Alston's teammate Damiere Byrd, a versatile athlete with incredible speed.
The buzz around the area is that nearby Willingboro (N.J.) standouts Kyle George and Brandon Bennett are also very high on Pitt.
In Central Jersey, Pitt is on the shortlist for Long Branch (N.J.) sensation Miles Shuler. Shuler edged Byrd in the state's 100 meter final by posting a blazing time of 10.39. He boasts offers from around the country, but it appears Pitt will be in it till the end.
"I think it started with Jeff [Hafley] recruiting the area. He does a great job," Long Branch head coach Dan George said.
George said that like Wise, Hafley has succeeded at building relationships with New Jersey coaches, whom he visited with even during times when their rosters were void of top prospects.
"He came here even in the lean years, so there's a lot of confidence as a coach knowing that if Miles were to choose Pitt, that you'd feel comfortable," George said.
Hafley was instrumental in landing Murphy and Clemmings last year, and his momentum has carried over to the 2011 class in Murphy's teammate, Gary Nova. Nova was a first-year starter for the Ironmen last year, but will likely be the top quarterback recruit in the state this year.
If Hafley's in isn't enough, there's another tie uniting Shuler with Pittsburgh – he and his father are both big Steelers fans.
Shuler's teammate, 2012 offensive lineman Ryan Brodie, will likely be a top target for Pitt in the next recruiting cycle. The 6-5, 260-pound Brodie has long arms, good feet and will continue to fill out his frame has he grows.
Perhaps the highest-hanging fruit for Pitt this recruiting cycle is St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, N.J.) running back Savon Huggins, New Jersey's highest-ranked player in 2011. The Panthers are recruiting him hard, and figure to make the cut when he trims his list to 10 schools next month.
What Pitt has going in its favor is that New Jersey is a small state geographically. When the state's top recruits aren't connecting through social media, they're interacting at combines, 7-on-7s and training facilities.
In Nova, Alston and Belton, Wise and Hafley have three recruiting helpers who certainly have the ear of the rest of the state's top unrecruited talent.
"Five years ago, these kids would never know each other. Now they know each other by first name," George said. "They hit each other up all the time and talk about the places they're going."
As it stands now, Pitt has the same number of New Jersey 2011 recruits verbally committed as Rutgers. If the Panthers continue their torrid recruiting pace in the Garden State, that may not change in the near future.