PISCATAWAY, NJ – If winning the Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional championship in their senior season wasn’t enough, five Piscataway High School football players signed on the dotted line of their National Letters of Intent Wednesday morning inside the school’s library as part of a ceremony on National Signing Day.
Nazir James can either play offense or defense, but will player cornerback for Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Defensive back Brevin Donerson, defensive end Ibn Robinson, and defensive/offensive lineman Abdel Mohamed will all play at Lackawana College. And finally, star running back Elijah Barnwell will keep his talents at home and play just up the road off Route 18 inside High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers University.
“It’s emotional. It feels like another championship-type day,” Chiefs football head coach Dan Higgins told TAPinto Piscataway. “When you look at these guys and the path and the journey they went on, it’s very rewarding to see them go through all the bumps in the road as teenagers and find the light, put in all the work that they need to do, and move on to higher education (and continue to play football). I’m extremely proud.”
The headliner and center of attention, Barnwell, is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 5,728 rushing yards on 792 attempts (7.2 yards per carry). The humble 5-foot-11, 188-pounder finished his high school career with 75 rushing touchdowns, and 78 total scores. As a senior, he ran for 1,838 yards and 29 touchdowns. In the championship game which was played at Rutgers against Manalapan, Barnwell carried the ball 29 times for 185 yards and scored three touchdowns. He added an interception to send the game into halftime as well.
“I'm excited to play for RU and I'm excited to play for (offensive coordinator Jerry Kill)," Barnwell said. “I felt like Rutgers was a good fit. Coach Kill and (running backs coach) Lester Erb were telling me how I'm going to be used in their offense and I liked it. I feel like the offense they are going to run fits my style of running and my offensive style.
“It means a lot (to stay home and play at Rutgers). I get to play in my hometown on a big stage and represent my town and my family the right way."
Barnwell originally committed to the University of Buffalo on an official visit this past Saturday, but Rutgers and head coach Chris Ash, who has been recruiting and looking at tape of the power tailback since his days at Ohio State, gave Barnwell the final call on Sunday afternoon with a 100 percent committable scholarship offer.
After talking things over with Higgins and his parents, he decided to pull the trigger and flip to the Scarlet Knights Tuesday morning and sign with Rutgers on Wednesday.
In his signing day press conference, Ash said that Barnwell, the News 12 Varsity New Jersey and All-Metro Player of the Year and First Team All-State selection by NJ.com, is one of the best players in the Garden State period.
“I couldn't be more excited because I believe in what Coach Ash is doing over there and the offensive coordinator,” Higgins said. “I like the fit (with the offense). It's a down-hill type of thing and that's what Elijah is good at. He's a power run back. The education over there is amazing. It's only going to get better and I'm proud that Elijah will be a part of the upswing and getting the program back on track."
Elijah’s older brother, Nadir, was a star quarterback and defensive back for the Chiefs who then played cornerback for Rutgers before being dismissed from the team along with four teammates in September of 2015 stemming from earlier criminal charges, was also the cause of the ex-Scarlet Knights head coach Kyle Flood’s academic scandal. The elder Barnwell avoided jail and entered rehabilitative pre-trial intervention.
But, with the two being two different people under two different regimes at Rutgers, Elijah Barnwell knows not to make the same mistakes.
“I'm smarter and I know I'll make better decisions than he did," Barnwell said. "It's a different program now that changed a lot (for the better)."
Higgins added: “He wanted to clear the Barnwell name. Having him stay home and to watch him grow more under our eyes is a gift. I know he wants to go and do good things and get the Barnwell name back where it belongs.”
Barnwell becomes the 12th player from PHS to play football at Rutgers since 2000, joining Ray Pilch, Brandon Renkart, Devraun Thompson, Matt Voliva, Anthony Davis, Marvin Booker, Jackson Maurer, Jawaun Wynn, Nadir Barnwell, and current Scarlet Knight Elorm Lumor.
At wide receiver, James made 17 grabs for 260 yards and three touchdowns in a ground game based offense, including a critical 61-yard receiving touchdown in the third quarter in the win over Sayreville. On defense, James was in on 27 tackles and recorded three interceptions. The 6-foot, 175-pounder is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and a solid cover corner and sure tackler on defense.
“IUP is getting a diamond in the rough,” Higgins said of James. “He’s very explosive. They’re getting a really good defensive back who can play offense as well...and be a playmaker.”
Donerson was a ballhawk on the defensive side the ball for the Chiefs in 2016, registering four defensive touchdowns to go along with 77 total tackles (58 solo). The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder recovered and forced four fumbles, made three interceptions, and was named third-team all-state defense by NJ.com.
“Brevin is just a ballhawk,” Higgins said of the All-Group 5 First Team pick by NJ.com. “We saw huge plays all year. He kept making play after play after play.”
Mohamed was a second team all-New Jersey selection by News 12 Varsity on the offensive line and All-Group 5 First Team member by NJ.com. The big space eating 6-foot-1, 270 pounder racked up 39 tackles, including 10 sacks, as a senior.
“Abdel is a raw talent on the inside who couldn’t be blocked on the line,” Higgins said. “Defensively he’s got quick feet, and I’m not sure what side of the ball they’ll play him at, but he’s got upside.”
Robinson is a lean 6-foot-3, 200-pound pass rusher who battled down pass after pass after pass in the title game against Manalapan. Robinson mustered 58 tackles, 10 quarterback pressures, and 10.5 sacks as a senior.
“Ibn really came into himself,” Higgins said. “He’s really long and explosive off the edge. He’s a great pass rusher.”
In short, the Lackawanna Falcons just upgraded their program with premier Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division talent.
“All of them are definitely guys who are going to play at a high level. All of them are playmaker-type guys,” Higgins said. “They all have different attributes, but they all have playmaking attributes. They all have high ceilings and I know they’re going to do good things at Lackawanna.”
As for every student athlete who signed, Higgins said being able to move on represent the town of Piscataway is special.
“I want to congratulate you all on such hard work, dedication, and commitment,” Higgins said during the ceremony. “I couldn’t be any prouder than I am right now.”
Businesses: Advertise with TAPinto Piscataway. Click here for more information.