April 22, 2010

Piscataway (N.J.) turning into NFL High

MORE: Draft brings recognition to OK high school football

Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Piscataway football coach Dan Higgins knows he's had plenty of talent in his 20 years at the New Jersey school. His handful of state championships trophies, dozens of college recruits and a few alums in the NFL tell him that.

But when he found out his program was just the fourth high school to have two former players selected in the first round of the same NFL Draft, even he was stunned.

"Wow, just wow," he said. "That is pretty crazy."

Thursday night in New York City, that rarity became a reality as Piscataway joined Sandersville (Ga.) Washington Co., Lake City (Fla.) Columbia, and Oceanside (Calif.) El Camino as the only schools with the distinction.

Both former Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis (Piscataway Class of 2007) and former Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson (Class of 2005) were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Davis, the 6-foot-5 323-pound offensive tackle, was selected No. 11 by the San Francisco 49ers while Wilson, who measured at the combine 5-10, 194-pounds, was selected shortly after at No. 29 by the New York Jets.

Those picks come a year after Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (Piscataway Class of 2006) was selected No. 14 overall by the Saints - meaning Piscataway High is just the eighth school since 1990 to have first-round picks in successive years, too.

It's enough to make Piscataway, a public school in Central Jersey with roughly 2,000 students, be known as NFL High.

"If you would have told me I had three (first-round) NFL Draft picks on the same field I would have laughed in your face," Higgins said. "I mean, honestly, I knew they were all special and would play college ball, but this is something else."

Higgins did laugh when someone tried to give him credit for the achievement. He credits the kids - and the Jersey attitude. His job, he says, is just to give them the tools to succeed and point them in the right direction.

"Jersey is crazy," he said. "You compete for everything. Compete for a parking spot, compete for girls, compete to compete. It's all a competition. The kids like Malcolm, A.D. and Kyle love to compete. It makes them happy.

"All I have to do is make sure they are doing what they are supposed to."

Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell scoffs at the idea that Higgins - an active duty police officer - is doing little more than bringing out the ball bag.

"Coach Higgins does a great job developing kids and most importantly keeps their heads on straight," Farrell said. "With private schools like Don Bosco, St. Peter's and Bergen Catholic getting most of the accolades and able to take kids from any place, Piscataway being a public school has to develop kids from its area and have been successful."

Higgins, even as he kept his brash New Jersey attitude about him, was glowing with praise for the players and the area.

"Seeing Malcom make play after play in the league has been amazing," he said. "Now with A.D. and Kyle headed there too, it's crazy."

Crazy? Maybe. But, not a complete surprise to everyone.

Farrell was able to see Davis in high school and thought he was a no-doubter, ranking him the No. 68 overall player in the country his senior year.

"Davis was an obvious stud," Farrell said. "He was a Rivals100 kid so we knew he had first-round potential."

Farrell, like Higgins, thinks Davis' attitude will help him in the NFL.

Elite Eight
Eight high schools have had players drafted in consecutive first rounds since 1990.
Long Beach (Calif.) Poly
1990, Mark Carrier, Chicago Bears
1991, Leonard Russell, New England Patriots
LaGrange (Ga.) High
1995, Tyrone Poole, Carolina Panthers
1996, Walt Harris, Chicago Bears
Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central
1997, Reidel Anthony, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1998, Fred Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars
Denver (Colo.) Thomas Jefferson
2002, Daniel Graham, New England Patriots
2003, Andre Woolfork, Tennessee Titans
La Mesa (Calif.) Helix
2005, Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
2006, Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints
Cleveland Glenville
2006, Donte Whitner, Buffalo Bills
2007, Ted Ginn Jr., Miami Dolphins
Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington
2007, Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints
2008, Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Piscataway (N.J.) High
2009, Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints
2010, Anthony Davis, San Francisco 49ers
2010, Kyle Wilson, New York Jets
"He has a chip on his shoulder," Farrell said. "He thought he was being undervalued in the rankings and used it to drive him harder."

Higgins says the attitude, that some still question, is a positive for Davis.

"All the negative stuff people say about A.D. fuels him," Higgins said. "People saying he has a bad attitude, or he is overweight, telling him what he can't do drives him.

"He is from Jersey, he has to be tough."

Wilson, meanwhile, was overlooked from the start - possibly because he shared the secondary with Jenkins, someone Higgins said was "destined to be an NFL player."

Wilson was just a Rivals.com two-star player. He chose to go to Boise State (over offers from Delaware and Rutgers) and developed into one of the fastest rising prospects before the draft.

Higgins said that he was more shocked by the lack of recruiting for Wilson than his ability to climb draft boards.

"For some reason, maybe because Malcolm was back there too, but Kyle went under the radar," Higgins said. "But he was always one of the most mature and grounded kids on the team."

Another former Piscataway player, Brandon Renkart, also is the NFL. He, however, got there the hard way - first as a walk-on at Rutgers, then as an undrafted free agent.

That toughness is a sense of pride for people in the state and one that is shared by Higgins, who is not your typical high school coach.

Higgins works four-on and four-off as a full time police officer in the area as well as his duties as the football and track coach at Piscataway High.

"I just never got into doing traffic jobs or other things cops do to make money," he said. "It isn't my style."

While the success for Piscataway is something welcomed by Higgins, he points out that his school isn't the only place in the Garden State having success.

"There is always talent here," he said. "Sometimes it gets so spread out to colleges that people don't realize it."

But people are beginning to.

New Jersey had one player taken in the first round each year from 2005-2008 - then a stunning seven last year, led by Virginia lineman and Plainfield, N.J., grad Eugene Monroe, at No. 8 by the Jaguars.

"Jersey has been undervalued for years," Farrell said. "The area is a wealth of talent with some very well respected trainers who work well with preparing guys for the NFL."

One needs to look no further than Piscataway High for that.

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