NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — When Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt first entered the field at Illinois last season, he had turned 18 the day before. played three high school football games earlier that fall, he didn’t have his driver’s license (he doesn’t yet) and he arrived at Rutgers after the school had already played its first game.
But with starting quarterback Noah Vedral sidelined by one play, Wimsatt entered the field that October day at Champaign with Rutgers facing a fourth-and-five on the final play of the third quarter.
Wimsatt took a shotgun drop, rolled to his right and deftly threw a pass across his body to Bo Melton for a 13-yarder. He walked out to a jubilant side of fellow veterans who harassed him for his impromptu contribution, the key play in a 20-14 Rutgers victory.
“Everybody was really happy for me, dressed me up and hit me in the helmet,” Wimsatt said. “It was one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had.”
That shotgun debut, both in formation and situation, offered a window into a future Rutgers football building block and a potential new archetype for the sport. Wimsatt left at the beginning of his senior year of high school to start college early and somehow take advantage of NIL opportunities. But Wimsatt’s steep ladder of adjustment comes with a caveat that the early jump to college isn’t for everyone.
“He’s a bit of a unicorn in that sense,” Rutgers offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson said. “I don’t think so [what he did] It is for all children. I think it was a unique case because of the personality traits it has. Many things slip out of his back very easily. If he’s a guy who takes himself too seriously, he thinks he’s going to win the job the first day he comes in, he would have been a powder keg.”
Wimsatt’s decision to leave Owensboro (Ky.) High School last September to enroll at Rutgers came in part after consulting with Quinn Ewers, the star high school quarterback from Texas who made the decision to enroll early. at Ohio State in August 2021. It just didn’t get a fraction of the attention.
But Wimsatt’s decision allowed Rutgers to secure and develop the highest-rated quarterback recruit in school history (Wimsatt was an ESPN 300 pick and ESPN’s No. 7 quarterback) and gave him a full season to develop physically and mentally.
“He’s way ahead of the curve in his development, as he should be,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano told ESPN this summer. “He has also developed quite physically. He looks like a man.”
Since arriving in New Jersey nearly a year ago, Wimsatt jokes that he’s learned to walk faster to match the pace of the Northeast and now doubles his pizza before eating it. Catching up, both in life and on the practice field, has proven necessary and challenging at times, as there are distinct cultural, academic, and football leaps that came from leaving a high school in western Kentucky to go to college in central New Jersey. .
“I used to make the joke that a lot of people in New Jersey can’t drive, they’re very aggressive,” Wimsatt said. “Now I get it. I’m up to date.”
Wimsatt’s progress transcends statistics, as he played in four games and completed nine passes for 45 yards. But the development of him over nearly a full season of practice, games, and immersion both socially and academically was immeasurable. Wimsatt is still vying for the starting job with Evan Simon and Vedral for the opener at Boston College on Saturday (noon, ACC Network), but his raw talent and potential have tagged him as the quarterback of the Rutgers future.
Will others follow his path? That’s not so sure, as the last 11 months have found him hitting a whole new pace.
How did Rutgers end up with a quarterback who had a list of gold offers from schools like Notre Dame, Michigan and Oregon? They dug early and outscored everyone.
Owensboro coach Jay Fallin credits the entire Rutgers staff for identifying Wimsatt and building indelible relationships. That started with Augie Hoffmann, now the offensive line coach, having Kentucky in his geographic area and reaching out first.
He continued with Gleeson and Schiano, who made sure no detail was left to chance once he was identified as a target. Not only did they build relationships with Fallin and Wimsatt, but Fallin notes that they were one of the few schools to court a relationship with Owensboro offensive coordinator Jeff Reese, who retired after 30 years as a coach and teacher.
When Wimsatt returned this May to participate in graduation with his class, Fallin was grateful that Gleeson, who was on a recruiting trip, stopped by to attend the ceremony.
“I thought they did a very thorough job and really went out of their way to recruit Gavin’s family,” Fallin said. “They built a relationship with both parents and their two brothers.”
If Wimsatt lives up to his potential, part of the lore of his arrival at Rutgers will be that the COVID recruiting restrictions likely aided his recruitment.
Rutgers staff saw a social media post of Wimsatt pitching in a field in Owensboro. “The drone video showed all the things you see now,” Gleeson said. “Clean release and great movement. And a big, raw body that it has now become.”
Gleeson admits that the combination of pandemic restrictions and Owensboro’s generally remote location helped Rutgers land a generational recruit. “We surrounded that kid and endeared ourselves to him at a really weird time,” she said.
Not everything went perfectly. When Wimsatt and his family climbed into their Chevy Malibu for the 12.5-hour drive to visit the school on an unofficial visit, Rutgers staff were unable to meet with them or show them around campus due to restrictions from the pandemic. The same trainers who tend to painstakingly manage every minute of a visit cringed at reports that a toilet overflowed at the hotel where the family was staying. “They were pretty upset about it,” Wimsatt said of the staff. “It’s fun looking back now.”
Wimsatt became engaged to Rutgers in April 2021 and said the idea of leaving early to go there started as a joke with his family later that summer. Wimsatt was preparing academically to leave Rutgers early in December, so they explored what it would be like to leave a few months early. When there was a chance, they asked Gleeson and Schiano. Wimsatt texted Ewers to get his version of her early departure from Ohio State.
Wimsatt later removed the courses necessary to make this happen. In just a few weeks, what seemed unlikely became reality. He worked early in his season for Owensboro, appearing in camp and playing the first three games. After the third game, he told the team about him in the locker room after the game.
“I feel like a lot of people were surprised,” he said. “But I still think I had a lot of support from the community. It was really nice knowing they were behind me.”
Fallin took a global perspective on the loss of his best player.
“We tried to take the approach that if this young man was a medical or legal prodigy and could graduate early and go to college, no one would want to stand in his way,” he said. “Selfishly, would it have made us a better football team? Sure. But we can’t stand in the way of a young man with an opportunity like this and pretend that what we’re doing is for the kids.”
Gavin Wimsatt’s introduction to college football came shortly after he arrived on campus in the days following Rutgers’ season-opening victory against Temple in September.
He walked into the quarterback room, which had defensive charts on the walls in preparation for that week’s game in Syracuse. Orange defensive coordinator Tony White runs an exotic 3-3-5 defense, and Wimsatt thought it looked like nuclear physics.
“The X’s and O’s of the game, defensive coverage and regular soccer situations,” he said. “The first few weeks were crazy. We’re in the earlier meetings and I have no idea what they’re talking about on the defensive side of the ball.”
Schiano praised Gleeson for the plan they came up with for Wimsatt, considering he almost needed a completely different track than the starting quarterbacks, who were busy preparing for games. Learning an offense through the prism of game-specific situations and that week’s team defense is generally inefficient and ineffective. The types of installation periods Wimsatt would have participated in had he arrived for spring practice had to be outside the normal rhythms of quarterback work.
The staff also designed periods for Wimsatt to master the basics of the playbook, including specific game situations that Schiano values.
“What we tried to do was continually have special moments for him where we ran our base offense, not our specific game plan offense,” he said. “I think as an offensive staff and all the young coaches, I think Sean did a really good job of investing time.”
Wimsatt is expected to get his driver’s license in the next few weeks. But he has already handled the twists and turns of life that came with his lightning decision to be a pioneer.
He left his family, including his two brothers, 12 hours away, where his dad works as a welder and his mom works in a factory. In addition to adjusting to not seeing his family every day, Wimsatt was left with what are essentially two full-time jobs: a college student and a college football major.
Early on, Gleeson noted that there were days in practice when Wimsatt was missing his halogen smile. His energy level wavered. They had a conversation and realized that Wimsatt was not getting enough sleep.
Wimsatt began setting a bedtime of 10:30 p.m., and both his behavior and performance improved once he got used to the routine. He also got significantly stronger, as he said upon arrival that he couldn’t do two push-ups and can now easily execute five sets of five. About four weeks later, she said that she felt like he was in a groove. Enhanced gameplay matched familiarity and comfort.
“I’m much more confident now, I would say,” he said. “Especially like getting through the season and the spring dance. Especially with my teammates who have helped me. From the time I got here until now, I almost feel like a whole new person.”
It is not yet known how much of Wimsatt we will see at Boston College this weekend. But it’s safe to say we’ll see a lot of him later this year and beyond, as his sheer talent for arms and athleticism project a high ceiling in the long run.
As for Wimsatt, he is pleased in retrospect to have blazed this unusual path to college. But when asked what advice he would give to a high school senior facing the same decision, he paused and reflected.
“I would probably say, hmmmm,” he said. “It’s going to benefit you in the long run. You have to look at the big picture. Because there’s a lot to the decision. The decision could probably almost shape your future, really.”