Wharton says ‘yes’ to Rutgers
Gateway DB is first to sign Big Ten grant
By Ken Jackson
Proving that the adage about college football of, “Have talent, will recruit,” is still in place, Gateway High School’s auditorium was abuzz Wednesday like it had never been on National Signing Day.
Isaiah Wharton, a four-year varsity football starter for the Panthers, signed his National Letter of Intent to play for Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J.
The Scarlet Knights were 6-6 and lost the Pinstripe Bowl to Notre Dame this season, but they have moved from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten.
Wharton becomes Gateway’s first major-college football signee. Quarterback Rob Harding signed with Northern Illinois in 1997, the year the Huskies joined the Mid-American Conference.
Wharton, a second-generation Panthers football player — five of his uncles played at Gateway — also fielded offers from Big Ten programs Indiana and Illinois and locally at UCF before choosing Rutgers.
The 6-0, 190-pound cornerback initially had planned to go to Weber State in Utah to join Panthers alum Zack Smith, but he said that choice was made in frustration of the recruiting process, or lack thereof.
“This is an exciting day for me, all my family, and the school, but it’s also good to have it over with,” Wharton said. “My uncles were great athletes, too, but it’s special to be the school’s first Division I (football) athlete.
“It’s just a dream come true. And anyone who comes after me needs to believe that you can do anything if you put in the work.”
Wharton said he was sold on the Scarlet Knight program after making his visit to the North Jersey campus the week before the Super Bowl and committed to recruiting coordinator Jim Panagos and defensive secondary coach Darrell Wilson.
“The facilities were outstanding, and I really bonded with the coaches and the other recruits there that week,” Wharton said. “And I was hosted by a kid from Florida. Rutgers has put defensive backs in the NFL, too.”
His mother, Holly Wharton, who was joined at Wednesday’s ceremony by a large extended family and teammates, said she’s more grateful for the scholarship opportunity for her son than she is sad that he’s moving 1,000 miles away.
“Every airline goes into Newark from here,” she said with a smile. “We’re going to as many games as possible.”
Wharton was used in Coach Marlin Roberts’ offensive and defensive game plans all four of his varsity years. He tallied 56 tackles and seven interceptions during his career. Three of the pickoffs came in his senior season. In a game against Lake Nona he held Lions’ wideout Kevin Sousa, a University of Florida signee, to seven catches for 55 yards, half of his average for receptions.
Wharton intercepted junior quarterback Tucker Israel, who already committed to Clemson’s signing class next year, in the game. He also started at running back and ripped off 187 yards on 15 carries, including an 84-yard touchdown run.
Wharton led Gateway with 860 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Roberts said he knew four years ago that Wharton would be a major college recruit.
“I’ve known him since he was a pup in the little league,” Roberts said. “He was one of the first in the ninth grade group when I took the job. Gateway didn’t have the success or tradition of other programs around, but he didn’t want to go somewhere else, he wanted to continue what his family started here.
“He’s a determined young man, and has always talked about playing at the next level. But he backs it up in the classroom, too. He’s an AP student. He’s a great cover corner and will do well at that level. He’s just a tremendous athlete with the work ethic to succeed.”