MHS senior Shawn Collins signs his National Letter of Intent to play football and study at local Rutgers University.

by Andrew Garda

Montclair High School senior Shawn Collins never wavered from his commitment to stay local and play football for Rutgers University, even after the Scarlet Knights fired head coach Chris Ash earlier this fall. On Dec. 18, Collins made that commitment official, signing his National Letter of Intent to play for new head coach Greg Schiano next fall.

“When I first met coach Schiano, it was a pretty cool experience,” Collins said. “You could tell the difference between him and Chris Ash. He makes the room 10 times more energetic, and that’s something I like about him.”

Collins announced a verbal commitment to Rutgers over the summer, and followed it up with a strong senior season for the Mounties. He was Montclair’s third-leading receiver as a tight end, catching eight passes for 125 yards, four of which were touchdowns — most notably, the last-second TD catch in traffic that lifted MHS past Irvington in their signature 2019 victory. He was also a disruptive defensive end for Montclair, recording 29 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks, also returning an interception for a touchdown.

Mounties head football coach John Fiore said that both he and Collins knew that if Schiano or longtime New Jersey high school football coach Nunzio Campanile — who served as interim head coach after Ash’s firing in October, and who will remain with the program under Schiano — got the job, the decision would be simple.

But that didn’t stop other schools from dropping by to sniff around Collins.

“When Chris Ash was fired, we had coaches call or come through here a couple times a week,” Fiore said. “Shawn was like, ‘You don’t have to pull me out of class for those.’ He was steadfast on his commitment.”

While Collins did meet some of those coaches, his heart was always set on being a Scarlet Knight.

MHS senior Shawn Collins will not just play tight end for Rutgers, but defensive end as well.

“Out of all my offers, Rutgers always showed the most love,” he said. “I talked to a coach every week, most likely coach Campanile, and it really meant something to me when I had a school reaching out to me. Asking not only about football, but more about how my family is doing, and school and et cetera. So Rutgers that was always at the top.”

Collins knows what will be asked of him when he arrived in Piscataway next summer. Schiano is known for being a tough, driving coach and Collins knows it will be hard.

He also knows that was what made Schiano successful the first time he coached the Scarlet Knights.

“There’s going to be a lot of hard work, having him as a coach but he’s going to push me to go to the next level, develop me as a player,” Collins said.

Collins had always been recruited by Rutgers as a tight end and a defensive end, both positions he excelled at this past season for the Mounties. Collins said Schiano feels he can still do either one, but it will depend on what the team needs.

“Whatever the team needs the most, that’s where I’ll play,” Collins said. “Whether it’s tight end or D-end. And I’m willing to play either because I love both sides of the ball.”

MHS senior Shawn Collins poses with Mounties head coach John Fiore (back, center), and assistant coaches Ben Brennan (left) and Dan Roberts (right).

Collins was one of just six verbal commits to Rutgers prior to the December signing period, but that number is now at 15 signed commitments heading into the February signing period.

One of those 15 was Don Bosco Prep running back Kyle Monangai, a longtime friend of Collins’, and a former teammate in the Montclair Cobras youth program. Collins said the two stayed in touch even though they went to different high schools.

“The next couple of years we’re going to be up there [in talent],” he said. “We have a lot of talent now, a lot of athletes, a lot of linemen, tight ends, D-ends, being recruited. So, I’m really excited about what the future can hold for Rutgers.”