2010-08-11 / Sports

Braves’ QB Bimonte commits to Rutgers

Manalapan senior expects to join Scarlet Knights in the summer of 2011
BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer
Mike Bimonte proudly considers himself to be a member of the Rutgers University football family. Even though Bimonte still has his senior year at Manalapan High School to look forward to, the Braves’ quarterback has already decided where he is going to play college football.

Mike Bimonte Mike Bimonte He made a verbal commitment to Rutgers University on July 30, putting the often-times harrowing decision-making process behind him and fulfilling his life-long dream.

“I have always been a Rutgers fan, but I didn’t think I’d have a chance to play,” said Bimonte, who became a dedicated fan during the 2006 season when the Scarlet Knights flirted with an undefeated season. “It’s a dream come true. I still can’t believe it.”

Bimonte’s commitment to Rutgers happened very quickly, almost overnight. He was at Rutgers with his Manalapan teammates thinking only about competing in the Schiano Shootout 7-on-7 camp. He led the Braves through pool play with an undefeated record before they fell to state power St. Peter’s Prep of Jersey City in the quarterfinals.

In the process of leading the Braves to their impressive showing, Bimonte captured the eye of the Rutgers coaching staff. Up to that point, Temple University was the only other NCAA Division I-A football program that had expressed an interest in the Braves’ signal caller.

“I kind of flew under the radar,” he said.

After his performance at the Schiano Shootout — named for Rutgers’ head coach Greg Schiano — Bimonte did not escape Rutgers’ radar.

He was invited back to campus to take part in the Scarlet Knights’ camp. In addition to displaying his physical skills once again, he showed a keen knowledge of the Rutgers offense, thanks in part to the fact that Manalapan’s spread offense is similar to Rutgers’ offense.

Bimonte also had one-on-one meetings with the coaching staff and with Schiano.

“They told me they wanted to get to know me as a person,” he said. “They got to know me and I got to know them.”

Everything clicked (“100 percent,” Bimonte said) and when he made a follow-up call to Rutgers, things got very serious.

“Coach Schiano told me, ‘If I make an offer to you, will you make a (verbal) commitment,” he recounted.

After talking to his family and to the Manalapan coaching staff, Bimonte said the obvious, yes.

“All agreed it was the right decision for me and that I should go for it,” he said.

Just like that, Bimonte’s dream had come true. He was now a member of the Rutgers family.

Equally important as making Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway his next football home, Bimonte wanted to go into his senior year of high school without any distractions. The Braves have 18 seniors, almost half of whom will be threeyear starters like Bimonte, and expectations are high. Nothing short of a trip to the state playoffs will suffice this fall.

“I didn’t want to be one of those kids who are not able to focus on the team because they are thinking about college,” said Bimonte, who passed for 1,783 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009. “There are no distractions. I’m coming in 100 percent focused on my senior season. This is it.”

Manalapan head coach Tom Gallahue said making an early decision is something Bimonte wanted to do all along.

“He wanted to get it out of the way and it worked out well for him,” Gallahue said. “He can just go and be a high school senior now.”

Gallahue said that from the start of Bimonte’s high school career, he had all of the ingredients needed to be a top quarterback.

“We brought him up (to the varsity) halfway through his freshman year,” the coach said. “He had the character, poise, work ethic and football knowledge we look for in a quarterback.”

Now that Bimonte has matured and grown to stand between 6-3 and 6-4 and can throw any type of pass, he is more than a very good high school quarterback. As the Rutgers coaches saw, he has college potential at the highest level.

“You have to have physical strength” to play Division IA, Gallahue said. “Mike is now almost 6-4 and 215 pounds. He is strong now and he has a very good college arm. Mike has great leadership qualities and he’s competitive. His decision making is very good, You look at him now and he’s the total package.”

Bimonte was an understudy to Craig Peterson, who is now playing at Monmouth University, in his freshman year. He became Manalapan’s starter as a sophomore in 2008 and has been everything Gallahue and his coaching staff expected since he became the No. 1 quarterback.

Bimonte said it was important to be Peterson’s understudy early on.

“It really helped me a lot seeing how he played and interacted with everyone off the field,” he said, adding that he also learned what leadership is all about “from studying under Craig.”

“I’m not a born leader, but I was born with the work ethic,” said Bimonte.

It is that work ethic as much as anything else that turned Bimonte into a Division I-A prospect. Earning a college football scholarship “did not happen by accident, he’s worked very hard,” Gallahue said.

There are many ways to be a leader and Bimonte’s work habits are certainly one of the ways he leads the Braves.

Confidence and command of the huddle are factors, but he also has the most important ingredient, his teammates have confidence in him. That’s because he has led them to late fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins. As long as Bimonte is calling the plays and throwing the football, the Braves believe they can win.

Bimonte credits his experience with giving him the confidence and poise he displays in the pocket.

“Experience is the most important thing to me,” he said. “I know how everything is supposed to look. My sophomore year everything was hectic. I see things more clearly now and can make plays I couldn’t make before.”

Bimonte plans on making a lot of plays this fall. His final season is very important to Bimonte and this senior class. The last two years while being undersized, the Braves held their own and avoided losing campaigns.

But 5-5 is not going to be good enough this fall. The Braves have nine of their 11 starters back on offense (a 10th starter was a part-time starter in 2009). They have opened the playbook more and with Bimonte at the controls, Manalapan should have one of the more exciting offenses in the Shore Conference in 2010.

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