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Devoted to the daily goings on with Rutgers football, both at High Point Solutions Stadium and behind the scenes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Rundown: Rutgers' Don Bosco haul, Big Ten Network history and more

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: @Tyler_Barto

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'll use this space to post my Monday column on all things Rutgers, especially relationships and scenes away from the field. It will include side notes, private moments and content that doesn't typically receive notice. Hope you enjoy the first one.

(Courtesy of Rutgers Athletics Communications)
They all waited at the school along North Franklin Turnpike, the one with the white walls and maroon-colored lockers and turf football field.

The explosive four-star receiver. The program-changing defensive tackle. The New Jersey coaching czar.

On Jan. 26, 2012, they knew something had to be up, especially when five Rutgers assistants couldn’t reach Greg Schiano’s cell phone.

A whirlwind six days followed, and somehow Rutgers retained a commitment from Leonte Carroo and gained one from Darius Hamilton, their Don Bosco quarterback Gary Nova already in Piscataway.

Entering Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season, fans would be hard pressed to find a trio more likely to determine the Scarlet Knights’ fate.

“We knew coming out of high school that if we went to the same college there would be a lot of pressure on us to perform and do well as a unit to represent the school we come from,” Nova told me recently. “We have a lot of pressure on our backs, but we just have to go out there and play well.”

Can Carroo rebound from an upper-body injury that has entranced his coaching staff? Will Hamilton prove the breakout star Rutgers craves? Is this the year Nova finally turns a corner?

On National Signing Day in 2012, the better question: How did Rutgers corral the most important crop that almost never was?

“That was pretty hectic,” Hamilton said of the six-day period that began with Schiano’s departure to the NFL. “At the time I wasn’t too worried because I had already taken my visits. I had already looked at other schools, so it wasn’t like I was completely lost. Now Leonte, on the other hand, had taken no visits and was completely lost. He didn’t know what he was going to do.”

Carroo, Rutgers’ top returning receiver, had re-opened his commitment. He fielded phone calls as Rutgers rushed to name offensive line coach Kyle Flood to the top position nearly overnight.

He was down, he told me about a year ago, to Rutgers, Cal and Florida.

Nova, already on campus for a season, was less uncertain.

“With Leonte, I kind of had more information about where he was going to go,” Nova said. 
“As far as Darius, he’s like my little brother. I knew he had all the schools in the country looking at him. I kind of just (decided to) lay off. I know it was a total surprise when he chose to come to Rutgers.”

A commitment from Carroo firmed, Hamilton made his announcement the night before signing day, choosing Rutgers over Miami (Fla.), among others.

Their pact from Don Bosco, the North Jersey high school football titan, was secure.

“It’s a huge sense of pride, especially for them to come from high school and being centerpieces at Bosco to being centerpieces here,” Hamilton said. “We’ve always been close. I don’t think this has done anything but bring us a lot closer together. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Still, their rise hasn’t come without obstacle.

Carroo, an Edison native, had to stay with a host family in Ramsey just to go to school. Nova waited in the wings for two seasons before finally starting. Hamilton’s work ethic waned.

"We've always been close. I don't think this has done anything but bring us a lot closer together." — Darius Hamilton

“The one thing guys know over the years when they have gotten Bosco guys is they play early and they don’t quit,” their high school coach, Greg Toal, said. “Very seldom do you see a Bosco guy that goes to college and leaves. The practices aren’t going to be any tougher in college than they were at Don Bosco, that’s for sure.”

Flood, for one, is grateful. He lists the trio as one of several he needs intact during a program-defining first Big Ten season.

He recently re-named Nova his starter after a drawn-out competition, days later vaulting Nova and Hamilton to captains.

Carroo, meanwhile, has drawn Flood’s cautious gaze. The third-year head coach has pre-scheduled days off for Carroo, who suffered an upper-body injury after running headfirst into a brick wall last season at SMU.

A healthy Carroo — he missed the final third of the season — tops his checklist.

“Is he the fastest guy out there? He’s fast, I don’t know if he’s the fastest,” Flood said of Carroo. “Is he the quickest change-of-direction guy out on the field? He’s got good change of direction, I don’t know if he’s the quickest. But I don’t know if there’s another player on the field that’s stronger to the ball than Leonte is.”

Their fate after this season remains unclear.

Nova, a senior, will likely monopolize Rutgers’ passing records, most held by Don Bosco’s Mike Teel, now a graduate assistant.

Spurred by strong seasons in the Big Ten, Carroo and Hamilton could opt to enter the NFL Draft a year early.

Or they could return. They’ve waited it out before. It’s the tie that binds.

Carroo: “We’re just Ironmen.”

History on line in Big Ten debut

Rutgers' Sept. 13 matchup with Penn State isn't only the program's Big Ten opener; it's also the only Big Ten Network-scheduled game — so far — to work in a live on-site pregame show.

"I think it’ll be an incredible atmosphere," BTN's Dave Revsine, who visited campus two weeks ago, told me. "When I was there in April to talk to the Rutgers officials, they were saying they think other than the huge Louisville primetime game a number of years ago (2006) that this will probably be their biggest home game they’ve ever had. Excitement was palpable even then. I think it’s going to be an amazing scene."

The last time the network aired an on-site show was Oct. 8, 2011, when BTN hosted a pregame show at its Chicago headquarters before driving to Evanston, Illinois, to film pregame, halftime and postgame for Michigan at Northwestern.

"It’s not unprecedented that we can do that, but this will be the first time we’ll open on the road the entire day,” Revsine said of Penn State-Rutgers, which kicks off at 8 p.m.

Uniform watch

Back at practice after suffering an unspecified injury early in camp, Kaleb Johnson is sporting a new Justin Tuck-inspired grill, complete with five diagonal and 12 vertical bars.

“It’s something I was begging Mike Kuzniak, our equipment manager, about for a long time," Johnson said. "It’s something I wanted to kind of put my personality in my facemask.”

He spent spring practice with the team's only off-red helmet.

"It was just a transition-type thing," Johnson said.

Missing links

Here are some of the interesting sports stories I've read lately:

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