Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova brushes off claim he was target of death threats
PISCATAWAY — Through nearly four unpredictable and, at times, tumultuous seasons, the most visible player in Rutgers history has heard the outside shouts about poor play and telling him to transfer.
But Gary Nova has also been the target, according to one teammate, of a trend all too common for high-profile athletes: death threats.
Nova denied the claim Tuesday, saying he's never been the subject of anything more than simple insults.
"I don't pay too much mind to any of that," Nova said. "Usually if I'm out I'm with a bunch of guys on the team. No offense, but those people don't really know anything. They're probably drunk anyway. Even if that's how they feel, so be it."
A five-INT game Sept. 13 against Penn State reignited intense social-media disapproval of Nova. Leonte Carroo, Nova's high school teammate, said Nova's also been subjected to negative responses to his face.
"A lot of people in his shoes probably would've just went to go hide underneath a rock somewhere," Carroo said Monday. "I'm his close friend, so I've seen it all — death threats and things like that. People just really giving him a hard time."
Nova said he's never been scared for his safety.
"I have (linemen) Keith Lumpkin and Kaleb Johnson with me everywhere I go," he said jokingly.
For how much his on-field persona has been dissected, Nova has kept his private life decidedly under wraps. He does not have a Twitter account. An Instagram account under his names requires permission to access.
"I feel like people are going to say a lot of things I don't need to see," Nova said. "It wouldn't bother me, but why put yourself in that position?"
Rutgers' career touchdowns leader, Nova has thrown for 1,995 yards this season with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He is completing a career-best 58 percent of his passes. He is also three INTs shy of tying Ryan Hart's school-record 52.
In his first season as head coach in 2012, Kyle Flood named Nova the team's permanent starter, but questions surfaced after Nova's up-and-down play coincided with a late-season teamwide fall from grace.
The low point? A Russell Athletic Bowl in which Nova finished 17-for-40, averaging 3.2 yards per attempt when Rutgers lost, 13-10, and its only TD came from its defense.
"Freshman year I played a little bit but didn't really understand how much the eye was on you," Nova said. "Sophomore year you come out 7-0 and lose a couple games. I didn't play well, so I started hearing some stuff. It was different, but real quick I told myself I'm not going to let any of that (bother me). I've always been a guy where fighting was the last option."
Fans and media alike clamored for a change under center, but Flood made a commitment to Nova for the 2013 season.
That lasted until Nova was benched for the final three games last year before only regaining the starting job in training camp, although he clearly outmatched what once was considered a five-man competition.
"He's one of the most mentally tough people I know," Carroo said. "He never let any of that affect him and he just kept coming back, no matter what people thought of him. That's what I respect the most about him."