On the eve of NFL training camps opening throughout the country, here's a quick look at twenty five Scarlet Knight alumni across the league, and where they stand entering the 2009 season.
New York Giants - C Shaun O'Hara. Signed a six-year extension prior to the 2007 season. Giants don't have an obvious successor on the roster, and O'Hara likely has several years left of quality play, and is in good shape in the near future. Will be on the wrong side of 35 when his contract expires, and that's when the Giants could look to replace him.
Chicago Bears - LB Kevin Malast. An excellent fit for their Tampa-2 scheme. Will compete with several others for the last linebacker roster spot. Will need to make his mark initially on special teams.
Green Bay Packers - CB Joey Porter. Activated off GB's practice squad late in 2008. Has a chance to stick around, because their staff likes his potential as a raw athlete.
Minnesota Vikings - CB Derrick Roberson. Unlikely to make roster.
Carolina Panthers - TE Kevin Brock. Likely ticketed for Carolina's practice squad, barring injury. An intriguing raw athlete who needs more polish and time to develop.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - LG Jeremy Zuttah. Started several games at right guard last season in place of the injured Davin Joseph. Ascended to the starting role earlier in the offseason due to the mysterious troubles of former starter Aaron Sears. Is a better fit than Sears in the new zone-blocking scheme, and may not relinquish the job if Sears ever returns.
Seattle Seahawks - QB Mike Teel. Likely has the edge over incumbent Jeff Rowe in battle for #3 QB job. Seattle wants someone that at least has a chance of developing into a starter down the line.
SS Courtney Greene. Battling C.J. Wallace for 4th safety job. Despite 7th round status, good chance of taking over starting job two-three years down the line.
St. Louis Rams - DT Gary Gibson. LB Coach Paul Ferraro is a former Schiano assistant. The Rams are thin at DT, and Spags might like Gibson's motor.
Buffalo Bills - DE/LS Ryan Neill. Exclusively a LS, hasn't seen time as a backup DE. Job status is precarious at the moment due to several botched snaps.
Miami Dolphins - CB Nate Jones. Is a Bill Parcells favorite, and has another patron on staff in Darren Rizzi. Thus, highly likely to make the roster as nickel/dime CB and S/T performer barring awful performance.
New York Jets - OLB Jamaal Westerman. Repeatedly singled out by HC Rex Ryan during OTAs for praise. Outplayed last year's first round pick Vernon Gholston during those same minicamps. Already was likely to make roster, and chances improved w/ Calvin Pace's recent suspension.
ILB Brandon Renkart. Saw a surprising amount of reps during OTAs due to team's complete lack of depth at the position behind starters.
Baltimore Ravens - RB Ray Rice. Moderate favorite to start over Willis McGahee.
TE L.J. Smith. #2 TE, or injury insurance for Todd Heap.
Cincinnati Bengals - RB Brian Leonard. Enters camp as the primary backup behind Cedric Benson. Needs to show shoulder is healthy.
Pittsburgh Steelers - G/C Darnell Stapleton. Struggled during Super Bowl, and Steelers drafted G Kraig Urbik to challenge him. Might see reps at center with starter Justin Hartwig battling injury.
Houston Texans - TE/LS Clark Harris. Signed last season after former snapper Bryan Pittman was caught up in StarCaps scandal. Must have liked what they saw, because the team quietly let Pittman go during the offseason. Writing this, I only just learned that Harris was the only snapper on the roster. Guess he's a decent bet to make the roster then? Like Neill, I'd like to see him get a larger role.
Indianapolis Colts - DT Eric Foster. Started as an undrafted free agent last year. Should still have a roster spot, but the Colts drafted several tackles this year, and re-signed perennial problem child Ed Johnson.
MLB Gary Brackett. Still entrenched as a starter.
Jacksonville Jaguars - OG Cameron Stephenson. Really depends on him. Has teased teams with his athleticism since he entered the NFL.
WR Tiquan Underwood. Depends on how many receivers the Jaguars keep. Will def. be the fifth or sixth WR, and will make a practice squad here or somewhere else if he doesn't make the roster.
Tennessee Titans - WR Kenny Britt. Missed a lot of OTAs with hamstring injury. Needs to avoid a lengthy holdout.
CB Jason McCourty. Will stick around here or elsewhere due to crazy workout numbers and intelligence, just like Underwood. Needs to show something as a returner.
Denver Broncos - NT J'Vonne Parker - The Broncos are switching to a 3-4, and are yet another team taking a chance on the massive Parker for that reason. Long shot to make roster.
This list does not include the injured Mike Fladell or Pedro Sosa. I haven't heard of Ron Girault hooking up with another team either, nor of anyone else making another go at it.
Overall, it's amazing to look back and see how many Knights at leas have a chance to stick around this season. The total has mirrored the program's rise as a whole. Not all of them will make it, but that number is going up every year. Most of these players were overlooked as recruits, overlooked on draft day, and yet have managed to consistently overachieve. And yet, Rutgers is far from a football factory. There's still a family aspect with the program, and I genuinely believe that the fan base still feels a genuine connection with both the names listed above, and any letter winner that gave his all for the Scarlet and White. Rutgers football and Coach Schiano will never actively push away from this, but it inevitably will occur to some extent.
Undoubtedly, it will be great to keep placing more student-athletes at the next level, but I can't but believe that there will always be a small, lingering sentiment of nostalgia for that brief time period where the Scarlet Knights were our secret. It's as far from bandwagonism as conceivably possible; everyone thinks that they have a stake in this endeavor. Progress is progress. Maybe character and chemistry are part of the winning formula, but so is talent, luck, effort, and many other factors. Better days are ahead in all respects, and one look at the bottom line ought to deservedly bring a dose of reality here, but I can't help but believe that they will exist at some point in the near future.
Nor is it rational to say that Rutgers is or should be qualitatively diferent than any other program (and sometimes normalcy and the mundane are welcome), but such is the force of subjective bias and fanaticism. I do like the close knit mentality that currently exists, and will try to savor it by following the exploits of Gary, Shaun, Ray, Brian, Kenny, Eric, Jeremy, and the whole gang, like I really am on a first name basis with any of them, for as long as it remains viable and fulfilling and whatnot.