This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Today, On the Banks looks back at five memorable Scarlet Knights from recent memory. That means no Gary Brackett, because I only saw him on television a few times in college.
5. RB/FB Brian Leonard
Gouverneur, NY's favorite son hardly needs any more superlatives or introduction. The 2006 Draddy Trophy winner leapt straight into our hearts during four seasons in New Jersey. With his blond coiffure and reliable hands, this is a man could even bring Chuck Norris to tears. He had a supernatural, otherworldly field awareness and sense of the first down marker. Leonard was a quarterback's best friend, and something more entirely: Brian taught the whole Gouverneur and Rutgers communities to see hope in despair, a light at the end of the tunnel. For now you can look towards his continued success in the NFL, while awaiting his certain future inauguration into the Rutgers football Hall of Fame.
Leonard mostly played tailback his first two years, either in double TE sets (Sam Johnson was a ridiculous blocker), or behind a fullback like Medley. With Rice emerging in 2005, Brian shifted to more of a third down back role, which was a great fit for his strong pass blocking, soft hands, and short yardage power. It wasn't really until 2006 where he saw a lot of time in two-back sets. Leonard was a long strider who didn't have great acceleration, but did have enough deep speed (faster than Rice) to run to the endzone after hurdling a would-be tackler.
4. RB Ray Rice
If Brian Leonard paved the way, then Ray Rice took the ball and raced into the end zone. Leonard was a great player, but Rice was the straw that stirred the drink for their shared 2005 and 2006 Scarlet Knight teams. Rutgers fans still fondly recall his college exploits, but Ray's game has changed a fair amount since then. In college, Rice was a straight ahead, chains-moving power back in the mold of Emmitt Smith or Joe Morris, his small-yet-compact stature concealing one of the strongest pound for pound players out there.
Rice always had great burst, but couldn't quite could break away for a big run (his longest career run was 63 right up until breaking a 90-yarder in his last game ever against Ball State). He was never asked to do much in terms of receiving and pass blocking until his junior year, when both skills showed rapid improvement. His real value was in almost never being stopped for a loss or minimal gain, a highly valuable skill in terms of eating the clock, converting downs, and helping a team's defense. If there was a hole upfield, even the slightest hint of one, Rice could spot it, and almost use his height as an advantage by sneaking in behind linemen.
3. RT Jeremy Zuttah
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
- Ray Rice may have made the headlines, but no runner can be successful without quality blockers up front to help open up running lanes. Darnell Stapleton and Pedro Sosa were fantastic, but Jeremy Zuttah was surely the best Scarlet Knight lineman from the past decade. He was really athletic, with nimble feet for pass protection, and could run downfield like a tight end on pulls.
- Zeus wasn't just dynamic on the field. He had an excellent SAT score, and graduated from Rutgers with an economics degree and 3.2 GPA in only three and a half years
- The J.P. Stevens (Edison) star was one of the first really important local recruits to sign with Rutgers. Zuttah's commitment not only gave the football program major credibility, but he managed to absolutely live up to his billing and then some.
2. WR Kenny Britt
Ray Rice never played timidly, but he always had the body language of a careful and reserved assassin, content to methodically pick apart opponents over the course of four quarters. Kenny Britt was so much of a joy to watch because of his indifference to those formalities. Britt was taller, faster, and stronger than any defensive backs he lined up against, knew it, and would not hesitate to make light of those disparities. Kenny was a Brandon Jacobs-incarnate at the receiver position, often seeking out contact so as physically intimidate opponents. In announcer-speak, he's the proverbial bull in a china shop.
It was Britt who did yeoman's work against double and triple coverage in 2008, taking the entire offense on his back when no other skill position player was showing any sort of effectiveness. That team could have easily quit after the losses started piling up, and very well might have if Britt's spectacular play didn't practically shame them into matching his intensity. In a roundabout way, saving that season preserved the 2009 recruiting class with the likes of Tom Savage and Mohamed Sanu, and all subsequent successes.
1. DT Eric Foster
Eric Foster's exploits were legendary while I was on campus as a student. No, none of the tales can be recounted here, but rest assured that they all tended to paint him in a fairly positive light, inspiring both awe and respect. There was so much more that came out through the fan community and the press about his dynamic personality that it is impossible not to hold the guy in the highest possible regard. The message boards and such still speak of Foster in revered tones, and for good reason.
Rutgers fans are just plain captivated by the guy, possibly even more so than they are with Leonard. Eric's universally admired, and it helps that he was a spectacular player. For Greg Schiano's defenses that put so much of an emphasis on athleticism and attacking, Foster was the textbook defensive tackle. I still get shivers thinking back to his twisting and stunting clinic in the 2006 game against Louisville, which probably inspired his postseason All-American honors that year.
Don't be misled by Eric's defensive end-sized frame playing inside, which allowed the Colts to snag him as an undrafted free agent (he contributed as a rookie, and played starter's minutes last year). For the undersized defensive scheme used by the Scarlet Knights and Colts, he is a pure terror.