In a rare showing of compassion, understanding and common sense, the NCAA has granted Rutgers FB Sam Bergen a sixth year of eligibility.
Two knee surgeries kept Bergen off the field for two full seasons (2010-11) and most of 2013. But his time on special teams and learning the fullback position will be critical for Rutgers this fall. The loss of Ray Ransom's favorite fullback/all-heart/let's-do-this back, Michael Burton, leaves a huge opening. And with a stable of potentially lethal running backs lining up in the backfield, a reliable, seasoned blocker and leader at the FB position could yield enormous dividends.
The injuries - and the resultant lost playing time - were certainly on Bergen's mind when they happened. "The only way to get back is through hard work and persevering through whatever setbacks there are in rehab," he said. "When you're faced with a season-ending injury there's only one thing you can do as far as I'm concerned: You've got to get into the training room, start your rehab and get to work. If you want to play badly enough you'll have no problem doing that. That was the case for me. I've been willing to do whatever I needed to do to get back on the field. I don't know any other way."
The 6-0, 240-pounder from East Stroudsburg has been a hard worker and a team player from Day 1. He understands what is expected of him and he is ready to take on the role that has been assigned him especially in light of Burton's graduation. "There's definitely a void to be filled at the fullback position and I feel like I can be the guy for us who can step in and hopefully do whatever needs to be done," he said. "There's an opportunity there and I'm going to do everything in my power to take advantage of it."
Will his lack of game experience be an issue for him? "I've seen more time on special teams than in the backfield," he said. "But this past season as far as being in the backfield I had a role in the goal line package. I was in at least half the games this season in goal line situations. So I will definitely be comfortable in the backfield. Along with the game experience I've had and then the reps I get in spring practice and preseason camp, I know what I'm doing back there. I feel like I already do. I just don't have a lot of experience at it in games."
Not many players get a sixth year. Rutgers needs a steady hand and leadership in a relatively young backfield, including a new starter at QB. Sam Bergen could - and hopes to - be that player. Welcome back, Sam.