Somewhere under the perma-gray sky and drab, leafless trees, life is flowing. Soon, the weather and trees will catch up to the calendar, which already says its spring. It's spring in Piscataway too, as the Scarlet Knights open the 2015 season today. With injuries sidelining a number of starters for spring practice, here's a look at some less familiar names, with no prior game experience, who could be turning heads over the next few weeks.
Topping the list is California native Hayden Rettig, who will be vying to fill the void at QB caused by Gary Nova's graduation. By high school ratings, Rettig is the bluest blue-chip QB recruit Rutgers has ever had. But he has not thrown a pass in a game since 2012 in high school. Can he turn potential into on-field results and take control of the QB competition before summer camp? Chris Laviano and Gio Resicgno may have something to say about that too.
Hester looks like a key player in the battle at safety. The former four-star recruit from Wayne's DePaul High School took the "scenic route" on his way to Rutgers, but is all Scarlet now, and ready to light up opposing receivers coming over the middle. Just check out that sweet tat our man got:
<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="4" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"></div></div> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://instagram.com/p/0nQSkyFAuE/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_top">Kiy Hester out of Depaul Catholic NJ. He gets it! This thing is biggeR than just B1G football #FAMILY #ChopNation @2k_hester</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A photo posted by Coach EJ Barthel (@coachejbarthel) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2015-03-24T14:12:15+00:00">Mar 24, 2015 at 7:12am PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
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Hester brings hard-hitting athleticism and could help turn Rutgers secondary (not exactly a strength over the past few years) into a top unit on the team, as some formerly "green" players now have a few years experience under their belts.
Listed on the Rutgers depth chart as the backup at nose tackle behind Sebastian Joseph, Wilkins has transformed his massive body, and is set to be a major force in the interior of the D Line. At a strong 290 pounds, Wilkins brings some needed beef to a line that did not hold up well against the pounding rushing attacks in the B1G. Wilkins redshirted and contributed on the scout team last year.
The Milford Academy Prep product is a long, talented, athletic cornerback, and should instantly push for playing time. Austin has major potential, and if he can demonstrate he has figured out the intellectual aspects of Coach Rossi's defense, should see a lot of playing time. Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi are both sidelined for the spring with injuries, so Austin and redshirt freshman Darian Dailey should have plenty of opportunities to shine.
JUCO linebacker Isaiah Johnson will have to battle South Carolina transfer Kaiwan Lewis for control of the middle linebacker position when Lewis arrives over the summer, but for now, Johnson appears to be the main man in the middle. MLB is a key position, and replacing stalwart Kevin Snyder will not be an easy task, but Johnson looks spectacular on film, and should be exciting to watch in action over the coming weeks.
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With questions at key positions, Rutgers needs some new faces to step up. The five above are my bets as breakout players. Which younger players are you excited to see make an impact this spring?