During his tenure as head coach, Kyle Flood has had some success landing transfers who have contributed to the team's success. Last season, Andrew Turzilli, the graduate transfer from Kansas, scored 4 touchdowns as the deep threat for the Gary Nova led offense. Two seasons before, RJ Dill, the graduate transfer from Maryland, was a key cog on the offensive line. This season there are three transfer players that have the potential to have a major impact on this team, more so than any transfers before.
Kaiwan Lewis is a graduate transfer from South Carolina and is expected to start at MLB, replacing Kevin Snyder. Lewis is a former starter for the Gamecocks and his experience in SEC play should be a huge positive for the defense. While JUCO transfer Isaiah Johnson has played well in camp and will see some action this season, Lewis looks poised to start in the middle on Saturdays. Here is what coach Flood had to say in this article, ""I’m really excited with what I’ve seen from Kaiwan," Flood added. "What he brings is not just the experience of having played college football but also playing it on a big stage (in the Southeastern Conference)."And he’s the right kind of guy to immerse himself in our program. He never came here asking for a starting job. He just wanted to be a part of the program. You can never have enough of those unselfish types."
His speed and ability to cover ground should make fellow linebackers Quentin Gause and Steve Longa better. He also plays with a physical edge that this defense needs. The run defense last season, particularly against the top teams from the Big Ten, was dreadful. The ability of the linebackers to prevent 5 yard runs from becoming huge gains is a key to the success of the defense. Lewis is the type of player that can reshape the defense and make everyone around him better.
Kiy Hester was a recruit who committed to Rutgers in the class of 2014, only to de-commit and ended up going to Miami, Fla his freshman season. One game into the season, he decided to transfer to Rutgers and to Flood's credit, he welcomed him back with open arms. Now a redshirt freshman, Hester has the opportunity to be a major factor this season. While it appears Davon Jacobs will start at strong safety, Hester will see plenty of time in dime and nickel packages. Rutgers puts a priority on the safeties to stop the run and Hester brings a physical edge to his game. Senior captain Darius Hamilton spoke about Hester to Ryan Dunleavy, saying, "I've known Kiy through high school and he's got a real nastiness when it comes to playing safety," defensive lineman Darius Hamilton said. "He's one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, but when he steps on the field it's all about business and he's a true competitor. That's one of the many things we love about him."
The defense was pushed around way too much last season. The beauty of Hester's transfer aside from the others in Flood's tenure, is he has three more seasons of eligibility left in addition to this season. He has a tremendous opportunity to add to Rutgers legacy of great secondary players to make it in the NFL. He also has an opportunity to make an impact in recruiting. Hester spent part of last season helping advocate to recruits the benefits of staying home in New Jersey and attending Rutgers. He is a great example of realizing the grass is not always greener on the other side, as the saying goes. We should expect great things from Hester in his career, starting with this season.
And then there is our starting quarterback, at least for the opener, Hayden Rettig. He has been a well publicized transfer from LSU and is entering his redshirt sophomore season. While the way he was named starter for Norfolk State was not what anyone envisioned, it really doesn't matter. From this article Rettig stated, "Being named the starter is awesome," Rettig said. "It feels like Christmas, but I have to keep doing what I'm doing and make sure I'm ready for Norfolk State." Right now, I'm just worried about our team and me starting against Norfolk State," Rettig said. "Obviously everybody wants to be the starting quarterback at a big university. I'm happy I am right now for Week 1. I've just got to keep working and keep doing what I'm doing."
It was surprising Flood changed his stance on declaring a season long starter in training camp. Perhaps with Chris Laviano's suspension, he was leaning towards him or didn't want the race decided solely on that factor. Either way, Rettig seems to have the awareness and understanding that he needs to make the most of his opportunity this Saturday. It's a great sign that he admitted how excited he was and didn't complain about the change in process or circumstances. Rettig strikes me as a gamer, someone who just wants to play and lead the team and keep outside distractions out of his mind. I think the last two years, including spring practice, have humbled him and made him appreciate the game and this opportunity even more. That isn't to say he didn't before, but it has been a long road for him to get to this Saturday. He has by all accounts, made major strides from spring practice, and that involved a ton of studying and preparation. That along with his physical talent, should make it no surprise if Rettig seizes this opportunity and takes the reigns for the entire season.
This is a huge season for the program, the senior class and coach Flood. It will take every player's best effort to prove last season's Big Ten debut was not a fluke. If Rutgers is to prove the doubters wrong yet again, it will likely be in part to great seasons from these three transfers.