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Rutgers' 50 best: a look at football candidates

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Steve Politi wants to rank the 50 greatest athletes in Rutgers history. Good luck!

Steve, it's an impossible task.  You said so yourself.  But we're going to try to help.

The last couple of days, we looked at basketball candidates as well as two posts looking at the Olympic sports, one here and one here.  What's left?

Football, baby, football.

In December of 2014, BTN did a series on the "Mt. Rushmore of Football" for each Big Ten team.  Rutgers was in there and we wrote about their results, which some people questioned.  That certainly is a place to look for names.

Here, again, we put together a list that may not be all inclusive but does hit some major players over the last 147 years.  Here we go, in alphabetical order:

Billy Austin RU Hall of Fame A first-team All-American in 1958, two-way player;  His 32 touchdowns ranked second among the all-time scorers and he had 13 interceptions. Austin finished sixth in the Heisman balloting and was also a two-time honorable mention lacrosse All-American at Rutgers.

Marco Battaglia - Football
As a senior in 1995, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound tight end was a consensus All-America, earning First-Team recognition from a number of organizations, including the Associated Press, and the Football Writers Association of America. Battaglia led the nation's tight ends with 69 catches for 894 yards and 10 touchdowns in his memorable senior season, and was named the "Offensive Player of the Year" in the BIG EAST Conference. As a junior, Battaglia was the BIG EAST's leading receiver with 58 catches for 779 yards. Battaglia appeared in all 44 games in his career (1992-95); making 32 starts, and hauled in 171 passes for 2,221 yards and 16 touchdowns. Battaglia went on to play eight-years in the NFL, and was a member of the 2004 Carolina Panthers' Super Bowl team.

Frank Burns "Flinging Frank" quarterbacked the Scarlet Knights to a four-year, 27-7 record in the late forties. An honorable mention All-American, he was named the MVP of the 1949 College All-Star game, amassing 17 tackles as a linebacker against the New York Giants. As head coach between 1973 and 1983, he recorded a masterful 78-43-1 mark.

Deron Cherry - Football
A second-team AP All-East selection in 1979 and 1980, a 1980 co-captain and the Homer Hazel Award winner as the team MVP in 1979, Cherry recorded nine career interceptions and punted for a record 39.4 career average. His 12-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs was highlighted by six Pro Bowl appearances, all as a starter.

Homer H. Hazel - Football
Hazel was elected to the National Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He won All-America honors in 1923 as an end and repeated in 1924 as a fullback. The father of three children, "Pop" was an honor society member, President of his class and performed Bunyan-esque feats on the field. Hazel was elected to the RU Hall of Fame posthumously and the Rutgers Team MVP is named in his honor.

James "JJ" Jennings - Football
This crunching runner led the nation in scoring in 1973, tallying 128 points, earning All-America honors and establishing Rutgers records with 2,935 career yards, 605 attempts and 33 touchdowns. He also owns the single-game marks of 40 attempts, and held the record of 230 yards for nearly 20 years. Jennings, who played professionally with the Memphis Southmen and the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, was the league's Rookie of the Year in 1974.

Edward Jones - Football
Jones still shares the Rutgers all-time interception record with 14. A co-captain of the 1974 squad, Jones was an AP Honorable Mention All-East selection in 1972 and a second-team AP All-East choice in 1973. He led the Scarlet Knights squad with seven interceptions in 1974 and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the ninth round in 1975. He started at strong safety for the Buffalo Bills in 1975 and continued his brilliant career in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos and the British Columbia Lions.

Alex Kroll An All-American at center and linebacker in 1961, Kroll led the Scarlet to its first undefeated season in 1961 (9-0) and spearheaded a two-season mark of 17-1. He was known for his smarts, toughness and savvy in the trenches. A Henry Rutgers Scholar with a perfect grade-point average, Kroll was the president and CEO of Young and Rubicam, the world's largest advertising agency.

Brian Leonard The first real star to develop at RU under Schiano, Leonard originally was headed to Syracuse.  But he changed his mind and changed Rutgers.  A multiple threat out of te backfield, he could run (through and over), catch, and block.  He's No. 5 on the career rushing list and No. 3 in TDs.  As a back, he is No. 2 on the career receiving list and No. 10 on career receiving TDs. All American recognition: 2003 Brian Leonard Freshman Fullback College Football News 2004 Brian LeonardFirst Team Fullback Pro Football Weekly 2005 Brian Leonard First Team Fullback Pro Football Weekly 2006 Brian Leonard - First Team Fullback - Pro Football Weekly, ESPN.com

William "Bill" G. Pickel Jr. Pickel won four letters at Rutgers from 1979-82. He earned Honorable Mention AP All-East honors in his junior year (1981), despite missing five games with a back injury, but still recorded 58 tackles and four sacks. The winner of the David Bender Trophy as the team's best lineman in 1982, the Cronin Trophy (most improved) in 1980 and the Touchdown Club Trophy in 1982, he ranks sixth in career sacks with 16 as well as 10th on the career unassisted tackles list with 160. A starter with the Raiders and Jets during his 13-year career, he is the owner of a Super Bowl championship ring with the Raiders in 1984.

Ray Rice MVP of Rutgers first Bowl win in he Texas Bowl, Rice is amoing the all-time  running greats at RU. Most career yards, most carer attempts, and most career TDs.  He is third on the yards/carry list. He had eight and seven consecutrive games of 100 yards or more, and he's tops for numbver of 100 and 200 yard games. He is the single season leader in yards and TDs and holds the top two single game rushing records.  Fist team All Big East in 2006 and 2007

Mohamed Sanu He is fourth all time in receiving yards and first in career receptions. He had ten 100 yard games, ranking second all time. He also holds the single season record for receptions. He has four of the top games in RU receiving history.  In 2011, he was named All Big East First Team.

Nathaniel Toran A third-team All-American in 1975, Toran was a second team choice in 1976 and a Kodak first-team All-American when he led the Scarlet Knights to an undefeated season. He captained a defensive unit that topped the nation in three defensive categories and his 52 sacks in three seasons is still a school record.

Mike Teel You would be hard pressed to find a quarterback who was praised and criticized as much as Teel (okay, I found Gary Nova).  But Teel was probably the pinnacle in QBs under Greg Schiano, and he took the team to new heights,  During his years, the Knights were 34-17.  In terms of career Rutgers records, Teel is No. 1 in passing yards, No. 3 in completions, and second in TDs.  For season records, Teel is tops in yards and TDs and second in completions. He also holds the RU record for yards in a single game and touchdowns (actually he's 1 and 2 in TDs in a game).

Bruce Van Ness Van Ness was the ECAC Football Sophomore of the Year in 1967 and played sensationally at five different positions for the Scarlet Knights. He accounted for 2,216 all-purpose yards during his collegiate career (three seasons), which was capped by his selection as the most valuable player in the 1969 North-South All-Star game. Van Ness was named Rookie of the Year in the Canadian Football League in 1970 and enjoyed an outstanding career with the Montreal Alouettes

Terrell Willis The leading rusher in Rutgers football history, Terrell Willis boasted an explosive combination of blazing speed, uncanny moves, and uncommon balance. From 1993-1995, he rushed for 3,114 yards on 588 carries and 20 touchdowns. Willis burst onto the national scene with a brilliant redshirt freshman season in 1993, amassing 2,026 all-purpose yards, which not only shattered the NCAA freshman record previously held by Georgia's Herschel Walker, but was also second in the nation. In 1993, Willis was named Rookie of the Year by the BIG EAST, Sports Illustrated, UPI, ECAC and Football News. He was named first-team All-BIG EAST as a running back, second-team All-BIG EAST as a return specialist, and was named ECAC Rookie of the Week six times. In 1994, Willis ran for 1,080 yards on 216 carries with five TDS and again earned first-team All-BIG EAST honors. In 1995, he gained another 773 yards on 177 carries and two TDs. On November 12, 1994, Willis rushed for a school-record 232 yards on 35 carries and two TDs.

To view our bio on multi-sport star Paul Robeson, including his achievements with football, click here.

And that does it.

Those are our thoughts; what about you?  Politi's articles should be coming up next week at nj.com.  See you in the comments section.