PISCATAWAY — The first signature Chris Ash and the Rutgers football team got on the first day of the first-ever early signing period could be the most important for the program.
No, it wasn’t 4-star quarterback Artur Sitkowski, nor was it his position partner Jalen Chatman. It wasn’t Daevon Robinson, the top athlete in New Jersey, or Raiqwon O’Neal, an offensive lineman the Scarlet Knights defeated a number of power five programs for.
He isn’t even among the highest rated Rutgers recruits corralled. Until Maryland defensive end Jamree Kromah committed to the Scarlet Knights at the 11th hour, the most important piece of Rutgers’ 2018 class was its lowest ranked recruit based on the 247Sports Composite.
But when punter Adam Korsak sent in his signed National Letter of Intent on 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon — which was 7 a.m. Wednesday morning in his native Australia — he officially filled a massive hole in the Scarlet Knights roster.
“It’s obviously very exciting,” Korsak told On The Banks. “I committed back in July, so it’s been a lengthy process, but I’m grateful for the opportunity Rutgers and Prokick Australia have given me … In conjunction with (my) official visit, Signing Day was and has been surreal, and something that I’ll remember as the next chapter with Rutgers begins.”
Korsak will enroll in January and will be with the Scarlet Knights for spring camp. He immediately becomes the favorite to start at punter for Rutgers, where he has some big shoes to fill.
His predecessor Ryan Anderson became a fan favorite as a graduate transfer on the Banks, where he boosted his NFL hopes significantly behind a First Team All-Big Ten caliber season. Anderson finished the season top in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in average punt distance with 44.4 yards per boot in 79 attempts.
Michael Cintron, who set a Big Ten record with 95 punts as the Scarlet Knights starter in 2016, is also set to move on. He was honored in Rutgers’ Senior Day ceremony prior to the season finale against Michigan State, all but guaranteeing the redshirt junior’s career came to a close in 2017. Knowing the future of the position, Ash said it was critical to find a good punter in the 2018 class.
“A punter was very important for this class because we knew Ryan was gone,” Ash said. “I think we got a really good one. I'm excited about his skill set. It's different. He's an Australian punter, and what he can do and what he's been trained to do is a little bit different than a traditional punter, and I'm excited to get him on campus and let him show us what he can do in person and then figure it out from there.”
Though he slots in immediately after one of the best punters in program history, Korsak shouldn’t be expected to maintain Anderson’s level of performance right out of the gate.
“Ryan was the best punter in the Big Ten, so I don’t think you put (those expectations) on a first-year players plate,” said special teams coordinator Vince Okruch. “It’s a big leg to fill. He’s a talented young man but I wouldn’t approach it (from the standpoint of) ‘hey, you’ve got to be as good as Ryan on day one.’
“The fact of the matter is, part of the reason we recruited him is he’s got a big leg,” Okruch continued. “The trend now is more towards the rugby, (Australian) style (punt) where he rolls out, holds the ball a little bit longer, which gives us a chance to get downfield and cover. He can do that and he can also, as they say, spiral a punt, which is what we’re used to.”
Okruch controls those expectations within his room, but there is little he can do to control what the fans expect out of Korsak. But before the freshman deals with the crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium, he first has to deal with the process of adapting to moving across the world.
For help with the adjustment, Korsak can look to a former Scarlet Knight who underwent a similar transition.
Tim Gleeson, a former Rutgers punter, came from the same Prokick Australia academy as Korsak and arrived in Piscataway after a pair of stops at Wyoming and Santa Barbara Community College. Korsak credits Gleeson with an assist for his commitment to Rutgers, so it would only be fitting to see what the former Scarlet Knight had to offer for his fellow countryman.
“Firstly, the poor fella is coming from the Australian winter to American summer, so that presents challenge number one,” Gleeson told On The Banks. “From a football standpoint, the hardest thing wasn't adapting to the training, or live punt drills like I thought it would be, but spending a significant part on the sidelines. In Australian football, we're used to being on the ground for 80-90% of the game, so it's hard to sit back as a spectator in overtime, for example, knowing that your positional impact is literally as equal to a bloke way up in the nosebleeds.”
Korsak has a lot to learn off the field as well.
“The culture shock was exactly that, a shock,” Gleeson said. “It's different to the smaller-populated Australia. Coming over, I thought that it wouldn't be too much of a transition as Americans speaks English and like the same thing as Australians - sports and beer. There are so many differing opinions on just about every contentious issue there is - and there are a lot of them. It changed me as a person - from a young and stubborn teenager to a less-stubborn but open-minded adult.
“My advice to Adam would be to just take it all in,” Gleeson continued. “This journey is larger than football. I was fortunate enough to have Rutgers nation - in particular the (punter Joey) Roth, (guard Chris) Muller, and (quarterback Chris) Laviano families – help and guide me along the way and make the holiday periods away from my family an easier process. I’ve made great connections and have built lifelong relationships in a place that is 10,000 miles away from home and, post-football, those memories and affairs are the ones I’ll hold closest to me.”
Given his previous experience around other Australian punters in his previous stops, Okruch isn’t too worried about Korsak adapting.
“Chronologically, most of them are a year or two older than a high school senior here in this country so he has a little more maturity and when they decide to embark on this journey, they have to be pretty mature to try it anyway,” Okruch said. “I think he’ll be fine.”
On his end, Korsak is fired up to start his journey. He touches down in New Jersey on January 14th, a date he can’t wait to arrive.
“The Rutgers coaches and staff have shown tremendous trust and faith in me and I’ll give my best to repay them by first and foremost setting high standards for myself,” Korsak said. “I’m looking forward to continuing my degree and competing on and off the field. I’m most excited about the opportunity to be in a team environment again, and I’ll give 100% every day in every aspect.”