My college coach tells the story of his days at Trenton State (now TCNJ), “I was the quarterback, a safety, the kicker, the punter, the kick returner, and the punt returner.” Whether that anecdote is 100% true or not, it is fact that on the early days of the gridiron, players were Ironmen who played every minute of offense, defense, and special teams. That’s a stretch for anyone recent at Rutgers, though several guys recently completed their Rutgers careers in 2017 having devoted any time to both sides of the ball during their time on the banks. Josh Hicks, Jawuan Harris (in all likelihood), Myles Nash, and others will be missed. Even without playing offense and defense, the Scarlet Knights have had plenty of players who lined up all over the place on the same side of the ball also making special teams contributions and deserve recognition. This is going to be a tough poll.
The best we could do today, was June 27 being National Sunglasses Day and when you think shades it’s got to be Horatio Caine or Neo, right?
Howard Talman, the first All-American in Rutgers Football history, earned the honor at guard, tailback, and fullback during an era where players played both sides of the ball. The all-time single game scorer in Rutgers Football history did so with six touchdowns and twelve extra points, so he also was a placekicker for those scoring at home. Story goes he recovered his own kickoff for a touchdown once, too. Talman also played baseball and track for the Scarlet Knights.
Budge Garrett was a stocky 5’9, 200 lb. player who lined up at fullback, end, and guard during his time at Rutgers. The 1915 All-American was a member of the first NFL champions in 1920 (Akron) and later became the player-coach of the Milwaukee Badgers. In the NFL he was most known as a defensive end.
Paul Robeson. If this was a poll for the most versatile human being who ever donned the Scarlet uniform, the 1919 Rutgers valedictorian would be the easy favorite. This is specific to the field of play, where Robeson was an All-America as an offensive end, while he also played defensive end. His knowledge on the defensive side while coaching caused him to persuade John Alexander to shift his alignment and technique to become the first outside linebacker in American Football history. And if we are really talking versatility, he could have sang the national anthem every game, too.
Frank Burns. Flingin’ Frank, who naturally also played baseball, was a tremendous playmaker on both sides of the ball which helped him set the Rutgers record for Head Coaching wins after his playing career was over. On the field, Burns quarterbacked the nation’s 3rd best offense in 1948 (honorable mention All-American). Frank was named MVP (quarterbacking and making 17 tackles as a linebacker) of the 1949 College All-Star Game when he led a group of college stars against the NFL champion Giants.
Bill Austin is no stranger to these polls. The All-American (in football and lacrosse) set both the all-time rushing record (2,073 yards) and all-time interception record at Rutgers. During the almost perfect 1958 season, he was 6th in Heisman voting (747 rushing yards, 15 TDs, 5.2 ypa). The Fanwood native also passed for 13 career touchdowns.
Deron Cherry. Cherry didn’t play offense, but was a dangerous safety who could make plays from a variety of alignments on defense. He was also the team’s punter (7th all-time at RU in punting average) with a large sample size (6th most punts). He was narrowly edged in the DB poll last week.
Harry Swayne. Swayne played more years in the National Football League than any other former Scarlet Knight and is one of a very few players in NFL history to have started a Super Bowl for three different teams (San Diego, Denver, and Baltimore). Harry began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a defensive end, but was moved primarily to offense in his third season. Swayne mostly played left offensive tackle because protecting the blind side was the most important role other than quarterback in his era, but had the skills to shift inside to block nose guards if needed. As someone who could line up at any position on either side of the line of scrimmage, he surely deserves consideration.
James Jenkins followed the footsteps of Swayne in that he was a big athlete who was expected to be a pass rusher. He did play both sides of the ball at Rutgers as a tight end and defensive end, similar to what Nash did for the Knights in 2017. As his football career progressed into the NFL, Jenkins was used primarily as a blocking tight end. His rookie year in Washington, the team used him in their heavy run sets alongside the famous “Hogs” all the way to a Super Bowl championship. He ended his career with seven receiving touchdowns.
Reggie Stephens. The closest to a wildcard entrant on this list, I feel obliged to include Reggie after making no mention of him with the defensive backs. Stephens was not needed at wide receiver regularly, though he did line up there a few times. He was the most dynamic player on the team that went 5-6 in 1998 then returned to just one win in 1999 when he was in the NFL. He had a 94 yard kick return TD against perennial powerhouse Miami (FL) and added two pick sixes as a senior.
Mohamed Sanu was listed as a Safety by most recruiting services, but it wasn’t long after he arrived at Rutgers that the offensive staff did everything they could to get his services. On offense, Sanu played quarterback, running back, and several receiver spots. Though he was not Deron Cherry, Sanu also punted twice as a sophomore. He probably could have been the starting quarterback, and he does own the best quarterback rating in NFL history.
Who did we miss? Did we egregiously omit your answer such as Justin Goodwin or Nate Jones? Homer Hazel is a Hall of Famer, what about him? Are you outraged Brian Leonard’s versatility is not getting more love? Go vote and leave us thoughts in the comments section as for this one we probably did leave someone out!
Most versatile player in Rutgers Football history.
This poll is closed