As training camp moves past the midway point this coming week, it’s typically the time that players vote on captains for the season ahead. Let’s first review the trends there have been for the captain selections during Chris Ash’s so far and then review potential candidates to take on that leadership role this season.
In Ash’s first two seasons, the two major trends have been lineman and fifth-year seniors making up the the overwhelming majority of captains for Rutgers football.
In 2016, all four captains worked in the trenches, split evenly on both sides of the ball. All four were fifth-year seniors, with Chris Muller and Derrick Nelson on the offensive side, while Darius Hamilton and Julian Pinnix-Odrick were on the defensive side.
In 2017, there were also four captains and three were fifth-year seniors. On the offensive side, there was grad transfer quarterback Kyle Bolin and starting left guard Dorian Miller. On the defensive side of the ball were former walk-on and defensive end Darnell Davis, as well as junior linebacker Deonte Roberts.
Of eight captains that have served during Ash’s two seasons, Roberts was the only non-fifth-year player and non-senior ever chosen, as well as just one of two players who weren’t lineman. Obviously, Roberts looks like a lock to be the first repeat captain during Ash’s tenure at Rutgers. The head coach has said it’s possible to have anywhere from four to six captains in the past based, so let’s use that as a baseline and review a list of potential candidates who could be selected for the 2018 season.
The fifth-year quarterback has received positive reviews during training camp, both from offensive coordinator John McNulty and the BTN crew who visited practice this past week. While I still think Artur Sitkowski will be named the starting quarterback for the season opener, Gio can never truly be ruled out of contention. He has alligator blood running through his veins and you have to respect the heck out of the way he has carried himself at Rutgers throughout his career. Amplify that impression times 100 for the players that see him in action every day. Whether Gio ultimately starts or not, his leadership in the quarterback room and ability to mentor the younger signal callers make him a legitimate candidate for captain.
The only grad transfer on the team has added a lot of experience and leadership to the running back room. He amassed over 2,000 yards in three and a half seasons at Boston College and is likely to start the first offensive series on September 1st against Texas State. He will have a big impact on young players like Raheem Blackshear, Trey Sneed, and Isaih Pacheco in his position group. Hilliman will also likely be a calming presence in the huddle for the entire offense, which is a very young unit overall and will probably start a true freshman quarterback in Sitkowski. Having Hilliman on the field and in the locker room, whether he is chosen as a captain or not, will be an asset to this team.
The fifth-year senior surprised some by returning to Rutgers and opting not to enter the NFL Draft last spring. He’ll have a chance to be a First Team All-Big Ten left tackle this season and help his pro stock as well. He also had some candid comments at Big Ten Media Day about the leadership on the team not being as strong as needed in recent seasons. If that was his unofficial campaign speech, we’ll see if it actually worked or not, soon enough.
The fifth year senior has been a journeyman throughout his college career before establishing himself as the most reliable target on the Rutgers offense last season. With John McNulty sure to make the tight ends even more of a focal point in a more pass capable offense this season, Washington could have a monster season. His life experience and rise through the program make him a viable candidate. Even if he isn’t a captain, he can be a good influence on battery mate and sophomore Travis Vokolek, who appears primed to breakout this season.
Based on past history under Ash, defensive lineman and fifth-year seniors have been the majority of the captains through two seasons. A big part of that were the players themselves, as Hamilton, Pinnix-Odrick and Davis were extremely worthy candidates. Wilkins is the most versatile and best player on the defensive line this season, having steadily moved his way up the depth chart during his career. He’ll need to anchor the line and could be a big help for a lot of inexperienced players hoping to have impact years for Rutgers.
The middle linebacker is a no brainer choice to be named captain for a second consecutive season. He represented Rutgers at Big Ten Media Day and has represented the program extremely well during his previous three years on the banks. He also has steadily improved year over year and is set up to have his best season of his Rutgers career. He’ll be a key leader on a defense hoping to make a jump into the Big Ten’s best in 2018.
After looking fully healthy during the first week of training camp after suffering a season ending ACL injury last season, Austin should be considered a favorite to be named captain for this season. A three-year starter and arguably the best player on the entire Rutgers team, he also has been a great leader within the program. He has represented Rutgers during the last two years at Big Ten Media Days.
Another soon to be four-year starter in the defensive backfield alongside Austin, Isaiah Wharton is a leader in his own right. With the secondary the deepest and most experienced position group on the team, it wouldn’t be surprising to have two captains hail from the back of the defense.
Others considered: Trevor Morris, Saquan Hampton, Kiy Hester
The positive is there are many legitimate candidates for captain on this season’s team, especially on defense. In addition, all of these players are well equipped to lead the way Ash wants them to entering their third season of his tenure as head coach. I’m not obviously aware of the inner workings of the team or the locker room, but these are my somewhat educated guesses of who will be selected captain
Picks: Jon Hilliman, Tariq Cole, Deonte Roberts, and Blessuan Austin
Note: Leaving off Gio was the hardest decision, but I did so based on the belief Sitkowski will ultimately be named the starter at QB. I could be wrong and Gio could be elected by his peers regardless of whether he starts or not. No doubt he deserves it, but I based my decision in equal parts with impact on the field the deciding factor in leaving him off.
So what do you think? Who do you agree with and who did I miss? Who do you think will be selected? Sound off in the comments.