Rutgers saw its kick-return game take a huge step forward last season — and we could see another one come the fall.
The Scarlet Knights ranked 16th in the nation, and first in the Big Ten, averaging 25.7 yards per kick return. This came a year after they were 74th in the country. Aron Cruickshank took the special teams unit to a new level.
The Wisconsin transfer finished with 671 kick-return yards in his first season with the Scarlet Knights. This ranked second in the nation. Cruickshank was one of four players to score multiple touchdowns in the kick-return game last season.
“Aron had a great season,” Rutgers special teams coordinator Adam Scheier said during a new conference. “I think he knew what he was as a returner coming in. He just stuck with the plan.”
Rutgers showed that they were not satisfied and feel like they can get even more production from their kick-return team. Joshua Youngblood will join the unit as a transfer from Kansas State. This gives the Scarlet Knights a dynamic unit that could do some damage.
Like Cruickshank, Youngblood has made a name for himself returning kicks. In 2019, Youngblood was named the Big 12 return specialist of the year. He led the nation as a freshman with three kick returns that went for scores and 35.9 yards per return. Cruickshank earned the same honor in the Big Ten this season.
“He’s a great guy. I love him already,” Cruickshank said about Youngblood. “We’re already creating that bond because he knows he’s coming on that KOR team and we’re trying to break that record.”
The Rutgers single-season record for kick-return touchdowns in a season is held by Janarion Grant when he totaled three in 2015. Ashlan Davis has the NCAA record when he returned five for scores in 2004 for Tulsa.
“I’d say that we could get more fundamentally sound because we know we can break one every single game,” Cruickshank said. “So it’s all about fixing those little details.”
The combination of Cruickshank and Youngblood is certainly one to watch out for this coming season and one that could do great things.
“Yeah it’s competition but it’s more like we’re pushing each other to be better,” Cruickshank said. “So when we’re both there and they kick it to him, I got to get his block and if they kick it to me, vice versa. I’m just trying to show that I’m there for him and if he needs help, I’m there and it’s up from here.”