Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Big Step Tonight for Ru Football

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Big Step Tonight for Ru Football

Article excerpt

They dripped their way across the Hale Center parking lot Monday, moving from the post-workout ice tubs to the locker room inside the on-campus training facility. One by one, the Rutgers football players took their walk, a few short steps in actual distance, a monumental journey in metaphorical terms.

This was the final practice at home in Piscataway before the team opens its season tonight, the last moments of physical preparation before the new Rutgers football world dawns. More than a new chapter, this is a whole new book for the program that, if deservedly credited for giving birth to the game of college football by playing Princeton back in 1869, has been fighting ever since to figure out how to succeed at it.

Tonight, everything changes.

Tonight, Rutgers opens play as a Big Ten team, one of the newest members of one of the nation's most highly regarded athletic conferences, a game on the road against Pac-12 member Washington State serving as the starting gun to a whole new kind of football race. The first official step into a world the Scarlet Knights coveted for so long is here. But if Rutgers views this as the end of a long, arduous journey out of a complicated football past, the ever- recycling hope for a new and better football future will never come.

Because this is only the start. Now that Rutgers is here, in the middle of a national spotlight reserved for the five most lucrative, competitive, ruthless conferences in the country, it has to prove it belongs. The team has to compete with the nation's best programs; the supporters have to rival the sport's deepest fan bases; the administrators have to compete with the biggest budgets. And those budgets will likely include stipends for student-athletes in the near future, the repercussion of the national debate regarding amateurism in the NCAA and the recent ruling allowing the top five conferences, including the Big Ten, to govern themselves.

In other words, Rutgers is playing with the big boys, yet after the past few years of tumult, of coaching changes and recruiting setbacks, of basketball scandals and hiring flaws, of countless punch lines at the program's expense, this quest to improve a battered image won't be easy. But if all Rutgers has ever asked for is opportunity, there is no better place to start than tonight.

"As a coach, you get trained to focus on the game because ultimately, that's the only thing you have control over," said third- year coach Kyle Flood, the man promoted to take over when program architect Greg Schiano left for the NFL.

"But I'm definitely aware of the big picture and my message to players is this: First impressions in life matter, and not just as the 2014 Rutgers football team but as a new member of the Big Ten Conference. I take that very seriously."

How could he not? Flood has been a center-stage witness to all the recent turmoil, watching as the basketball program was felled by its bullying coach, working through the firing of then-athletic director Tim Pernetti, waiting as the school conducted its muddled search for Pernetti's replacement, settling on controversy-riddled Julie Hermann, enduring the scrutiny when one of his assistant coaches was accused of bullying, too, ignoring the growing whispers his job hangs in the balance of this season's results. …

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