Reserve’s role to increase for SMU matchup
Junior defensive end David Milewski first witnessed Daryl Stephenson’s potential in the basketball gymnasium at Sayreville War Memorial (N.J.) High School.
“Seeing him run up and down the court, being able to jump the way he does and how quickly his feet move on the basketball court, it translated to football and you could just see at his size, how purely athletic and fast he is,” Milewski said.
On the gridiron, Stephenson played both ways and even handled kickoffs for the Bombers, winning a state title in the process.
While the sophomore defensive tackle’s role with the Rutgers football team is now more consolidated, his importance has increased with the release of the Scarlet Knights’ injury report earlier this week.
Rutgers ruled out reserve defensive tackles Kenneth Kirksey and Al Page for Saturday’s game against Southern Methodist with injuries. Kirksey is dealing with an undisclosed tricep injury, while Page has a bum shoulder.
As a result, head coach Kyle Flood listed Stephenson as the backup at both nose and three-technique tackle positions.
Flood said he still believes eight players will rotate in along the defensive line, but Stephenson figures to be the first in when senior nose tackle Isaac Holmes and sophomore defensive tackle Darius Hamilton need a breather.
He is confident Stephenson can get the job done.
“We knew he would be big and strong and physical, and now that he’s finally getting the opportunity to play, he’s finally getting better and better and better and all that skill development is paying off for him,” Flood said.
Stephenson thinks his versatility will allow him to be effective wherever defensive coordinator Dave Cohen plugs him into.
“At the nose, you just have to get off the ball. At the three technique, you have to read a little bit, but it’s almost like the same thing because I can play both,” Stephenson said. “There’s not one that fits me better. You just have to execute out there and do your job.”
Stephenson has come a long way to become a primary backup for the Knights’ first AAC game against the Mustangs.
Stephenson redshirted his first year after injuring his shoulder Sept. 1, 2011 against North Carolina Central. After appearing on the Knights’ two-deep during training camp last year, he suffered a broken bone in his foot, which sidelined him for the season.
It was during that time both he and Milewski found themselves together in the training room, as Milewski was rehabbing from his third ACL surgery.
While an injury is the last thing players want to deal with, Milewski believed the time off for Stephenson made it easier for the defensive tackle to be effective this season.
“In the beginning, this was kind of a lot for him to take in and it was kind of a big stage at first,” Milewski said. “He needed that adjustment period but now he’s finally put in the work and now he can trust his preparation to know he deserves to be out here.”
Stephenson has seen game action in Rutgers’ first four games this season, but his first crack at significant time will come Saturday in Dallas.
As far as the increase in playing time, he is all for it.
“I’m 100 percent health wise. Stamina wise, I’m good and I’m just ready to go in when they put me in,” Stephenson said. “I’m really excited, I can’t wait for it.”
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