NFL Knights provide promise
Max Issaka admitted the Rutgers football team’s NFL presence was not a major deciding factor when he committed to the Scarlet Knights from Woodbridge (N.J.) High School.
But seeing the amount of contributors during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins was promising for the sophomore defensive end.
“It just gave me an extra push and extra motivation knowing how our program is run, from the coaches to the players, we all have a chance, and having that chance it the greatest hope of all,” Issaka said. “It’s really exciting.”
Monday night’s game featured seven active players who dawned Knights uniforms, including six for the Buccaneers. The six players under Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano marks the most players from one school on any given NFL franchise, according to ESPN.
Against the Dolphins, former Rutgers running back Brian Leonard led the Buccaneers in rushing yards with 57 off 20 carries.
Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood posted three receptions for 64 yards, while tight end Tim Wright — a Rutgers graduate last year — recorded a 19-yard reception.
Head coach Kyle Flood, who replaced Schiano after he left for Tampa Bay in 2012, knows what it can do for recruiting.
“The ones that come here and really desire to be a part of our program, and the way we develop players, God willing if you can stay healthy, you are going to have a great opportunity to play in that league,” Flood said. “And not only will you have an opportunity to play in it, you will have to be prepared so that you can stay there.”
Former Knights Jeremy Zuttah, Gary Gibson and Khalil Glaud also played for the Buccaneers on Monday, while former linebacker Jonathan Freeney registered two tackles for Miami.
In all, 20 former Rutgers players have played on Sundays this season — a promising number for junior left guard Kaleb Johnson.
“It’s exciting,” Johnson said. “Just knowing that those guys were in the same locker room as me and went through the same path, it’s reassuring to me.”
If Rutgers’ recent NFL Draft history is any indication, more players could follow.
Seven Knights were drafted this year — the most in school history.
Twenty-one players were drafted since 2007, which includes three first-round selections.
Wide receiver Kenny Britt became the first-ever Knight picked in the first round in 2008, while offensive tackle Anthony Davis became the highest pick in school history when the San Francisco 49ers picked him 11th overall in 2010. Cornerback Devin McCourty got picked 27th overall the same year.
So for Issaka, turning on the television every Sunday and seeing so many former players provides hope for a future NFL career.
“When you look at a lot of the players you’ve seen or played with or practiced with in the NFL, all you can think about is, ‘if I work as hard as I can and follow and believe in the program, I can be there one day,’” Issaka said. “So the hope is really high.”
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