July 16, 2018 | ° F

Knights reminisce about 2012 Tulane game, come long way two years later

Photo by Tian Li |

Junior wide receiver Leonte Carroo has come a long way since his first collegiate game against Tulane two years ago, when he played exclusively on Rutgers’ special teams.

A pair of Rutgers football players still remembers the day like it was yesterday: Sept. 1, 2012, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Darius Hamilton and Leonte Carroo were two of three true freshmen making their Scarlet Knight debuts in the season opener against Tulane, and the stage couldn’t have been much bigger.

Rutgers traveled approximately 1,300 miles to the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints and host of seven Super Bowls and five NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours. The 39-year-old venue seats about 72,000 and is the nation’s largest indoor football facility, according to ESPN.

Only 26,059 fans made the trip just days after Hurricane Isaac left its mark on a reeling city, but the game day jitters never dissipated.

“I remember being really nervous,” said Hamilton, now a junior defensive tackle. “I think actually the first two plays, if anybody goes back and watches it, I make contact with my [offensive] guard and immediately fall on my knees twice. And I think that’s just the butterflies of the whole situation. Being a younger guy ... you never know what to expect and you just want to go in there and do the best you can, play fast. But it’s definitely a lot of nerves.”

Carroo, now a junior wide receiver, didn’t bring along any family members but shared the moments with redshirt Ruhann Peele, one of his best friends on the team who made the trip.

Back then, the Edison, New Jersey, native contributed exclusively on special teams. He also remembers looking on from the sideline as former Knights receivers Mark Harrison and Brandon Coleman helped lead the way, aspiring to follow in their footsteps.

But little compared to the raw emotions that came with the environment and delivering Kyle Flood his first win as head coach.

“Just being there was amazing. Going on the road, traveling, playing in the Superdome was pretty neat,” Carroo said. “We had a lot of seniors that year on the team, and I think they gave coach Flood a standing ovation in the locker room saying, ‘Congrats on your first win,’ so it was pretty good.”

So much has changed since for both teams.

Hamilton and Carroo didn’t record any stats that game, but two years later they’ve become two of Rutgers’ most integral players, each carving potential paths to the NFL.

A former five-star recruit, Hamilton is steadily living up to his billing. The Don Bosco (New Jersey) Prep product has recorded 7 1/2 sacks in his last 10 games dating back to last season and boasts 13 career tackles for a loss.

As one of five team captains, Hamilton also brings a passion to the game that one of his biggest mentors can’t quantify.

“I would tell you the most important thing he does for us is the leadership that he provides,” Flood said. “He’s a tremendous football player, he makes a lot of plays ... but the leadership and the energy he brings every day is infectious and it helps our entire football team — not just the defense.”

Carroo, meanwhile, has morphed into a No. 1 receiver, nearly breaking Rutgers’ single-season record of 10 touchdown receptions last season with nine. So far this year, the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder leads the team with 18 catches for 335 yards and two touchdowns.

It’s a product of Carroo’s studious approach to the game, getting extra lifts in the weight room while accepting and learning from critique in the film room.

His catching ability and speed are there, Carroo says, but getting down the finer details of technique and route concepts with wide receivers coach Ben McDaniels has been imperative.

Two years of perspective proves it.

“You’re just helping out on special teams and you’re watching all the older guys that are ahead of you on the depth chart, and then slowly they leave and then slowly you’ve got to step up and start in that role,” Carroo said. “It’s crazy how time flies by, but you’re just happy that with all your hard work and preparation, to see how far you came from freshman year to now is pretty cool.”

Under third-year head coach Curtis Johnson, Tulane is slowly working its way onto the map of relevant college programs.

After a trying first season, Johnson, who coached the Saints’ wide receivers from 2006 to 2011, guided the school to its first bowl game since 2002 last season.

Rebuilding processes are still at hand, but an invigorated program continues to develop.

“Two years ago when I was a freshman, I honestly never heard of Tulane. I didn’t know who Tulane was,” Carroo said. “Now, you hear about them more, they have an NFL-type of coach and he runs a great system. Their defense is pretty good, so I’m excited to go out there and play them this weekend.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Greg Johnson

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