Carroo defies detractors, sets sights on Big Ten Crown
When Leonte Carroo arrived at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago July 30-31 to represent the Rutgers football team, he was dressed to impress.
Carroo was decked out in his Sunday best — a gray suit, paired with a cream-colored shirt and plaid-patterned tie — but it wasn't the Scarlet Knight's fashion sense that drew attention.
Instead, it was a small floral accessory that served as a subtle opening salvo across the bow of the rest of the Big Ten's battleships.
The senior wide receiver donned a silver dollar-sized rose on his left lapel, his way of stating his lofty goals heading into Rutgers sophomore season in the bruising Big Ten Conference, one that rewards its top performing team with a little parade in Pasadena, California, followed by a prestigious bowl game in the college football pantheon — the Rose Bowl.
When it came to his reasoning for the rose-studded suit, Carroo was crystal clear.
“(I wanted) just to go out there and send a message to the Big Ten Conference to let them know Rutgers is here to play,” the senior said on the stage of Big Ten Network Live. “We’re not a stepping stone in the Big Ten.”
Defying the detractors for most of last year, both the Knights and their top target proved they belonged with the big boys in their inaugural foray into Big Ten play.
After being picked by the majority of college football pundits to land at the bottom of the Big Ten’s east division, Rutgers (8-5, 3-5) finished the year strong.
A 26-24 win over the maize and blue of Michigan, a team that has garnered a little attention this offseason after hiring the often blustery and sometimes enigmatic Jim Harbaugh, brought pandemonium back to Piscataway for the first time since the historic 28-25 upset of then-No. 3 Louisville in 2006.
For Carroo, the haters were helpful.
“As a team and especially me, I fed off of that a lot,” Carroo told Big Ten Network. “We kinda got disrespected a bit, but at the end of the day we lace up our boots just like they lace up their's.”
Carroo's junior season had NFL scouts crooning, posting 1,086 receiving yards while finding the end zone on 10 different occasions to tie the school record for receiving touchdowns. The 190-pound wideout proved that his boots are more explosive than most, leading the nation with an average of 19.7 yards per catch.
The Edison, New Jersey, native’s banner year put him in position to be a prospective pick in the top three rounds of NFL Draft, but the Rolls Royce lifestyle was stymied when the Knights prolific pass-catcher chose not to regret a senior season that could've been. Instead, he stages a return to Piscataway for one more run to attain the goal he set many moons ago.
"Coming into Rutgers as a freshman, me and Darius (Hamilton) made a lot of promises to people that we would bring our first championship home to Jersey," Carroo told Big Ten Network. "It felt right to come back and finish this thing out the right way and also finish what I started with my brothers.”
Head coach Kyle Flood chooses to keep his focus narrow in comparison to Carroo, often effusive in his assertion of his team's goal to go "1-0 everyday."
"That, to me, now is not the time. This time of year is time to focus on today," Flood said after Day 1 of training camp Monday. "The offseason, you set your goals. When you’re working by yourself in the summer and you’re thinking about those things, that’s great. I think those things drive you through the offseason. But now, the process has to be on being 1-0."
But 1-0 is too small for Carroo and company's aspirations.
Rutgers' top wide receiver could have walked backed his grand plans after his head coach's response. But to the contrary, after his first official practice of his final season on the banks, Carroo doubled-down.
"Ultimately, my goal is just to have a 10-win season and play in a Rose Bowl," he said.
Fifth-year senior and defensive tackle Darius Hamilton echoed the sentiments of his teammate, synthesizing the naysayers critiques of the Knights to fuel his fire on the playing field.
"We felt slighted," Hamilton said at media day on the stage of Big Ten Network Live. "Lotta disrespect coming our way and we just want to go out there and prove everybody wrong."
But even after turning heads in their rookie campaign in the Big Ten, Rutgers and Carroo remain the often unnoticed underdog.
ESPN.com put together a list of the top 100 college football players for the 2015 season, using power rankings and a bevy of beat writers to compile the elite. Nary a Knight made the list — not even Carroo, who ranks among the top 10 receivers in the nation statistically.
But the former Don Bosco Prep product was left unfazed, preferring to let his play speak to his power.
"I’ll definitely use (being left off the list) to drive me," Carroo told the Targum. "I really don’t pay attention to things like that ... at the end of the season, (the panel) will know who are the best players in the country. I’ll just let my game do the talking.”
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