Rettig returns to action, makes Rutgers debut
When Hayden Rettig trots out onto the field with the Rutgers football team’s starting offense on Saturday, the moment could understandably be a bit surreal.
Now a sophomore with the Scarlet Knights, Rettig hasn’t dropped back to pass — let alone taken a snap — in a live football game since his gun-slinging days at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, California.
Not a single soul in the stands at High Point Solutions Stadium knows what to anticipate. Not even Kyle Flood.
But if there’s one thing the fourth-year head coach can express about the replacement for former four-year starter Gary Nova, it’s his confidence in Rettig’s ability to catch on when college football returns to Piscataway.
“That’s one of the difficult things for a player who transfers at that early of a stage,” Flood said. “You spend a year on scout team at one place and then you go to another place and you’re still ineligible. Hayden’s really excited. He’s working really hard and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him and so does the football team.”
Rettig doesn’t gloss over the fact that he’s had to learn on the fly. But as the exposure to the offensive system and schemes increased, so did his acclimation to it.
“Summer’s been kind of crazy. Just coming from spring just trying to learn everything and just trying to get a hold of everything,” Rettig said. “And now, just really getting into it and understanding the offense and feeling better at practice and … I feel like I look better on film, just throwing the ball and I just feel like I know what I’m doing now.”
Despite his recent progression following a spring camp where he had to shed the rust, Rettig didn’t take the starting spot directly.
Neck-and-neck with fellow sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano since March, Flood named Rettig the starter midway through the third week of training camp after announcing a string of five suspensions for the opener.
That included Laviano, who will sit out for at least the first half of Saturday’s contest after attempting to enter an establishment with a fake ID.
As much as Rettig has received his chunk of reps with the first team offense in order to prepare for Norfolk State, Laviano’s time under center hasn’t altered much. After a strong camp in the spring and a consistent follow-up in August, Flood said he felt as though Laviano had earned that extension.
When it comes to what the Knights will do in the second half when Laviano’s time is up, Flood wouldn’t commit to his plans for who might be in at quarterback. But with the evaluation process never ending, the magnifying glass for Rettig’s first half grows that much more.
“I think, as situations change, the evaluation process changes,” Flood said. “And now Hayden’s gonna have a phenomenal opportunity to be evaluated in a live game situation and I think that’ll go a long way in determining how we go forward.”
While senior Leonte Carroo also serves his suspension for the first half, Rettig won’t have the luxury of the Big Ten’s leader in yards per catch (19.7) and the Knights’ ultimate leading receiver.
But junior wide out Andre Patton, now bumped up to the No. 1 slot, thinks the team will bode well regardless of who’s taking the snaps throughout the opener.
“I definitely feel as though he’s improved. He’s definitely come a long way and that’s a good thing,” Patton said of Rettig. “The chemistry between the receivers and all the quarterbacks are still the same, so whether Chris (Laviano) were to come out there in the first half or not, I think it wouldn’t really make a difference to the rest of the team who played or who started.”
Rettig, who compared being named the starting quarterback to Christmas, doesn’t appear to be intimidated by any of the implications his first start might bring.
In fact, he’s already embracing his head coach’s mantra.
“I feel good about (being the starter for the opener),” Rettig said. “Just gotta keep working and gotta get that 1-0 mark like Coach Flood always talks about.”
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