Rutgers aims to stay focused despite distractions
Wedged within a seven-team division and surrounded by the perennial powerhouse programs its conference boasts, it’s easy for the Rutgers football team to get lost in the shuffle.
With the likes of a unanimous AP Top 25 No. 1 and defending national champion Ohio State slated in one slot of a meaty conference gauntlet, the Scarlet Knights are sure to have their hands full as they look to build upon their sophomore year in the Big Ten.
But when Rutgers returns to the gridiron Saturday at noon to take on Norfolk State in the season opener, the difference between the Buckeyes and the Spartans is universes apart.
Kicking off the 2015 season against a Division I-AA Norfolk State team that went 4-8 overall and 4-4 in the MEAC, it’s assumed that the Knights should be able to take care of business — and in dominating fashion — against a program that has yet to score a single point in the team’s only three meetings over the past eight years.
But with everything that’s been swirling around at Rutgers regarding a University investigation of the team’s head coach, the suspension of five players for breaking curfew and now the five arrests made among Nadir Barnwell, Dre Boggs, Razohn Gross, Ruhann Peele and Delon Stephenson who are all suspended indefinitely, the opener gains a peculiar interesting twist to it.
“My experience with these situations is they generally go one way or the other,” Flood said. “They either become a distraction or they serve to really focus the football team.”
The fourth-year head coach, who had not received notice regarding potential disciplinary action by the time this article was published, is aiming for the latter of those two options he mentioned.
“I have sensed that our football team is very focused,” Flood said. “And I have a couple ways of judging that in terms of how we operate in the weight room, what the weights look like, how guys are handling their health, how we practice … those are things that tell me we’ve got a really focused football team.”
Look no further than star wide out Leonte Carroo.
The senior captain is one of four Knights — which includes senior punter Tim Gleeson, sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano, junior linebacker Kevin Marquez — suspended for the first half of the opener.
Carroo, who has openly and vocally embraced his role as a leader on the team, faced his punishment for breaking curfew head-on when he met with reporters after training camp practice on Aug. 25.
Despite his absence on the field for the time being, the First Team All-Big Ten selection hasn’t let that alter his preparation.
“You just pretty much gotta focus on Norfolk State. That’s our only concern,” Carroo said. "We’re just coming in, we’re practicing, we’re having meetings and just worried about what we have to do as far as the game.”
And as much as his head coach’s investigation lingers to cast a dark cloud over Piscataway, Carroo refuses to let that outside talk enter the minds of his teammates as they prepare for the Spartans.
“We’re not really paying any attention to anything that’s going on in the outside world,” he said. “We pretty much spend a majority of our time in (the Hale Center), so once you’re here all day you’re just really concerned about football and that’s it.”
Keith Lumpkin agrees with those sentiments.
While the offensive tackle wasn’t named one of the team’s four captains entering his senior season as a cornerstone returning for Rutgers in the trenches, the 6-foot-8, 325-pounder made it clear that none of that can take away from the day that’s been circled on everyone’s calendar for the past eight months.
“We can’t let things that have nothing to do with us affect the team,” Lumpkin said. “We stay focused, we know what our task (is) and our task is be ready to go come Saturday. That’s our focus right now. We’re concentrating, we’re practicing hard everyday to just make sure we’re 1-0 when it comes to Saturday.”
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