September 23, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers rallies around head coach amid controversy

Less than 10 minutes before the Rutgers football team kicked off its 2015 season against Norfolk State at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday, the program announced in a news release the dismissal of five players who were suspended indefinitely after their arrests on Thursday.

Junior cornerback Nadir Barnwell, sophomore cornerback Dre Boggs, sophomore fullback Razohnn Gross, junior cornerback Ruhann Peele and junior free safety Delon Stephenson were dismissed from the team after their roles in an alleged assault that took place on Delafield Street in New Brunswick on April 25, where one University student suffered a broken jaw.

Barnwell, who is the center of an ongoing email investigation regarding head coach Kyle Flood's alleged impermissible contact with a University faculty member regarding the status of his academic eligibility, practiced with the team on Wednesday along with the other four players included in the dismissal. 

While Flood said he had been cooperating with the authorities in an investigation launched by the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office and New Brunswick Police Department last spring "from the very beginning," the fourth-year head coach did not specify why the five players were allowed to practice all of training camp leading up to the day before their arrests.

"All I could say is we had no reason at that point for them not to practice," Flood said.

Flood later said he was unaware of the specific charges on Thursday when the athletic department issued its first release that suspended the five players indefinitely. He had no further comment on the investigation, but he did address how hard it was for him to deal with the news of the arrests on Thursday.

"It rips you apart inside," Flood said. "As the head coach, what you try to do with over a hundred players on your team is you try to bring people into their lives to help them make good decisions. And when something like this happens, as the figurehead father of the program, it just rips you apart inside."

On the field — and by the looks of a 63-13 pounding of Norfolk State amid all of the potential distractions — the Knights were undeterred. 

Senior running back Paul James commended Flood for keeping the team focused for its opener, further voicing his support for the head coach amid the off-field controversy.

"We support Coach Flood throughout everything and I support him," James said. "He's been here my whole career. I love him as a coach, as a head coach and I love him as a person. And we all support him, we're all behind him 100 percent. We love to just run out on the field with him every game day."

Leonte Carroo might have embodied that focus the most. After sitting the first half due to suspension for breaking curfew, the senior wide receiver broke the Spartans' defense for 128 yards and three catches — all touchdowns of 55, 56 and 18 yards — to bury Norfolk State in the second half.

"This is college football and I came here to play college football. That's what me and my teammates are gonna focus on," Carroo said. "Each of us, when we signed the dotted line to play college football, we knew that this was a big thing that we're doing. None of us can take anything that we're doing for granted, so we're just gonna go out there and focus on what we love to do."

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

Garrett Stepien

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