Rutgers rallies together amid controversy
Kyle Flood’s first game week didn't exactly go according to plan.
The Rutgers head football coach would be hard-pressed to tell you the conditions were ideal for the Scarlet Knights in the week leading up to the season opener last Saturday.
While attempting to get his team ready for Norfolk State, Flood had to face a media frenzy that began buzzing two weeks ago when NJ Advance Media first reported that the fourth-year head coach was being investigated for impermissible contact with a faculty member regarding the academic status of junior cornerback Nadir Barnwell, who was listed as a starter on the spring depth chart.
But it only got worse from there.
Less than 48 hours before the 2015 season was scheduled to kickoff, five Rutgers players were arrested for various charges pertaining to multiple robberies and an assault, causing reporters to swarm the practice fields at the foot of High Point Solutions Stadium.
The nation's newspapers claimed the program was unraveling — some even calling for Flood to be fired. But as the national media tried to tear the program apart, the Knights grew closer together.
Rutgers marched on, remaining focused on the task at hand. And after a shaky first series against the Spartans, the Knights dominated in a 63-13 victory.
In the postgame press conference, Flood paused several times to collect himself, saying the team performed just as he expected.
“I was not surprised," Flood said. "I felt that when you have situations like this, it generally goes one way or the other. Your team either becomes distracted or your team becomes galvanized, and I thought this football team became galvanized. I'm proud of them. Those young men down in the locker room did an excellent job this week of focusing on the task at hand.”
Junior Davon Jacobs is one of the more experienced defensive backs on Rutgers' roster.
The Paterson, New Jersey, native serves as the starting strong safety in a secondary that lost three starters and one backup as Dre Boggs (cornerback), Delon Stephenson (free safety) and Ruhann Peele (cornerback), along with Barnwell, were taken into custody less than two hours after practice Sept. 3.
Jacobs, who had a tackle against Norfolk State and finished 2014 with 34 total tackles to go with a sack and an interception, will be counted on to provide the leadership expected from a senior in order to keep the young secondary on an even keel.
But the 6-foot, 195-pounder acknowledged the fact that the negativity helped the team focus.
“That definitely woke some of us up," Jacobs said.
Lined up next to him at free safety is junior Anthony Cioffi, who made an interception in the second half against the Spartans to help insure the game’s outcome.
Cioffi has shifted his focus to Saturday when the Knights host Washington State and is only concerned with getting ready for the upcoming game.
“We really have to be firing on all cylinders and communicate as a group in order to shut this offense down because air raid — 70, 80 plays a game — so we definitely have to be ready,” Cioffi said. “It’s a process, but everybody is locked in so I can’t ask for anything else.”
After the 50-point drubbing was concluded, Norfolk State head coach Latrell Scott took a moment to recognize Flood and the Knights for their perseverance amid the distractions in wake of the investigation and arrests.
"I think football players are some of the most resilient people in the world," Scott said. "When you feel like someone is attacking your leader or some of your teammates, you close rank and do exactly what you have to do. You have to commend Kyle (Flood), his kids and staff for being able to handle this stretch.”
When asked if the scrutiny assisted his team's chemistry, the head coach from Queens, New York, was steadfast in his conviction.
“I do, and I thought that way all along," Flood said after practice Wednesday. "And now, we got a chance to see it in the first game. I felt like it brought the team closer together, and I think we had a focused group again this week.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.