Carroo displays dominance in return for Rutgers
During red zone drills in practice on Wednesday, Leonte Carroo speared a throw from sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano with his left hand while he tip-toed his way across the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
The degree of difficulty of the one-handed catch cannot be understated. But no one cheered. None of the senior wide receiver's teammates bothered to tap him on the helmet, nor did he receive the customary pat on the backside.
And it wasn't because the members of the Rutgers football team don't respect their captain or appreciate his ability — they have just become accustomed to Carroo's big plays and circus catches.
Senior offensive tackle Keith Lumpkin has spent four years in Piscataway with Carroo and he had a front row seat for the senior wideout’s wild play.
“It’s something that every receiver works on,” Lumpkin said. “You know just having fun, making crazy catches, but he has great hands. I don’t wanna say (one-handed catches are) expected, but they expect him to catch the ball.”
Head coach Kyle Flood was similarly unsurprised by the performance of the Scarlet Knights' (2-3, 0-2) top offensive target.
"Well, he looked like Leonte looks," Flood said. "He's a dominant football player and somebody who can score any time he touches the ball."
Flood is right on the money.
Over the course of his career on the Banks, Carroo is averaging a touchdown every 3.88 times he catches the football.
He collected seven receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State in last Saturday’s 31-24 loss in front of 50,373 fans in attendance for the Blackout.
It marked the second time this season and the fourth time in his career where Carroo has tallied three touchdowns in a game. No other player in school history has done it more than once.
The banner day for the Edison, New Jersey, native extended his school record to 25 touchdowns as he continues to climb his way up the record books for Rutgers, staking his claim as the best receiver in the history of college football's birthplace.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost,” Carroo said postgame. “I just was very excited all day, just had a lot of momentum going into this game.”
It was a nearly perfect performance from a player who had been unable to practice for three weeks due to his indefinite suspension. Carroo carved up a Spartans defense that has earned a reputation as a “no fly zone” in front of perhaps the most decorated receiver in Sparty’s history on the sidelines to watch the show.
Plaxico Burress won a Super Bowl with the New York GIants in 2007 when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Eli Manning to spoil the perfect season that never was for the New England Patriots.
When the Knights' 6-foot-1, 215-pound receiver came off the field against Michigan State last Saturday, Plax was waiting for him.
“He said ‘You’re a great player, that was one of the best performances that I’ve seen in person,'” Carroo said of the pair’s conversation. “It was great. He’s a legend, he won a Super Bowl, so him saying that to me was awesome ... but I would’ve rather he say that to me after a win.”
Rutgers All-American receiver doesn’t appear on any of the Big Ten Conference’s statistical leaders lists because he doesn’t meet the minimum requirement — 75 percent of the team’s games — but his six touchdowns in only nine quarters played this season stand above any other receiver in the conference.
Carroo is averaging 22.5 yards per catch and 105 yards per game — which would also top the league’s list — a year removed from finishing second in the nation in yards per catch (19.7) last fall.
But it’s not just his ability to haul in receptions and score that make Carroo such an impact player for the Knights on Saturdays.
He has also earned a reputation as one of the best blocking wide receivers around. His sheer presence on the field forces defenses to shift coverage in Carroo’s direction, opening up opportunities to get other wide receivers one-on-one looks.
“He opens up windows for us,” said senior running back Paul James. “He puts guys in positions on the defense where they gotta play the pass and really focus on him, which opens up the running holes.”
Those sentiments were confirmed on James's big run against Michigan State.
Rutgers' longest run of the year took place in the second quarter in last Saturday's game versus the Spartans when James scampered 72 yards down to the 8-yard line.
But it couldn't have happened without a key block from Carroo, James said.
“Leonte made a great block — I’m pretty sure on a corner or safety — to actually spring that run,” James said. “I just ran off it and that’s what we need. This team needs big plays, those explosive plays help us to get the momentum running.”
It’s tough to argue against Carroo being the best receiver in school history, but his effect on the field demands the discussion that he may be the best player ever to don the block "R."
These are pretty strong words when considering Rutgers hosted the first ever college football game in 1866. But his teammates, coaching staff or really anyone who has ever seen Carroo play would be hard-pressed to disagree.
“He means a lot,” James said of his co-captain. “It just shows what type of player he is, he’s always ready to compete. He missed some time but he came back in ready to go, you know, he didn’t take a day off or anything. He was right back there ready and a lot of guys rally behind him.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.