Sophomore keeps head up as backup, awaits next opportunity at Rutgers
For the first time in almost two months, Hayden Rettig dropped back to pass in a live game.
With the opposing pass rush swarming in his face as the pocket collapsed, the sophomore quarterback unloaded and heaved a bomb down the right sideline.
The deep ball landed in a streaking junior wide receiver Carlton Agudosi’s breadbasket for a 58-yard completion and the Rutgers football team’s offense had finally knocked off the cobwebs.
Moments later, Rettig fired a bullet to junior wide receiver Andre Patton in the back of the end zone on the 4-yard touchdown strike.
On his two drives with the offense in the fourth quarter, Rettig went 3-for-7 with 72 yards and the touchdown to close out the night.
“It felt great,” Rettig said of his first appearance since starting the Sept. 5 season opener against Norfolk State. “I was just trying to get back in the rhythm of things … It’s been a little longer — and that’s not an excuse — but I just wanna get back into things.”
Rettig’s second touchdown pass of the season didn’t put as much as a scratch on No. 1 Ohio State as the Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) rolled Rutgers, 49-7, last Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium.
But the Scarlet Knights (3-4, 1-3) did prevent a shutout with the late score, and the people — between the few thousands who stayed to watch in Piscataway and the millions who watched from national television on ABC — finally got to see the LSU transfer after he made a splash on opening day with 110 yards on 9-of-11 passing with two total touchdowns in his collegiate debut.
Evident through the last six games now, head coach Kyle Flood has stuck with sophomore Chris Laviano after the Glen Head, New York, native came in to go 4-for-4 with 138 yards and three touchdowns to senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo in the third quarter of the opener.
Since then, Laviano has made strides in the position and led the Big Ten in completion percentage (67.2 percent) in offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels’s pro-style offense.
As much as Rutgers trailed Ohio State by a lopsided margin early on in the third quarter, Flood said he never had thoughts of pulling Laviano in favor of offering Rettig more reps and experience.
But Rettig, who embraces the extra time in his development at the position, issued a quick reminder that he still can let it fly.
“I just feel like the more experience I get, the better I’m gonna be. I feel like that with everything. I just felt good,” Rettig said. “It was just finishing that drive — even if all of the fans weren’t there — I felt good, my teammates felt good, I felt like I progressed and you can only ask for that.”
Despite the drastic deficit, the two wide outs Rettig connected with on the scoring drive commended the signal-caller for his approach and poise in the situation.
“(Rettig) definitely came in and he made plays,” said Patton, who found the end zone for the first time this season on the touchdown reception. “He definitely contributed to us getting yards and moving the ball down the field, so I definitely thought he did that pretty well.”
Opportunities like those are ones that Rettig wishes were more frequent.
Since starting the opener, he’s had to watch from the sidelines as the Knights have gone through the ups and downs of the 2015 season. In that time with Laviano as the starter, the team has gone 2-4.
As far as the fan base is concerned, there is support for the Los Angeles, California, kid. On Twitter, trending hashtags of “FreeRettig” have surfaced in spurts to contest the decision to keep the gunslinger dormant.
Rettig said he appreciates the support, admitting that it has been hard to remain on the outside looking in.
But he remained unselfish, putting the state of the team first.
“It’s been hard. It’d be hard on anybody. But it’s how you learn from it,” Rettig said. “As much as people would be like … ‘Oh, me, I gotta get in,’ … It’s not a problem with me. At the end of the day, it’s about my team and I’d do anything for these guys — even if they put me in at halftime or put me in the first quarter — just because we work hard together and it’s just family.”
Quarterback isn’t the only position in football where situations like this unfold, and Rettig certainly isn’t the first to experience it.
Rettig can look no further than within his own receiving corps at Agudosi. The fourth-year junior, who had two receptions for a team-high 76 yards against Ohio State, sits behind one of the top wide receivers in the country in Carroo.
The Somerset, New Jersey, native led the team in receiving with six receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown in two games during Carroo’s absence before sitting all 60 minutes of a heartbreaking home loss to then-No. 4 Michigan State.
But when his number has been called, Agudosi has stepped in and stepped up.
After Carroo’s injury came late in the second half against Indiana, the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder contributed to the comeback with a big-play presence on three catches for 72 yards down the stretch of the fourth quarter.
Knowing the feeling, Agudosi commended Rettig for how he has handled his own situation.
“Hayden (Rettig) understands he has to always be ready to go, because you never know what could happen,” Agudosi said. “I’ve seen him — he still prepares as if he could go in at any moment. He still tries to focus in at practice and do a great job. So I think that his approach to the game is very steady and, as far as mentally, I think you can tell that it’s bothering him. But he does a good job of still coming to work everyday.”
Until that next opportunity comes, Rettig will continue to hit the film room, weight room and practice field.
Through it all, he still knows where he ultimately wants to be.
“Growing up, you always wanna be the quarterback. Everybody looks up to you to be a leader. That’s still in my head,” Rettig said. “But at the same time, I have to (think), ‘All right, well, this is what I have to do to get to this spot. This is what I have to work on and work hard and do that. Don’t take anything for granted.’ It kind of puts the whole work hard type thing, put me in a situation where it’s like, ‘Oh, I progressed from that. I learned a lot from that.’”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.