Consecutive starts streak ends Saturday when senior tackle says goodbye to Rutgers
Over the span of the last 36 games the Rutgers football team has played, a Scarlet Knights quarterback had the luxury of looking to his left to find him standing there.
As his 37th consecutive start approaches Saturday at noon, Keith Lumpkin’s career on the Banks is coming to a close.
The Knights (4-7, 1-6) play host to Maryland (2-9, 0-7) for Senior Day, hoping to end the season on a two-game win streak and keep their faint hopes of a fourth consecutive bowl berth alive.
Whether Rutgers makes it into the postseason or not, Saturday will be the last time head coach Kyle Flood sees his fifth-year senior left tackle run out of the tunnel at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Seven years ago was the first time Flood saw Lumpkin, then a sophomore in high school, playing basketball at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City.
“When you talk about upside or potential, when you see a guy who is a legitimate 6-foot-7, offensive tackle body who's a skilled athlete — if you ever watched him play basketball you would know right away how skilled an athlete he is," Flood said. "You just say to yourself, 'If this guy is in the right program and the right weight program, he could really play at a high level in college.'”
Lumpkin averaged 15 points per game as a center in his senior season at St. Peter’s. But after hitting the weights and continuing to grow, the Montclair, New Jersey, native now stands 6-foot-8, 325 pounds as a senior left tackle on the offensive line.
For the past four seasons, he’s been on the field protecting his quarterback’s blind side.
It’s remarkable to think about that type of consistency. Even more impressive is what it says about a player’s durability, especially at that size.
Lumpkin admits that streak is not lost on him.
"I think about it all the time,” Lumpkin said. “(It takes) a lot of hard work to maintain your body that way. I give great credit to (Strength) Coach (Jeremy) Cole and (head athletic trainer) Dave McCune. They make sure your body feels right, Coach Flood makes sure your body feels right. So a lot of credit to the coaching staff and the training staff."
Junior right guard Chris Muller has been lined up along with Lumpkin for 35 of those 36 straight starts. Muller’s versatility proved pivotal to the Knights victory over Army last Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak, when he slid over a spot to center to make his first start at the position in his career.
And now, as it is likely the last time the pair will toe the line together again, Muller made a point to show respect to the man who has helped him manage the trenches.
“I knew he was an incredible football player,” Muller said of Lumpkin. “Me and him both rose the depth charts and both started getting experience and becoming veterans. We just became like brothers.”
Their bond was never more evident than last week when Muller and Lumpkin welcomed two redshirt freshmen to the line after injuries kept junior center Derrick Nelson and junior guard Dorian Miller out for the win at West Point.
Rutgers rushed for 254 yards in the contest and didn’t allow sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano to be sacked for the first time in seven weeks.
Left guard Zack Heeman and right guard Marcus Applefield could be called on again if Nelson and Miller are unable to go, but either rookie can look to their left and see Muller or Lumpkin ready to lead the charge.
As the Knights' head coach gets ready to see Lumpkin leave, Flood couldn’t help but reflect on how rare it is to have a stalwart like him at left tackle.
“To be a three-year starter at left tackle," Flood said. "In my time here, we've only had two of those — Pedro Sosa and Keith Lumpkin. Both really, really good football players. Keith has done an excellent job.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.