Rutgers relying on inexperienced specialists in 2016
The last time David Bonagura attempted a field goal in a real game situation was his senior year of high school when he drilled home a kick from 48 yards to seal a state championship for Ramapo High.
When the Rutgers football team takes on No. 14 Washington in its season opener on Sep. 3 in Seattle, Bonagura will likely have his number called again for the first time in nearly four years.
After Friday's practice, head football coach Chris Ash officially named Bonagura as the starting placekicker over true freshman Jared Smolar, who was Bonagura's lone competition throughout training camp.
Ash also said that Bongura will "most likely" handle kickoffs for the Knights as well.
"He's done a nice job," Ash said of Bonagura on Aug. 26. "He's got some things he still has to work on, mostly it's consistency, but when he does stroke it, he's got a nice leg and he gets pretty good distance. But it's consistency that he has to get better at."
For the better part of the last four seasons, Kyle Federico manned the field goal kicking duties for Rutgers. But the graduation of both Federico and kickoff specialist Chris Gough this past spring left the Knights with rising redshirt sophomore Bonagura as their only kicker on the roster during Chris Ash's first spring camp.
The Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, native went 2-for-4 during the Scarlet-White spring game in April, connecting from 32 and 38 yards but missing from 36 and 48 yards. When spring camp ended, Bonagura still hadn't been officially named the starter and entered training camp in competition with Smolar.
But the former recruited walk-on finally solidified himself during training camp as Rutgers' No. 1 kicker entering the 2016 season.
"I've become more comfortable out there since spring," Bonagura said. "Towards the end of spring, I became a lot more comfortable just because I never really took practice reps, team reps, with the old (coaching) staff. With the fact that I was able to take practice reps was huge. Definitely this camp I felt as though I've improved mentally ... I just go out there and know I can get my job done and put it through the pipes."
Bonagura has yet to even travel to away games, let alone kick in them, in his past two seasons on the Banks. So when the Knights match up against Washington at Husky Stadium, which has a capacity of over 70,000, it will make for an imposing debut situation for Bonagura.
In an attempt to prepare him for kicking in raucous stadiums, Rutgers has blared music or had its players stand off to the side and try to distract Bonagura while he kicks.
"Every time the team and coach calls everybody in around, I always look at (sophomore punter) Mike Cintron, my holder, and I'm like ' love this,'" Bonagura said. "I tell him every time, I'm like 'I love this'."
Michael Cintron will not only be catching snaps from junior long snapper Alan Lucy on field goal tries, but on punts as well. In addition to announcing Bonagura as the starting kicker, Ash also named Cintron as the Knights' No. 1 punter.
Entering training camp, Cintron held the advantage over fifth-year senior Tim Gleeson on the depth chart.
Gleeson booted 32 punts over nine games in the 2014 season, but took a redshirt in 2015 due to a back injury. For a majority of training camp, Gleeson donned a green practice jersey, indicating he was a limited participant, and missed "a good amount of time" due to flare ups in his back, according to Ash.
He may not have had much competition at the position due to Gleeson's lingering injury, but Cintron still went out and earned the starting job.
"Michael Cintron, hands down," said special teams coordinator Vince Okruch on the status of the starting punter competition Aug. 26. "He had a great spring. Worked incredibly hard over the summer. He will be our starting punter. He's done a great job in the fall camp. Really proud of Michael because in the spring, there were some areas that he needed to improve in. We challenged him to do that and he did a great job."
Cintron made his Rutgers debut last season against Wisconsin in Madison, where he produced an average of 51 yards on what wound up being his only three punts of the season.
While he only got a few game reps under his belt, the Piscataway native cited those punts as being important for getting his nerves out and giving him confidence heading into the season opener.
"Last year really helped me a lot, going out to Wisconsin and having the chance to punt," Cintron said. "Got the nerves out and now I'm totally confident in what I'm gonna do out in Washington."