Rutgers hosts Howard in home opener, Chris Ash's home debut at High Point Solutions Stadium
Chris Ash is no stranger to the environment at High Point Solutions Stadium on a Saturday in the fall.
The traveled veteran has made the trip to Piscataway on two occasions during his 20-year career as an assistant, first with Arkansas in 2013 and then last season with Ohio State.
He’ll take part in his third game in Piscataway this Saturday, but this time, he’ll be on the sideline with a block R on his chest and the crowd’s support behind him.
The Scarlet Knights (0-1) host Howard (0-1) this Saturday at noon on the Big Ten Network as Ash makes his home debut.
“I've said this many times, as a visiting coach, the experience that I had here at High Point Solutions Stadium has been a great one,” he said. “It's been a great environment, and I hope to see that environment firsthand as a Rutgers football coach here this Saturday.”
It will serve as his debut on the sidelines of High Point Solutions as well — he coached from the press box in both of his previous occasions just as he did for all but two years of his career as an assistant, which he revealed in the inaugural edition of his weekly radio show Wednesday.
The change is one more among the many he’s made to the program since replacing previous head coach Kyle Flood, an addition of a nutrition department and a renovation of the Hale Center ambiance and the discontinuation of the traditional end-of-spring camp rewards among them.
Not awarding the Frank R. Burns Award for mental and physical toughness last spring despite its distribution since the 1980’s showed Ash isn’t afraid to change tradition and that will extend to the Scarlet Walk.
The pregame walk to the stadium will continue, but Ash said there may be “a couple new wrinkles” added to it, though they have yet to be determined.
A tradition the Knights hope to continue is its historical dominance of their next opponent.
Rutgers defeated the Bison in all four previous meetings since the first in 2006, outscoring the Division I-AA program 165-39 in the process.
Howard travels to New Jersey after suffering a 52-13 drubbing at the hands of another Big Ten program in Maryland, the first game following a one-win season in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
The Knights have never lost to MEAC opposition, winning all 12 matchups in its history that spans 1,313 games, more than any other program in college football history.
But despite all signs pointing to a far easier afternoon for the Knights than the one they had 3,000 miles west of home in Seattle a week ago, they’re not overlooking the Bison.
The last thing Rutgers needs after suffering a 48-13 loss to a dark-horse national title contender is to join the ranks of power five conference programs who’ve lost games to FCS opposition.
“We don’t take any team lightly,” said offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. “We’ve seen really good football teams lose to FCS teams in the past and particularly the most famous one being in our conference, so no, we treat it like any other team. We have a full game plan. Some people asked if we looked ahead — absolutely not. To avoid all kinds of disaster, you do not want to do that, you treat them as if we’re playing the Green Bay Packers this week.”
Ash’s first home opener at High Point Solutions Stadium will be the last for many of the seniors completing their careers on the Banks this season, including all four of its captains.
Offensive linemen Chris Muller, Derrick Nelson and J.J. Denman, tight end Nick Arcidiacono, wide receivers Carlton Agudosi and Janarion Grant, running back Justin Goodwin, linebacker Greg Jones, safety Anthony Cioffi and defensive linemen Quanzell Lambert, Darius Hamilton and Julian Pinnix-Odrick will be strapping up for a home opener for the last time as they look to redeem themselves from the poor showing in Seattle.
“It’s gonna be really fun,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “It’s significant, it’s cool man, but it goes by so fast.”
The end of a career for some is the beginning of a journey for others, but regardless of how long they’ve donned the block R’s, the goal is the same for everyone on the home sideline at High Point Solutions Stadium Saturday.
“We’re excited to get back on the field to compete and show that we’re continuing to improve every day we’re out there,” Ash said. “Guys have great attitudes, are locked in and continue to focus on the process of improvement and can’t wait to get out and show we’re continuing to improve this Saturday.”