Rutgers captains set the tone for locker room following tough loss
It is difficult to measure a captain's value.
There is an old adage that says it is hard to lead off the field if you cannot do it on the field. But when the majority of the team is being outperformed by inferior programs, that off-the-field mentorship and guidance — regardless of the captain's individual performance — is more necessary than ever.
In comes junior linebacker Deonte Roberts. And fifth-year senior defensive end Darnell Davis. And graduate transfer quarterback Kyle Bolin and fifth-year senior left guard Dorian Miller.
Like most of the team, it is no secret that all four saw their struggles against Eastern Michigan Saturday, as the Rutgers football team was downed in heartbreaking fashion, 16-13. Despite multiple opportunities within its own half in the last five minutes, Piscataway's own came up empty-handed.
Being the first Big Ten team in history to lose to the Mid-American Conference (MAC) program is hardly an achievement worth repeating, and it is the captain's job to set the team on a stable course going forward. Fortunately, for the Scarlet Knights, they have four of them.
In this case, that course leads back to High Point Solutions Stadium opposite the Morgan State Bears.
Miller, a three-year starter on the offensive line, knows that besides protecting the quarterback, his job as captain is to lead by example, especially in an inherently turbulent early season.
With how rampant upsets have been throughout the first couple weeks of the season, Miller knows that the devastating loss to Eastern Michigan could fester into trouble against a similarly struggling Morgan State team.
"You gotta learn from the film and come back to work tomorrow," he said. "And I know the guys will be ready to do that. That's the beautiful thing about sports. You get the chance to do it again. You get another game, you get another practice, you get another rep. They've been playing long enough, they understand that."
It's the sort of maturity one would expect out of a captain, even after a middling performance from the unit he leads on Saturday. With the offensive line failing to provide enough protection for Bolin, especially in the first half, Bolin was only able to find whatever groove he could late in the game.
And by then, urgency set in. Urgency later bred bad decision-making, which led to a crippling interception late in the game that effectively killed Rutgers' momentum on a promising drive.
Still, Bolin did not levy the blame on his offensive line. He took "full responsibility" for his mistakes Saturday night. Those wondering why a transfer would so soon don the captain's badge can rest their concerns for at least the time being. Bolin has, as head coach Chris Ash would attest, a captain's mentality.
He plays on a team that has lost 11 games in a row dating back to last September — its last win coming in a 38-27 home triumph over New Mexico — and it takes a considerable amount of mental strength to lead a group of guys on to the next game.
Especially after losing to a team the Knights should have put away fairly easily, stability becomes harder to achieve. It comes back to that old mantra, but extended — a team may be only as good off the field as it is on the field.
Captains like Roberts, Miller, Davis and Bolin are working against this. It is their job to ensure the team is as mentally fit as it is physically. If they can move on from their own rough performances, it sets the tone for the rest of the team.
"We're all grown men and can handle success, we can handle failure," Bolin said. "And we'll be able to come out tomorrow, watch film and understand it. Gotta get the train rolling."