Rutgers wraps up spring practices ahead of spring game
After it lost 14-10 to Michigan State in the final week of the 2018 season, the Rutgers football team and head coach Chris Ash turned their heads to the upcoming season, hoping for improvement from a fourth-straight year with a losing record.
The Scarlet Knights (1-11, 0-9) have hit the gridiron as the calendar arrived at March for annual spring practices, ending with the traditional Scarlet-White Game, tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.
The annual spring scrimmage at HighPoint.com Stadium will pit the offense and defense against each other in an unconventional scoring setting. The scoring system gives points not only for touchdowns, but also for sacks, interceptions, 10-plus-yard pass gains and tackles for a loss.
The event will feature many former Rutgers football players, including Michael Burton and Tim Wright, who will be the honorary head coaches for the two teams.
Alumni Kenny Britt, Steve Longa, Leonte Carroo and Ka’Lial Glaud will also be on the sidelines.
The eventful day will start with the Middle School Combine and Skills Showcase, showcasing the top seventh and eighth graders. Coaches from high school powerhouses like Don Bosco Prep, Delbarton School and Paramus Catholic will be on hand to evaluate the middle schoolers.
The day continues with the groundbreaking of the Barbara and Gary Rodkin Academic Success Center. Situated behind the stadium on Scarlet Knight Way, the building will provide student athletes with tutoring resources as well as a training facility for the men’s and women’s soccer teams.
The Knights will be without some of its more vocal leaders to start Ash’s fourth year on the Banks, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Fifth-year senior defensive backs Isaiah Wharton and Saquan Hampton along with senior Blessuan Austin will test the NFL Draft, which starts April 25. The student athletes were a part of a Rutgers team that ranked in the top 20 for passing defense across FBS schools.
With the loss of Wharton at the cornerback position, sophomore defensive back Avery Young will fill his shoes. Young started 11 games last season, stepping into the cornerback role after Austin went down with season-ending knee surgery following the Texas Tech game on Sept. 1.
Young’s mentor this season, new cornerbacks coach Jay Valai, offers a wealth of experience at the position. A letter winner every season during his time as a student athlete at Wisconsin, Valai spent the past year with the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL.
Senior defensive back Damon Hayes played alongside Hampton, a free safety, this past season after spending 2016 and 2017 as a cornerback.
On the offensive side of the ball, sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski threw 18 interceptions last season and at one point led all of FBS in picks. At the Knights’ final spring practice yesterday, Sitkowski cleanly handled short passes towards his intended receivers.
The Rutgers offense last season saw running backs like junior Raheem Blackshear and sophomore Isaih Pacheco see action at the wideout spot. In fact, Blackshear lead the Knights with a total 367 yards, averaging 2.5 touchdowns.