Relief efforts see aid from Booker, RU

Knight notebook

<p>Senior defensive end Marvin Booker, right, enlisted the help of 20 teammates Saturday in organizing a pickup football game for children displaced by Hurricane Sandy at Werblin Recreation Center on Busch Campus.</p>

Senior defensive end Marvin Booker, right, enlisted the help of 20 teammates Saturday in organizing a pickup football game for children displaced by Hurricane Sandy at Werblin Recreation Center on Busch Campus.

Marvin Booker watched Thursday as the Werblin Recreation Center on Busch campus underwent its most significant makeover in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The basketball courts where Booker and the rest of the Rutgers football team had just played gave way to cots, members of the Red Cross and scattered Army personnel.

“It had me a little depressed, but it made me really, really excited to be there,” said Booker, a senior defensive end. “You could see they really needed you.”

Booker wasted little time.

He originally planned on volunteering by passing out water. But after noticing the facility was understaffed, Booker texted teammates, 20 of which returned Saturday to play a pickup game of football with the shelter’s children.

“I thought that was something that was really important that we need to help out the kids, put a smile on their faces,” Booker said. “Maybe their parents would be happier and the stress, the tension would drop a little bit.”

While some Scarlet Knights returned home during the team’s bye week, Booker found himself in the thick of his native Piscataway. Booker’s mother graduated from Rutgers. He remembers coming to Rutgers games where so little attended that stadium personnel were forced to give away tickets.

But following one of the most consequential storms New Jersey has ever seen, Booker came face to face with people who viewed Piscataway as only a temporary stop.

Werblin, the largest recreation center on campus, housed droves of transplanted Atlantic City natives last week, driven away from the tourist attraction by Hurricane Sandy’s fierce toll along the New Jersey coast.

But as Booker and his teammates turned to leave for Livingston campus Saturday, he had only one person in mind.

“I was talking to this little kid,” he said. “He was all excited, had the most energy out of everybody. I said, ‘We’re going to go now. We’re going to go to the other place and help out the other people there.’ He just dropped. He got really sad like he was about to start crying. It bothered me a lot.”

As Booker turned away, about 15 buses en route to Atlantic City picked up the storm’s refugees, who initially did not expect to return until today. Buses also arrived at the Livingston Recreation Center, where more storm victims retreated for home earlier than anticipated.

The Knights enjoyed a similar swing of good luck.

The team dealt with little devastation, and only three players remained without power. Head coach Kyle Flood said the staff worked to remedy their problems.

“I think you have plans and then you have things that happen in life that are more important than your plans,” Flood said. “I think that's what happened last week.”

Flood’s power did not return until late Friday, nearly a week into the team’s bye. Several assistants still operated without power.

But bigger issues remain at stake, Booker said.

“When I saw him just drop like that and I saw his face duck,” Booker said of the little boy, “all I told him was, ‘Keep your head up and make sure you take care of your mom.’ And it’s crazy because as a 5-year-old, it resonated with him.”

The Knights continue to use shin guards in preparation for Army’s offensive line, which uses cut blocks to spring its run-heavy offense. They put them on for the first time in two practices last week and will do so through Saturday’s game at High Point Solutions Stadium.

“That’s part of their scheme,” said senior defensive end Ka’Lial Glaud. “We have to protect ourselves at all times.”

Freshman kicker Kyle Federico has yet to kick with a live rush since suffering a hip injury Oct. 6 against Connecticut, but Flood said he improved during Sunday’s practice, kicking with live timing and speed.

Federico, who has missed the last three games, would remain in a reserve role should he not near 100 percent.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.

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