Graduate transfers Anderson and Harte look to solidify Rutgers kicking game
Some might say it isn't very easy to step onto a power-5 campus and leapfrog a Big Ten record holder on the depth chart in just 4 weeks of camp.
But when the record in question is junior Michael Cintron's Big Ten record for total punts in a season -- not exactly a desirable one -- there is an opportunity for a player to step in and make an immediate impact.
That is exactly what former Division III All-American and graduate-transfer Ryan Anderson has done for the Rutgers Football team.
Special teams coach Vince Okruch officially named him the starter on Thursday and didn't hold back the praise for his punter.
"Ryan has much greater distance. He kicks a deeper ball. Michael's had a good fall camp but Ryan kicks the ball 7 to 10 yards further," Okruch said. "That's not a reflection of Michael not doing what he's supposed to in the offseason and not getting better as fall camp went on. It's just Ryan has performed better."
Anderson is as proven as they come on the field, as he set a Division III record averaging 46.2 yards per punt in 2016.
Most people were aware of who Anderson was and what he had accomplished at his previous stop at Olivet. But nothing was guaranteed at Rutgers and he still had to battle with an incumbent starter with plenty of experience.
"I knew what I had to do and I just wanted to compete with Mike and do the best that I could do each and every day," Anderson said after Thursday's practice.
Now as the starter, Anderson will be pressured with performing at a position that Rutgers hasn't had success at in what seems like forever. But even if he isn't at the same level he was at in 2016, Anderson could still go down as one of the better punters to ever wear a Rutgers jersey.
The school record for punting average sits a 44.2 yards per punt, courtesy of Joe Radigan back in 2006 and if Anderson is even in the same ballpark as he was in 2016, that record should be his.
Needless to say, for the first time in a while, the Knights will not have to worry the punting situation.
The same can't be said for kicker, as there is still a wide open competition at that spot. True freshman Justin Davidovicz, senior David Bonagura and graduate-transfer Andrew Harte are all fighting for the right to kick extra points and field goals, but none have established themselves, according to Okruch.
"Coaches create a lot of situations in practice for them to come out and kick in what would be considered a pressure situation and neither one's been consistent enough for us to name a starter," he said.
Like Anderson, Harte is a graduate transfer, although from a very different background. He spent 4 seasons at fellow Big Ten school Minnesota but barely got on the field.
Rutgers offers a clean slate for Harte, who has looked like the best kicker in training camp. He boasts a strong leg but still doesn't have the accuracy to make the coaches comfortable. Bonagura, on the other hand, offers pinpoint accuracy from short range, which has kept him in the race.
Harte will try to be one of the many graduate-transfers on the Rutgers roster to earn a starting spot, joining Anderson, wide receiver Damon Mitchell, quarterback Kyle Bolin and potentially running back Gus Edwards. Player like Harte can be crucial for rebuilding a program, as they give a head coach a year of strong play, while offering up knowledge to the younger players.
In Harte's case, that is Davidovicz, who has already earned a starting job as the kickoff specialist.
"I think he has the potential to be a phenomenal (place) kicker," Harte said.
But Davidovicz might not be ready for that responsibility this year, with two players in their final years of eligibility holding a slight edge over the freshman.
Whether it is Bonagura and his reliability inside 40 yards or Harte and his powerful leg, the choice is up to Okruch, who said he does not want to use two kickers. With just a week until the season opener, a kicker must be chosen soon, and Harte is hoping he can improve his consistency enough to win the job.
He noted that in practice the other day, he made a 53-yard field goal in a game situation. With Bonagura's range seemingly maxed out at 41 yards, if Harte can improve his accuracy in the upcoming week, the job should be his. He expects that out of himself and his approach to kicking, if successful, would be a dream of some sorts for Rutgers fans.
"If its a 50 yarder or in, theres no doubt in my mind that I should be able to do it," he said.
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