Rutgers Now Synonymous with NFL

NEW YORK -- Rutgers went from having a handful of players on NFL rosters to having two dozen players in the league. When many of those players gathered at a charity function earlier this month, they spoke with great pride of having so many former Scarlet Knights playing in the NFL.

NEW YORK – When Greg Schiano became Rutgers' head coach following the 2000 season, there were a handful of Scarlet Knights trickled throughout the NFL.

The current count has 23 players on active and practice NFL rosters, and the guys who made the Scarlet Knights a household NFL name are aware of it, and proud of it.

"I'm in Indianapolis with (former Rutgers defensive tackle) Eric Foster, and every week it's a homecoming," Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. "We're going to see another guy. You just love seeing the guys around the league."

In Schiano's first 10 years, Rutgers had 45 players sign NFL contracts, and it impacts the players with the program.

New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said watching former Scarlet Knights play in the NFL served as motivation, and provided a level of comfort, in his development from standout college cornerback to first-round draft pick.

"It shows there's a possibility," McCourty said. "I think it's proven now that you can go to Rutgers, you can be a good player there and then have a future in the pros. When I was a (Rutgers) player watching guys I played with in the NFL, and then doing well, I was excited because I knew some day I'd have a shot to be there, too."

Before the influx of talent that led to 13 Rutgers players being drafted in the last four years, running back Brian Leonard was the face of the program.

Leonard, speaking at his charity bowling event to benefit the Embrace Kids Foundation earlier this month, was drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft by the St. Louis Rams, and spent the last two years with the Cincinnati Bengals.

"When we went to Rutgers, coach Schiano said we were going to turn this program around and have guys going to the NFL," Leonard said. "When I first got there, I think there were a couple of guys, like Gary Brackett and Shaun O'Hara. It was basically those two, and now I think we have 25 guys in the league.

"It's amazing how we've turned that program around and how many guys are going in the league. It just shows you coach Schiano is not only recruiting great athletes, but great people, too."

Leonard's visibility at Rutgers helped the Scarlet Knights build its program.

"I take a lot of pride in it, and I think my class, and the class before me takes a lot of pride because when we went to Rutgers, it wasn't an easy thing to do," he said. "We had a lot of criticism going there, and a lot of people telling us to go elsewhere, and a lot of us had scholarship (offers) to go elsewhere.

"It wasn't an easy thing to do, and coach Schiano told us, ‘We're going to turn this program around. We're going to win national championships here.' He said, ‘You know what? We might not do it when you're here, but you're going to be the foundation that built this program and you'll know you did that.' "

Rutgers' all-time leading rusher Ray Rice said it is a combination of aspects within the program and the approach by Schiano that has enabled players to excel in the NFL.

"We have the cream of the crop for facilities there," said Rice, who now stars for the Baltimore Ravens. "I know they've gotten better since I was there. Coach Schiano has a program not only to teach you to become a good football player and a better person, but also you can be a great pro if you come out of there."

Brackett, who signed as a free agent with the Colts out of Rutgers, is one of 29 players to take the markedly tougher path of going from non-drafted free agent to making an NFL roster, and he attributes it to the way Schiano runs the program.

"He ran an NFL-type training camp, and that really prepared me when I got to the NFL,' Brackett said. "I was already prepared for what was to come. Same schedule, same meetings, same installation. When I went to Indianapolis, it was an easy transition."

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