Rutgers football hit another major academic milestone today, when the NCAA announced that the Scarlet Knights are yet again in the top 10 percent in Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores.
Rutgers is the only state school to be on the list for the fourth consecutive year, and the lone institution with three bowl wins in a four-year span in which it is in the APR top 10 percent.
"I'm really proud of our whole program," said head coach Greg Schiano in a teleconference. "There has been a culture established here where education is important and it's valued. I think that's from top to bottom."
The RU program is one of 14 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the top 10 percent this year.
Consistency is key for Schiano and his program. After finishing No. 1 overall last year, Rutgers remains in the top 10 percent.
The NCAA will release the full scores on May 24 to see exactly where Rutgers ranks, but the Scarlet Knights are expected to be in the top five. This year's scores encompass the 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
On the teleconference, Schiano said most of the credit goes to the academic support staff, headed by Scott Walker and assistant athletic director for student development Shawn Tucker.
Tucker, a former captain and starter on the Rutgers football team, now plays an instrumental role in the day-to-day academic development of all Rutgers athletic teams.
"I don't think many schools have a guy like Shawn in their programs," Schiano said. "Those are signs or symptoms of a place where it's very important."
The academic and football staff play a key role in academic development, but in the end, it comes down to the individuals succeeding in the classroom.
For Schiano, it is about getting young men to buy into the Rutgers culture and what it means to be a Scarlet Knight.
"If they really want it and they're willing to be part of something bigger than themselves, then that will coming shining through," Schiano said. "But if it's all about one guy and it's all about their own success and doing it their way, that probably won't work."
The process begins in recruiting where Schiano and his staff target high school students they believe are right for the program. On-field accolades are not the only thing that matters.
"When guys come into our program, and even before they join our program during recruiting, they understand that's what they're signing up for. If that's not what they want, then this is probably not the right place for them," Schiano said. "It really comes down to ... are they Rutgers men? Are they guys that are going to make the program or the family first and do things that maybe they don't always feel like doing because that's the way we do it here.
"You're accountable for your teammates and to your coaches and the whole Rutgers family. And that's the key in identifying if you're willing to do that."
A true sign of the coaching and academic support staff's interest in the student-athletes' lives comes when they fail to qualify.
In Rutgers' 2010 recruiting class, three recruits failed to academically qualify. But instead of writing them off, Schiano stuck with the trio and now Kenneth Kirksey, Djwany Mera and Tejay Johnson will all participate in training camp this August after time in prep school.
"I don't worry so much about the borderline academic guy because I think if they care and they love the game of football, they'll do the things the things that ask [them] to do academically," Schiano said.
Along with the football team, the gymnastics, tennis, men's cross country and women's soccer programs also received public recognition.
All four programs finished in the top 10 percent for their sport and recent Rutgers graduate and tennis star Amy Zhang is headed to Cambridge on a post-grad academic scholarship.
"Year in, and year out our student-athletes continue to strive to be the best in the classroom and we are excited to see the continued success," athletic director Tim Pernetti said in a statement. "We take pride in our department on establishing an environment of excellence for our student-athletes to earn degrees, become leaders and win championships. Congratulations to the coaches, academic advisers and student-athletes for this significant achievement."
Rutgers Remains in APR Top 10 Percent
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