Quarterback, It's a Jersey Thing

One needs to look back to National Signing Day of 1999 to find a New Jersey high school quarterback that succeeded at one BCS school after leaving the Garden State for college. Meanwhile, Rutgers developed arguably the top two passers in its school history by recruiting New Jersey within the same time frame. Scout.com goes in-depth on the position as Rutgers prepares for its game against Michigan.

Maybe Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were on to something in writing “We Take Care of Our Own” – at least when it comes to playing quarterback.

The best college quarterbacks from the Garden State were ones that did so within the state. One has to look back 15 years to find a quarterback that left New Jersey and experienced BCS success. No New Jersey high school quarterback found BCS success out of state, without transferring, since Chris Simms signed with Texas in 1999.

Simms was an All Big 12 quarterback, and the only Jersey guy to find an NFL career during that timeframe. David Garrard, born in East Orange, N.J., of Jacksonville Jaguars fame made it in the same timeframe, but played high school football in Durham, N.C.

Joe Flacco did the same, but had to transfer down to Delaware after signing with Pittsburgh in 2003.

Since Simms in 1999, 18 quarterbacks left New Jersey to play at the BCS level. Ten of them subsequently transferred, including names like Matt Simms, Chris Olsen, Joe Dailey, Flacco and Dom Natale. Five quarterbacks moved to another position including Devin Fuller, Damon Mitchell and Brett Brackett. The rest never found playing time, however Sean Maguire’s career sits at TBD behind Jameis Winston at Florida State.

The only two quarterbacks to do it at the same school at the BCS level since Simms? Mike Teel and Gary Nova. They both did it in state at Rutgers.

Teel and Nova are by far the most successful one-school BCS quarterbacks of the 26 New Jersey produced since Simms signed with Texas.

What defines a successful career? For Teel, it means three bowl victories, a bowl MVP trophy, two years as a team captain, a spot in the 2009 NFL Draft and five still-standing school passing records.

For Nova, success means a spot as the school’s all-time passing touchdown leader with half a season left to raise the number. Through plenty of lows along the way, Nova has 33 career starts at Rutgers, two years as a captain and the chance for a special senior season with the Scarlet Knights now in the Big Ten. Nova’s four touchdowns last week cement his spot as one of the top quarterbacks in modern Rutgers history.

“I think what helps quarterbacks is having a great support system around them because it’s such a pressure-filled job to have,” said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, who has been on staff since Teel’s first year as a starter. “The only person in the program as recognizable as the head coach is the quarterback. It’s a unique position on the team, and I think it’s a unique position in public. When you have a great support system around you, it really helps you have success.”

Adversity is part of being a big-time quarterback, and Flood credits the support system at Rutgers and the chance to be around family as helping both passers find success.

When times got tough for Teel – infamously booed on Homecoming as a senior, playing through injuries as a junior or benched for Ryan Hart as a redshirt freshman – he had the support he needed. Rutgers has a history of taking care of its own, Flood said.

“It’s not just going to be all success,” Flood said. “There’s going to be some stumbles. There’s going to be some negative games or tough plays. To overcome that, you need a great support system. I would think being at home would lend yourself to having a great support system.”

Nova’s low .points are well documented. Benched in 2011 and 2013 for Chas Dodd for poor decision-making, the Rutgers family helped him bounce back but so did his biological family that lives within an hour of Piscataway.

“I think it helps having family close,” Flood said. “I think it helps having high school coaches in the area who can come down to practice or can go to a game and see you. I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind that all of those things help every player, but when you’re the quarterback, even more so.”

The Rutgers support system shines through academically where it ranks among the best in the nation in the Academic Progress Report. Rutgers puts an emphasis on personal development as well as football.

“I think that has been the biggest improvement – just growing up and becoming a better person,” Nova said. “Some of the things up here that we do off the field, community service and things that this program has allowed me to do, has helped me a lot.”

And then there is the pride factor.

New Jersey takes plenty of negative attention from other areas of the country, but the people from the Garden State are beyond proud of their roots. Everyone knows that guy or girl from New Jersey that cannot stop talking about it.

“I think for me, just being home and being able to give back to my community and impact New Jersey, my home state, means a lot,” said Nova, who grew up in Elmwood Park, N.J. “Being around my family and continuing to grow with my friends that I’ve known since I was young, I get to see them grow up also. I think you can’t get that when you go away from home.”

Nova initially committed to Pittsburgh in high school, but had reservations even before the Panthers fired head coach Dave Wannstedt. He flipped to Rutgers, and raved about the chance to play at home for coach Greg Schiano.

Four years later, Nova realizes that the meaning of staying home is something a 17-year old kid cannot fully understand.

“You say that when you’re young, but you don’t know what it means yet,” Nova said. “You say ‘I want to say home’ because it sounds cool. Now that I’m older, you realize how much of an impact it’s had on everything on and off the field.

“My cousin had a baby, and I was able to be there for the baptism. It’s things like that. Being home, being at the tailgates with all of my family there, my dad comes to every game. It’s little things like that, that you’re able to do and also just representing New Jersey.”

Rutgers has 56 New Jersey players on its 2014 roster, and there is something to the chemistry between them.

Just ask Nova and leading receiver Leonte Carroo, who caught three touchdowns against Tulane last week.

New Jersey players come together quickly, said Rutgers, SNY and Big Ten Network analyst Ray Lucas.

“When you come from Jersey, there’s some kind of bond that you have with everybody from New Jersey.,” Lucas said. “I’m not lying when I say that once I got to the pros, the Jersey guys it was almost like we already knew each other. Not because I went to Rutgers, but if you’re Jersey, be Jersey. If you love here then stay here. Put our state on the map. I get it. I was on the [official] visits and for basketball as well. In the end it came down to two different things. I’m from New Jersey and I’m a momma’s boy. I couldn’t go away from my mom.”

Lucas played quarterback at Rutgers over multiple BCS offers and interest as a basketball player as well. After throwing for 5,896 yards and 40 touchdowns at Rutgers, the former New York Jets starter fits the same mold of quarterbacks that stayed in-state to find success.

Staying home in college, and the high point in his NFL career, was also special for Lucas as a self-proclaimed “momma’s boy.”

“I’m proud to say I went to Rutgers,” Lucas said. “I’m proud that I stayed home. You can leave, but you’re going to get the axe. … Family is important because let’s face it, you’re still a young man growing up at school. [If] you’re going through something, you can call your mother and say you’re not doing too well and they can be there in 30 minutes, an hour. What are they going to do in Texas? Fly out here?”

“Stay home and play Big Ten football” is a strong part of Flood’s sale’s pitch for Rutgers in recruiting. The message gets stronger when 2015 and 2016 prospects see two former four-stars commit to Rutgers as transfers in the last month.

“I don’t think you realize what you mean about staying home until you’ve actually done it,” Nova said. “It means a lot more when you sit back and think about it now that you’re not a kid anymore.”

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