There may be leaders in the Rutgers linebacker battle, but nobody has a starting job yet.
Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann stressed the fact twice last week, and second-team MIKE linebacker Kevin Marquez showed exactly why at Saturday's open scrimmage.
Marquez sent his coaches a message in the ongoing competition. That message came in the form of two game-changing plays.
The former walk-on and now fifth-year senior read Hayden Rettig's eyes for a 15-yard interception return. That impact play came five drives after he forced a fumble.
“With the new staff here, everything here is competing,” Marquez said after a mid-week practice. “... Whether it's in the weight room, on the field, if they see that you're constantly competing and being consistent and you give great attitude and effort that moves you up the depth chart.”
Marquez also led the Rutgers defense with five tackles.
“It really clicked to me when I started digging my hands into the playbook, understanding the schemes and just trusting the coaches,” Marquez said. “[I am] trusting coach Niemann, coach [Chris] Ash, coach [Kenny] Parker and just going hard in everything. It started off with the weight room, going hard in the weight room. Once you get the mentality in the weight room, the mentality carries over onto the field. That's what we try to do.”
From Egg Harbor (N.J.) Township and Fork Union Military Academy, Marquez committed to Rutgers as a preferred walk-on. He earned a scholarship as a fullback shortly thereafter and also became an impact player on the kickoff team.
Marquez is close with other upperclassmen, including quarterback Chris Laviano and punter Tim Gleeson. He cited Detroit Lions fullback Michael Burton as an early Rutgers influence.
“I've been on scholarship for the last two or three years,” he said. “... Michael Burton, he taught me a lot. He taught me to get your head in the books, stay consistent, all that good stuff. It was good learning from him.”