Two years into a return from Miami (Fla.), Kiy Hester still feels at home with Rutgers.
After Hester sat out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, the Wayne (N.J.) DePaul Catholic product stepped in right away as a redshirt freshman. He started seven times at safety in 10 games for a depleted Scarlet Knights secondary.
Now on the precipice of Hester's sophomore season, takes the little things from last year into his daily approach to training camp this year.
“I got a lot of experience,” Hester said. “Now I know how to prepare for games. (The) main thing coach (Kenny) Parker stresses us is getting in a routine before games and practices, so I kind of have an idea of my routine and the way to practice during the week leading up to big games. You’ve got to be locked in and focused even in just warm-ups, just shutting out everyone outside and just focusing on the game, game planning and the team you’re playing.”
In a green, non-contact jersey for recent practices and out of pads for one, Hester took it upon himself to attend practice and stay in the mix with the defense.
“(To attend practice last Friday and look on) was a personal decision,” he said. “Coach (Chris) Ash wants everyone out there. I mean, if you can, be out there getting mental reps and stuff and just locked in, paying attention to your positions. So that’s definitely a benefit — getting ready to prepare for a game, soon in two weeks.”
Hester covered ground in the secondary last year with 36 tackles and an interception, but he finds himself as the backup to begin 2016.
Senior Anthony Cioffi, a four-year starter in the defensive backfield, has the upper hand on the starting spot on the strong side after he slides over from free safety.
Hester, who battled Davon Jacobs last fall at strong safety and eventually filled in for the injured upperclassman, said he still prepares diligently.
“It definitely doesn’t bother me,” said Hester, who later added he studies Cioffi’s game. “That’s just fuel to me practicing harder, going out there and encouraging my guys. I mean, I’ve always been in a position battle.
“Last year, I was in the same thing. So my main thing is just helping the team anywhere, just being ready and just be ready to play … but obviously, I want to start and obviously fight for a position. But anywhere I be on the field, I’m just trying to benefit anywhere — special teams, defense.”
Hester welcomes the change in scheme. The aggressive approach in the press-man coverage and emphasis to finish on tackles is new but necessary, he said.
“We do tackling every day we have pads, so you know that’s a big emphasis,” Hester said. “(With) coach Ash, that’s one of the main things we focus on is being one of the best tackling teams in the country, so we do a lot of tackling drills, a lot of open-field tackling stuff, a lot of red-zone tackling, so that’s one of his big emphasis is for us to improve and I feel like that’s one of the things in the spring and now we were working on to improve and I feel like we’ve done a good job at that.”
Whether Hester is on the field as a starter, a part-timer in packages or as a backup, he said feels comfortable wherever he ends up. To back that up, Hester pointed to his spurts experience in nickel and dime packages.
“Me, Saquan (Hampton), Anthony (Cioffi) — the big three, I guess, if you want to say — we’re working right now,” Hester said. “So the main thing is just getting in the rotation and just playing hard and just doing what coach asks us to do. That’s the main thing right now.”