The last time Ross Douglas suited up for a primetime game at Rutgers, he dressed in maize and blue for Michigan in 2014.
He still recalls the scene vividly.
“First thing, I just remember us losing,” Douglas said. “The fans were rushing the field. That’s the biggest thing I remember. The third downs got really loud. I just remember it being a great atmosphere.”
When the Scarlet Knights (2-3, 0-2) face the No. 4 Wolverines (5-0, 2-0) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Douglas reports to the home sideline this time at High Point Solutions Stadium. The junior defensive back graduate-transferred from Michigan to Rutgers in January.
The matchup stirs a reunion of sorts for Douglas, who was a reserve running back in his three years with the Wolverines.
“I prepare for every game the same way, but I would be sitting here lying to you if I was saying (the Michigan game) didn’t have a little bit extra emotion or motivation to it,” Douglas said. “So I just got to keep my emotions in check and just continue to prepare the way I know how to.”
Injuries limited Douglas’ overall activity in the first five games, but this week offers a chance to make an impact again on defense.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder made his debut in the opener at Washington with two tackles and half a sack. He left the home opener against Howard due to injury.
Douglas did not dress against New Mexico and did not play the next week against Iowa. Last week, he returned to the field in a special-teams role at No. 2 Ohio State.
“Coaches didn’t feel like I was physically well enough to contribute in a game (on defense) yet,” he said. “I’ve been battling some injuries throughout this year, but I’m getting better.”
Head coach Chris Ash echoed those sentiments when he addressed the reason behind that decision.
“Ross had been injured, got hurt in the Howard game,” he said. “But he’s not 100 percent, but we slowly got him back last week and he was able to do a couple things on special teams. Knowledge and football IQ is not an issue for Ross at all. It’s just being able to go out and play.”
As the main backup to sophomore cornerbacks Blessuan Austin and Isaiah Wharton, Douglas saw time at the nickel in the first two weeks of the season. In the week of practice leading up to Ohio State, he lined up at safety.
When it comes to his role in the secondary, Douglas said he is open to multiple positions.
“Wherever coach Ash tells me to play, that’s where I got to play,” Douglas said. “So I’m open to whatever. Whether the safety, nickel, corner, I’m here. … So I don’t know what the plan is about easing me back in, but I mean, whatever they tell me to do, I’m all for it.”
Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann commended Douglas’ approach through the injuries.
“Very coachable, great kid, hard worker,” Niemann said of Douglas. “Very, very smart football player. Got a lot of good football IQ. He offers a lot. What his status is from a health standpoint, that’s up to the trainers at this point. … But I think he’s going to contribute, definitely, and there’s going to be a role for him, for sure, on this team as we move forward.”
Wherever Douglas lines up against the Wolverines, he will do so around familiar faces. Douglas said he regularly keeps in touch with his former teammates.
But when it comes down to Saturday and the game itself, Douglas’ approach is strictly business.
“I’m in a group chat with about 10 of them,” he said. “So I talk to them on the daily — not just about football, but just about everything. We’re really good friends, so I keep in close touch with all of them.
“It’ll be fun. It’ll be like those old days on State Street practicing with all those guys. … But we’re trying to win a ballgame, so all emotions got to be set aside. We got to play to win.”