Before Darius Hamilton suited up in primetime games for Rutgers, he attended them as a recruit.
Hamilton was the top prospect in the state out of Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep in the class of 2012. Prior to his eventual commitment to Rutgers, Hamilton visited during the Scarlet Knights’ 20-17 overtime win over South Florida in 2011.
“The atmosphere (was) crazy,” Hamilton said. “… When (Mohamed) Sanu catches the ball across his body on fourth down ... yeah, man, that was a crazy game. Great game. Atmosphere was ridiculous. People were ecstatic, man, players were energetic and it was just great to be a part of.”
Five years later, Hamilton is no longer a spectator.
Now a fifth-year senior and three-time captain, Hamilton leads the Scarlet Knights into their latest showdown under the lights in Piscataway. Rutgers (2-3, 0-2) battles No. 4 Michigan in a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday on national television.
“I’d rather be a player than a fan any day,” Hamilton said. “Maybe I’m a little biased, but it’s actually a lot of fun, man, just to take in the whole atmosphere, take in the fans, take in the crowd, take in all the emotions, all the energy flowing around. It’s just a great time.”
Fellow fifth-year senior and defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick recalled a similar visit experience. The Montclair (N.J.) product visited for a Friday night game in 2010 when Rutgers came back to beat UConn, 27-24.
“It was crazy, man,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “It was a great atmosphere. It was great energy in the air. … So that type of energy, that type of stuff, it’s definitely fun to see (as a recruit). I mean, that’s what you dream about.”
Between Hamilton and Pinnix-Odrick, their experiences as recruits in night games came when Rutgers played two average teams from the Big East.
So how much buzz does the challenge of a top-five opponent in Michigan bring for visitors?
“A lot, man,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “Like I said, it’s your dreams out there, what you wish to do one day. How much you can really envision yourself out there is really important for a recruit. It’s like, ‘Wow, I can really see myself in this situation.’ It’s the type of feelings you get. And so the biggest thing in recruiting would probably be the feeling of the recruit because it’s a process that you’ve never done before and that you’ll never do again. And so it’s really what makes you feel the best is going to sway your decision.”
Nick Arcidiacono echoed those sentiments. He also addressed the difference on the other side with the focus and approach as a participant in the game.
“Attending them as a recruit. … you’re kind of in awe when you see like, wow, the whole atmosphere of the big-time games,” Arcidiacono said. “And when you’re a player, it’s not. You don’t have that feel. It’s more you’re amped up, you’re ready to go, you know, obviously, you think about your assignments and the play calling for the game and all. But it’s more of just an amped up feeling compared to when you’re a recruit and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’”
Michigan (5-0, 2-0) enters as a 180-degree turnaround from two years ago. Rutgers pulled out a 26-24 final over the Wolverines for the first Big Ten win in program history.
Hamilton remembers the atmosphere vividly.
“Just the crowd, the energy, passion that was played with, everyone being fired up and there was never a doubt in our minds that we would be able to get the job done,” he said. “We just kept playing hard and obviously it came out in our favor.”
Pinnix-Odrick recalled how Rutgers fed off the energy from the home crowd in the annual blackout game.
“It came down to the couple of points and it was definitely a fun atmosphere, a crazy atmosphere,” he said. “There was a lot of belief in the air, a lot of fun, a lot of pride. Like I said, that’s all it’s going to take.”
With the number of high-profile recruits expected for Saturday out of the lengthy list of expected visitors, the build up comes full circle for Rutgers.
“You want to get back out there in front of your home crowd and really give them something,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “… So when we come out here week to week, you feel as thought you have something to prove to yourself, as a team. I really think it’s going to be my job this week to remind the guys what we do in this building and on this practice field this week will really dictate the type of results we get. It’s really about what we do and how to prepare.”