If Jan. 14 was a “big day for Rutgers” in the words of Bill Belichick, then Super Bowl Sunday must be gargantuan.
In the words of Rutgers football head coach Chris Ash, it doesn't get any better than Feb. 5 in Houston.
“I think it's great for Rutgers football,” Ash said. “You've got five players that played here that are in the Super Bowl, and it doesn't get any better than that. I think it shows a lot of people that you can achieve your dreams and your goals here at Rutgers. You don't need to go to a certain logo or a certain conference to be developed to play at the highest level. You can do that right here.”
For the New England Patriots, the defensive-back trio of Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon represent impact players with championship experience. Former Rutgers defensive end Jonathan Freeny heads to the Super Bowl on injured reserve for New England.
In Atlanta, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu found the right home after a free-agency move from the Cincinnati Bengals. Sanu dominated alongside quarterback Matt Ryan in a blowout over the Green Bay Packers. Back at the Hale Center, the 2017 Scarlet Knights watched with pride.
“I think it's awesome,” Ash said. “They're just as excited for people who go on and have a great career in business. These guys are at the top of their profession. A lot of these guys have watched their careers from the time they were at Rutgers to where they are now. There's a lot of smiles on all of the players. People are all over social media talking about how Rutgers has the most former players playing in the Super Bowl. Those are proud players and a lot of guys that want to, some day, be on that type of a list also. Hopefully it motivates them to work a little bit harder.”
Rutgers enjoys the boast of more players on Super Bowl roster than any other college in the country. It gives the program both pride and recruiting ammunition.
“To make it to the Super Bowl takes a lot more than one or two players,” Ash said. “It takes a special team. Our job here is to help develop them to be the best that they can be. If we do that, the players will have an opportunity to go to the next level and play in the NFL.”
“Knights in the Super Bowl” also includes Patriots safeties coach Steve Belichick. Belichick played four years of lacrosse for Rutgers before he spent a fifth season under Greg Schiano's wing as a long-snapper and coach in training.
The five Rutgers products in action come from significantly different backgrounds.
McCourty played in North Jersey but lived in New York. Sanu grew up in Central Jersey with Ryan coming out of South Jersey. Harmon came from Delaware and Freeny as one of many Florida success stories.
Harmon held the highest Scout ranking as the No. 9 cornerback and a three-star recruit.
“It's a great statement for the area in which we recruit for those kids that come and consider Rutgers their home,” said director of high school relations Rick Mantz. “Chris said it when he got here. We don't need satellite camps. There are kids within a three-hour car ride to this campus. You're seeing that now with those guys in the Super Bowl. Greg Schiano is the one that trained those guys, but at the same time if you look at Chris' track record – Eli Apple and all of those guys that played on his last defense at Ohio State – he's going to do everything Greg did and perhaps more in terms of developing kids.”
The Rutgers recruiting team is already hard at work to make sure 2017 prospects and beyond know the significance of Super Bowl Sunday. Recruiting staff member Dan Spittal personally coached Logan Ryan at Voorhees (N.J.) Eastern, and is ready to spread the message.
“I'm old enough now to know what it looks like on 16-millimeter, VHS and DVD and now on the computer,” Spittal said. “Good players all look the same no matter what medium you look at. Knowing that [Ryan] came up here and did well academically, he was a two-time All-Big East academic kid. He was a third-round pick in the NFL draft. That kind of says, yeah, if you come here, the sky is the limit for you.”