On the precipice of a pivotal junior year, Isaiah Wharton made it clear that he is the best version of himself.
“I feel like this is the biggest, strongest, fastest I’ve ever been,” said Wharton, who has 24 consecutive starts. “Coach (Kenny Parker), credit to him and his staff. They’re constantly on us, just making sure, just pushing us to our limits. I feel like this is the strongest and fastest I’ve ever been.”
At 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, Wharton has the physical tools on the surface to be successful in Chris Ash’s pressman scheme.
“I’ve made tremendous strides,” Wharton said. “The offseason — me, Bless and Damon, we work every single day, just working on our craft, our man technique. I feel like I’ve come a long way from last season. I’ve gotten a lot better.”
While the departure of Aaron Henry was a tough pill to swallow for Wharton, he said the cornerbacks did not miss a beat when Henry Baker took over.
“(Baker) has a lot of experience,” Wharton said. “A little bit of an older guy, but he also has that juice out here. Same energy as coach Henry has. I like both coaches.
“At the end of the day, we’re still playing the same scheme. Ash is watching over us. (Defensive backs) coach (Bill) Busch is constantly on us. Coach Baker coming in, he’s a real technician, so it’s more less scheme stuff because we’re getting older now, so we know this. As far as our craft and technician, he has a lot of experience, so he’s able to help us with that.”
While Baker has not been around Wharton and Austin for long, he sees the progress in both juniors physically at cornerback and mentally as leaders on the defense.
“With (Austin and Wharton) being older, the maturity level comes out,” Baker said. “In terms of how they practice, just being able to take charge, leading that group. Those guys have really shown their maturity and them being veterans in that way.
“They’re making plays, and you can see they’re trying to help the guys underneath and they’re really trying to be leaders on the defense. Not just in our room, but in the defense in terms of just making sure that we’re competing the right way and the culture’s what we want.”
With 21 games spent as a starter opposite of Austin, Wharton said the communication between the two comes naturally.
“At this point, we’re always on the same page,” Wharton said. “We have a feel for each other now. We know both of our strengths and weaknesses. We’re on the same page, and we’re playing really good football right now.”
The cohesion extends to Hayes as the third corner and into the back end of the secondary with safeties Saquan Hampton and Kiy Hester.
“The chemistry between me, Bless, Damon, Saquan and Kiy is better than it’s ever been, and we’re all on a cord right now,” Wharton said. “So I’m feeling really good about where we’re at.”
Wharton is not coy on how he thinks he and the unit can end up. He reiterated his previous sentiments that his goal is to help bring Rutgers back to its DBU prominence.
“We say that every day, and we really stand by it and we put in the work to make sure that’s a goal for us,” Wharton said. “That’s a real big goal. I feel like if we got the talent, we got the ability, we got great coaching, I feel like if we put in the work, we can make that step.”