Unsung Hero Enjoying Phoenix

It was a game of immense significance against a team that had owned them the previous year. Against a squad with an offensive style that had given Coach Schiano's Scarlet Knights fits too many times before. But Rutgers would be prepared this go around. Their method of training, former standout Shore Conference QB Vito Steriti became an on and off the field coach for a week.

Steriti's deep-rooted knowledge of the vaunted option would help prepare Rutgers like none had before.

So often it's the starting QB that gets all the pub. If not the starting QB, then perhaps the starting tailback.

Maybe a defensive standout, a LB or a Corner.

Many times, however, there is so much more that, and in particular, so many more, whose work behind the scenes are the eventual difference.

The difference between a win and a loss.

In Rutgers' case, it could have easily been the difference between the Insight Bowl and no bowl.

Vito Steriti had been around the option all his life at Toms River East. His high school coaches had left him to his own, allowed him the freedom to make his own mistakes and learn from them.

Until he could write his own option play-book.

Did all that experience ever come in handy in game number eight of the Scarlet Knight's season, a game that was made distinct due to Bowl eligibility now being on the line. Against a team that slapped Rutgers sideways and backwards the previous year.

"I ran the option in high school and my high school coaches gave me a lot of freedom back then. I knew all the positions, where everybody was supposed to be. And I knew that was supposed to be my week," stated Steriti.

Indeed it was his week. So much so that Steriti wasn't just running the offense on the field. He was running it off the field, talking to players and coaches alike after plays, ensuring everybody was on the same page.

"The whole team was listening to me that week. Our scout coaches said that if I told someone they were in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing, they'd have to listen to what I was saying," continued Steriti.

"That week was a great experience for me and for the team. All of us just bonded that week and it was so special for me."

Steriti, who sustained an injury toward the end of the Navy practice week and has been out of action since, is making the most of his week in Phoenix.

"The plane ride was a great experience. It was only the second time in my life I had been on a plane."

"We were all just watching movies, we all got gift packages and we were playing with our PSPs and just basically hanging out," said Steriti in reference to his inaugural bowl experience.

And then came the welcome. The one that took everybody, Coach Schiano included, by surprise.

"I really didn't expect them to welcome us the way they did. It's something that I'll remember my entire life," said Steriti.

Steriti's journey to Rutgers, and his nearly immediate help wasn't particularly smooth, but it certainly was abrupt. He had been looking for the scholarship offers, the ones that wouldn't come.

"I came to Rutgers because it was the best financially for me. A few days before camp I got a phone call from Coach Schiano and he told me he could really use me. It all happened pretty fast and by the start of training camp I had found a home."

"I'm staying here [at Rutgers]. Coach Schiano is great and all the coaches are great. Everything is together here, it is so much like a family and everybody on the team gets treated so fairly and equally. I love it here."

To see that he was on cloud nine was easy. From uncertainty about his future collegiate carreer to the instrumental cog the week of the Navy game and then finally, in a whirlwind of five months of time, to The Valley of The Sun.

Steriti's family wasn't able to make the trip to Phoenix. But they'll be watching. Three younger brothers and one older sister, including a younger sibling [6'2" and 215-pounds] that stars at MLB for Toms River East. His brother, likely headed for prep school next year, has a number of D1-AA schools interested. By this time next year, D1 schools, including Rutgers, may become serious suitors.

Until then, it's his time to be in the spotlight and his time to enjoy himself.

"I've been talking to my parents since I've been here. My dad basically said to just go and enjoy myself because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. My mom though, she's kind of mad though," said Steriti half-jokingly and half filled with a guilty conscience.

"She wanted me back home for Christmas with the family."

This year, Vito Steriti has plans. He's in Phoenix and Scottsdale, helping his team get ready and enjoying everything the area has to offer.

"Everything is so beautiful here. I mean, I've never seen mountains like this," stated Steriti.

"I can't wait to go out and tour and enjoy the city."

Please send any comments to Matei -- mgeorge@rutgersfootball.com. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss any aspect of Rutgers athletics with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message boards.

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