Since 1946 The Football Writer's Association of America has selected the best offensive or defensive lineman in college football. This year's pre-season Outland Trophy Watch List included none other than Rutgers' defensive tackle Ramel Meekins.
The 6-foot and 275-pound product by way of Westwood, New Jersey, saw his role increase significantly in 2005 as a result of nailing down one of the four hands-down spots during the 2005 spring training camp. The 2006 Sporting News All-Big East pre-season second team selection has seen his stock rise in recent years in similar fashion to the team he plays for. After pummeling opposing quarterbacks in 2005 and notching 9.0 sacks to go along with his 63 tackles, it's become easy to forget that Meekins' didn't always play the role of seasoned veteran on a bowl-quality team.
"When I first came here, I had to work hard - that was one of my main goals - because I was working for minimum playing time," stated Meekins.
Playing for minimum playing time would be putting it quite mildly. Aspiring to be the next Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger would be more like it. While it's unlikely that he'll be carried off the field in the same fashion that Rudy was, it is worth remembering the circumstances that landed Meekins to Rutgers.
He was too small. Vertically-challenged.
That in a nutshell was it.
He brought his work ethic, wrestling scholarship, and ability to use his all-important wrestling-learned leverage with him to Rutgers but had to earn the trust and respect of his football peers. Amazing what a lot of belief and motivation can accomplish.
"Coming off the bowl and a starting season, I'm just trying to solidify my spot as a starter again. Because I'm still competing, and as you know nothing is guaranteed in life so I have to go out there like everybody else and compete for my starting spot. That's the way I look at things right now. I have to continue to work hard, never forget what got me here and what's going to keep me here and continue to work so that I can go to where I need to be because I'm nowhere near there right now."
If he sounds a little humble, then you've caught on. It's probably what makes this Rutgers team one of the most intriguing in Rutgers Football history. The team does not lack stars, but the individuals themselves hardly know it, or even care to know it.
"I think the biggest strength [in this team] is the chemistry and I don't think it's just this team, I think it's been developed over the years. Now they understand what it is going to take," stated Coach Schiano during the Scarlet Knights' check-in earlier this week.
"I still have strides and improvements to make in my game. Hard work, motivation, probably my background, the way I was brought up was among hard working people. All these things taught me to just persevere," continued Meekins.
From a vertically-challenged, undersized tackle with nearly no shot at Division-1 ball, to the team's fifth leading tackler. That's quite the impressive ride for the Garden State native.
"Right now we have to take a look at ourselves and try to be the best we can be. Right now we're just focusing on ourselves. Pretty much, we've just been working on the individual things that we need to take care of so that we become better players. We've been doing our 1-on-1s, pass rushing, and just working on a lot of technical things, just as far as critiquing a lot of small little things that people may overlook. We're trying to fine tune those things and get that to become instinct."
With preparation ongoing for, not only opening weekend, but the 2006 season, Meekins and Co. have continued on the same track that they left off last season. And perhaps the most important attribute gained from the success of 2005 was the simple idea of learning how to win.
"We have confidence in ourselves and if people look at us differently that's fine. We just have to do the things we need to do no matter what outside factors are out there. They don't have anything to do with how we do things. We're going to continue to do our job until the last whistle blows."
Matei may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org