To the surprise and befuddlement of the Scarlet faithful Brandon Renkhart had won a starting position at linebacker. At the time of the announcement during the preseason many fans were wondering if the Rutgers defense had been so damaged by the loss of defensive standouts Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby that the special teams were being cannibalized for bodies. Sure everyone remembered Renkhart, he was the guy who intercepted the ball to seal the game against Pittsburgh during the 2005 season, but a starter? The worries about the defense not being as good as last year's are gone as are the worries about starting a former walk-on that used to be on offense.
Brandon came to Rutgers from Piscataway High School, a mere stones' throw away from Rutgers Stadium, where he was the starting quarterback. During his senior season he led the team to a 12-0 record and the Group IV state championship with help from his fellow Scarlet Knight Devraun Thompson. He came to Rutgers as a walk-on and won a scholarship. Originally coming onto the team he was working with the quarterbacks and special teams. But this past spring Schiano moved him to the other side of the ball and told him to start learning the linebacker's position.
For Brandon this would be no easy task. He would have to learn the entire system that Head Coach Schiano had implemented since taking over the duties as coach of the defense last season.
"I had to learn the defense as a concept to learn my position," said Renkhart. He also watched a load of film over the summer and consulted with teammates Devraun Thompson and Quintero Frierson on technique. He truly threw his whole weight into making the switch: "since I got here I've been eating, eating, lifting, drinking shakes (the protein variety). I've put on 15 pounds since I got here," said Renkhart.
Hey, who better to put at linebacker than a player that has experience in the quarterback position? "You understand what the offense is trying to do conceptually - are they more likely to run or go for the first down," added Renkart. It's a slight edge that has given his journey onto the defensive side of the ball an extra level of depth. He has learned to translate what the quarterback is seeing into a counter against the offenses' adjustment. By doing whatever the coaches asked of him, Brandon proved he deserved a starting spot on the roster.
Being able to play at Rutgers has been a terrific experience for Brandon because it has kept him close to home. "I get e-mails from people I went to high school with saying, ‘great job, saw you playing in the game,' it's nice. A lot of people from my hometown come to the games and that is a great feeling," said Renkhart.
Having that kind of local support makes starting for this team that much more special. Renkhart also told us that once he steps onto the field at game time the fans and the noise fades out. The action on the field is all that he can be concerned with because if you let yourself get caught up in the moment you will make a mistake.
When he isn't in the film room reviewing game tape, practicing on the field, or in Rutgers luxurious weight room pounding away, you will find him in the classroom. He's studying civil engineering and is looking to design either bridges or corporate buildings. With the help of a close friend currently attending NJIT for architecture he is hoping they can put their heads together after school.
Swarming to the Ball
The game statistics in football don't always tell the story as many games end with a whirlwind finish of Hail Marys or fumbled opportunities (see Notre Dame v. Michigan State 2006). The same can be said for the impact Renkhart has had on this defense that can be referred to as "The Swarm." Even if he wasn't credited with the tackle he has still made his presence known as the defense has taken on a gang-tackling mentality: everyone gets to the ball.
"The Swarm is a great way to describe our defense, that's what we're doing. You may mess up on an assignment but as long as you are going to the ball hard you have a chance to make something happen. When fumbles come out, having all those players around you improves the chance of getting it," said Renkhart.
Not to say that Renkhart doesn't have the stellar statistics to cite, he most certainly does. He is 6th on the team in tackles with 27, 7 tackles for a loss, 2 ½ sacks, oh and the one that people love about him: 3 recovered fumbles. He was the guy who simply stripped USF quarterback Matt Grothe of the football, fell on the blocked punt in the end zone against Illinios, and laid a crushing blow on Tyler Palko not once, but twice.
With the 3rd best scoring defense in the country, it's safe to suggest your putting down the Alka Seltzer and enjoy some dominating defense in Piscataway featuring some homegrown talent.