Junior linebacker Kevin Malast is tied for the team lead with 91 tackles. Junior defensive end Jamaal Westerman led the team with eight sacks. Sophomore linebacker Ryan D'Imperio showed flashes of regaining his old form after battling back from a leg injury. Freshman safety Joe Lefeged filled in admirably when Ron Girault went down for a few weeks; and finally, sophomore linebacker Damaso Munoz was a constant all season among the team leaders in tackles, finishing third on the team with 65. "We got a good linebacker core right now," Munoz said. "The young guys are getting reps and experience. When they get stronger, our core gets stronger. You are only as strong as your weakest link. That goes a long way when they are getting practice and fundamentals in."
All of these players will be counted on to help Rutgers rebound off a 7-5 season that had higher expectations. The one characteristic that this year's team would like to carry with it though is the fight till the end mentality. The Scarlet Knight players, especially on defense, have not quit all season and have battled through no matter what happened. "It is a great example of what Coach (Schiano) instills in us," Munoz said. "Never give up, just fight hard and work hard. Play the game we love and that how we practice and that we live.
Currently, Munoz and his teammates are practicing with some of the younger scout team players and allowing the coaching staff to reassess where everyone stands for this season and going into next year.
Despite being only a sophomore, Munoz has tried to develop his leadership skills and noted that Antonio Lowery is a freshman that could make an impact next season among the linebackers.
Munoz played in all 12 games last season and redshirted his first season at Rutgers in 2005. Prior to coming "On the Banks," Munoz was a high school player and wrestler at Southridge High School, while growing up in Miami, FL. During his tenure at Southridge, he earned All-Dade honors from the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Growing up in Miami has made Munoz a player that can relate to players from South Florida and provide them with someone to look up to. "I think Tonio (Lowery) is getting better everyday," Munoz said. "Obviously he is from Florida; I have kind of taken him under my wing. I think he is getting better day-by-day and working hard."
Toronto is the site of the International Bowl, where Rutgers will be playing Ball State on Jan. 5. All of the players are excited to be visiting such a famous city and have the chance to play one more game. "It is a good experience to go to a bowl game," Munoz said. "When a lot of teams are not practicing right now, we are practicing and getting better on the fundamentals. You just get another chance to line up again and you are always going to love that when you love the game."
The International Bowl marks the third season in a row that RU will travel to a bowl game. The excitement for bowl games is the same every year and Munoz is seeing the plan that Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano put forth to him before Munoz committed to play "On the Banks." "It is the basic thing that Coach Schiano told us when he was recruiting us that he was going to build a powerful program here and we were going to do that (go to bowl games) year in and year out," Munoz said. "Getting to the elite part of the country, that is what we are trying to do.