"It's been a journey for us," said fifth-year senior defensive tackle and co-captain Eric Foster, a second team All-American for The Sporting News who finished his college playing career with 145 total tackles and 15 sacks. "The past two years have been a great ride, to see it all come together."
The Scarlet Knights (8-5) put together a 26-12 record the last three seasons while qualifying for the postseason in each campaign. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano credited the seniors for helping create a growing Rutgers following in the New Jersey area and beyond.
"New Jersey and New York City haven't had a college football team of their own. Now they do," he said.
Some seniors, like reserve fullback Jean Beljour, were asked to play more of a support role. Beljour was recruited out of Hackensack High School as a feature running back but played most of his career on special teams and as a backup in the backfield.
"Coach always told us to embrace our roles. It took a while to adjust to it," admitted Beljour, a true senior who never registered a collegiate carry but caught four passes for 45 yards. "As a freshman, you want to be a Heisman Trophy winner. But it doesn't always work that way."
Offensive tackle Jeremy Zuttah - who along with senior offensive tackle Pedro Sosa was invited to the National Football League combine Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis -- stepped in as a true freshman in 2004 and never relinquished his starting job, starting all 26 games of his final two years and 40 overall.
"It means a lot from out first year to where we came now," said Zuttah, a first-team All-Big East selection who caught a lateral pass for a 13-yard game against Louisville on Nov. 29.
Beljour said he takes pride in what Rutgers has accomplished during his tenure, especially when he was part of a class that took a chance on a floundering program.
"Coach (Schiano) made a promise to us that this was going to happen," said Beljour. "We had to be a brave team to commit. Guys like (junior quarterback) Mike Teel, Jeremy Zuttah, myself -- we helped bring in the other guys."
Beljour said while he didn't receive much glory on the football field, he bought into the team ethic that made RU succeed.
"Every year as the program was taking off, that was my reward," he said.
His fellow seniors said they developed a tight bond during their four or five years at Rutgers.
"This is a phenomenal group of guys I've been playing with," said Foster. "It has been a big turnaround. I'm just blessed that I was able to be a part of it."