Traveling back to 2005, Rutgers had put together a thrilling 7-5 season, but the fans and media expressed disappointment with the linebacking corps of a banged up Will Gilkison, and youngsters DeVraun Thompson and Quin Frierson. With Gilkison graduating and former walk-on quarterback, turned safety, Brandon Renkart moved to the starting linebacker corps, the concern for a solid group remained at the top of the agenda for most observers. Maturity, experience and ambition resulted in Frierson, Thompson and Renkart becoming a strength for the 2006 defense, helping to lead the Knights to an impressive 11-2 year. Meanwhile, the media and fans alike assumed that RU had become a juggernaut and would steamroll their way through the 2007 season, although the linebacking corps would once again be young and inexperienced. Most had hoped the athleticism and accolades for the young group would be sufficient to carry the team to lofty heights. The first half of the season saw newcomers Kevin Malast and Damaso Munoz experience growing pains as starters, with Renkart being the solid play backer. Once again rumblings could be heard as many became disappointed with the Scarlet linebackers. During this time, Ryan D’Imperio was mending a broken leg and playing time would not be in reach until the final 6 games of the year. Finally, the linebacking corps was maturing, and D’Imperio had made his return, as they began to gel during the final games of the year. Next season will offer an experienced and mature group, with many capable reserves, that should instill fear from the Rutgers front seven.
Brandon Renkart 6’3” 232 5th yr - Piscataway, NJ - Originally a walk-on QB, he was converted to safety before being moved to linebacker for the 2006 season. Brandon, a brilliant student and reliable 2 year starter, served as the soul of the linebacking corps in 2007
Kevin Malast 6’2” 237 Sr OLB – Manchester NJ – Considered a great linebacker recruit from South Jersey, Kevin was 3 time all-conference, 1st team all county, All Group II, the #39 recruit in New Jersey, participated in the Governors Bowl and was the 215lb NJSIAA wrestling champion. Timed at 4.55 in the forty, Kevin lead the LB corp with 92 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 pass break ups and a fumble recovery in 2007. With a full year under his belt as a starter, another year in the weight room, Kevin has the maturity to not only be a leader, but a standout backer for the 2008 team.
Ryan D’Imperio 6’3” 244 Jr MLB – Sewell NJ - The former 1st team NJ linebacker, ranked the #28 MLB in the nation when he left high school, will be fully recovered from his broken leg and should land the starting spot in the middle. Ryan is the type of MLB that Rutgers fans have longed for all these years. Big, strong, fast (4.55 forty), and hits like a truck, he continually impressed the staff with his reckless abandon prior to his injury. Ryan returned to the gridiron a bit early during his rehab and it showed with his speed and timing. Expect him to be a stud in the middle next season.
Manny Abreu 6’4” 240 Fr OLB – Union City NJ - Manny ranks as one of the better linebacker recruits in Rutgers history. Ranked the #4 WLB in the nation, and the #2 prospect in NJ following graduation, he brings additional size, speed (4.5 forty) and athleticism to the field. Although he lacks game experience and maturity, he will be surrounded by veteran linemen and corners. Manny underwent minor hip surgery during the off season but should be ready by spring practice.
Antonio Lowery 6’2” 230 rsFr OLB – Miami Fl - The graduate of Christopher Columbus HS, Lowery was rated the #28 OLB in the nation while gaining HS All-American status. Blessed with speed (4.65 forty), a nonstop motor, and a great nose for the football, Antonio has a good chance to move up on the depth chart and become a part of the linebacking rotation.
Blair Bines 6’2” 248 Jr MLB – Shirley, NY - The 2 time 1st team Long Island player and top 10 prospect from NY, Blair twice suffered a broken jaw during the 2007 season which severely limited his playing time. Blair is another hard hitting beast of a middle linebacker with good speed (4.7 forty). Blair will be tough to overlook as the coaching staff sets their two deep for 2008.
Edmond Laryea 6’1” 229 Jr OLB – Tottenville, SI, NY – The 2 time All NYC player who was also recognized as a top15 recruit from NY state, is yet another athletic, speedy (4.6 forty) and hard hitting candidate for the two deep. He began his career on the Banks as a tough running fullback that the coaching staff recognized as an athlete they felt was better suited to contribute as a linebacker.
Patrick Nemorin 6’3” 222 rsSo OLB – Deerfield Beach, Fl – Patrick was recruited out of Florida as a pure athlete that could find a home as a SS, LB, TE, WR or FB. Blessed with speed (4.59 forty) and quickness, he eventually landed at the linebacker position. He is very good at positioning himself to make plays at the line of scrimmage and covers well against the pass. I believe that Nemorin could also be a respectable candidate at the Strong Safety position.
Chris Quaye 6’0” 239 Sr MLB – Timber Creek, NJ – Another NJ All State and Governors Bowl representative, Chris was listed as a RB when recruited by RU, but was destined to be a linebacker from day one. With speed (4.55 forty) and quickness his greatest attributes, Chris was a staple on special teams who will push for a spot on the 2 deep.
Al-Ghaffaar Lane 6’3” 213 rsFr OLB – Paterson Catholic, East Orange, NJ - A 3 year starter, 2nd team All State, #4 linebacker in NJ, and the #63 OLB in the nation, Al-G is an intriguing prospect for the Scarlet Knights. Incredibly fast on the field, he made his mark as both a relentless pass rusher and as a cat quick pass defender while in high school. He needs to continue to bulk up while maintaining his speed (4.58 forty). Al-G could very well become a third down specialist in the 2008 linebacking rotation.
Damaso Munoz 6’0” 211 rsJr OLB – South Ridge HS, Miami, Fl - A veteran of the starting linebacker group, I’ve placed Damaso near the bottom of the depth chart for 2008. He has just undergone serious shoulder surgery which will keep him not only out of the weight room but off the practice field for 8-9 months. That much missed time may force Damaso to miss the 2008 season. He had become an integral part of the defense with the ability to play all 3 LB positions if needed, but his strong heads up play may be missed this year while he rehabs and reconditions himself properly.
Eric Le Grande 6’2” 234 recr MLB - Colonia, NJ - A big time, gifted prospect for the Scarlet Knights, Eric was ranked the #15 MLB prospect in the nation by Scout.com. It may be possible to redshirt him his initial year. Another jewel for coach Schiano and his staff.
Marvin Booker 6’3” 207 recr OLB – Piscataway, NJ – Another gifted athlete who dominated the field while in high school. Marvin could redshirt or possibly see the field on special teams.
These linebackers may be one of the most gifted groups to hit the field for the Scarlet Knights in school history. Every single candidate has been timed at 4.7 seconds or less in the forty yard dash, numbers that are found among the upper echelon of D1 football programs. They will offer size and experience with a ton of potential in reserve. It is reasonable to expect these players to be superior to the 2006 edition and may lead to a very solid, dependable and fearsome front seven for 2008.