All-Big East WR Makes Ready for Senior Year

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Now that Ray Rice has finished his indispensable career at Rutgers, its wide receiver Tiquan Underwood's turn to carry on his own legacy into the 2008 season.

While Rice left his mark, breaking many school records in the process, Underwood remains in Piscataway as the Scarlet Knights threaten to overtake powerhouses West Virginia and Louisville in the wide-open Big East Conference.

With a healthy Mike Teel, now in his fifth and final year of eligibility, throwing the ball, first place does not seem out of reach despite the loss of Rice to the 2008 NFL Draft.

"The thumb is fine," Teel said after practice earlier this week. "It feels great."

Teel overcame an injured right thumb to throw for over 3,000 yards in 2007's 8-5 campaign. Underwood caught 65 of those passes for 1,100 yards, third most in the conference and 23rd overall.

That included a school-record 248 yards in the season opener and two 60-yard scores in a 38-3 effort over Buffalo.

With Rice out of the picture, Underwood becomes one of the leaders of a younger yet vivacious Knights group, which continued spring practice earlier this week.

"I try to take the leadership role and embrace it," he said. "I'm the leader of the receiver corps. I'm one of the oldest here."

Ti, as he prefers, thinks the team "feels pretty good so far."

"We've been working hard as a group, as a team and that's going to give us a shot to do what we want to do," he said. "That's our team goal to win a national championship."

Three starting offensive linemen graduated as well as Rice, stimulating competition in other areas.

"After every season, you're going to have holes in your team," Ti said. "That gives younger guys the opportunity to step up."

One of those players is junior wideout Kenny Britt, who led Rutgers with 1,232 yards last season, first in the conference and 11th in the nation.

Both receivers, Britt and Underwood, devastated defenses utilizing Teel's long- and mid-range accuracy. They must continue to improve, as Kordell Young and Mason Robinson, the likeliest candidates to replace Rice in the backfield, develop consistency.

"We have a bunch of running backs who will get a chance to step up," Underwood said. "We're going to find out who can play in the spring and we're just going to try to make the passing game better."

Underwood started '07 on a positive note, earning four straight 100-yard performances, but his production dwindled after Teel's hand injury worsened and the competition intensified.

He's not worried about returning to form.

"As a player, you're always looking to do better than the year before," Underwood said. "That's why I'm working hard in the weight room, trying to get better as a receiver overall."

"That's what you have to do, keep challenging yourself."

Rutgers may have lost several starters, but Underwood remains optimistic about the upcoming campaign.

"We're young, but at the same time, we're enthusiastic," he said. "That's what you need. You need effort just to start to play football."

Notes:

Dennis Campbell, another receiver battling in the rotation, looked very sharp in practice, as Underwood and Britt relaxed on the sidelines. He encounters incoming true freshman Keith Stroud among others for the third or fourth position, behind Underwood, Britt and Tim Brown, all upperclassmen.

Brown finished with 24 catches for 340 yards and two touchdowns last season. A speedy threat, he also spent time on special teams, producing an average of 20.7 yards on 15 kickoff returns.

The Knights also used Robinson (14 for 275 yards), Underwood (7 for 177), James Townsend (7 for 169) and Campbell (5 for 63) on kickoffs.


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