It was the most closely-contested competition at camp. Sophomore Joe Lefeged and junior Zaire Kitchen were going back and forth all summer long for the starting strong safety position.
Lefeged started the Fresno State game, and Head Coach Greg Schiano announced after Thursday's practice that he will get the nod against North Carolina. Even though he's happy he won the position, the Germantown, Md., native knows the competition is still alive.
"I'm excited," Lefeged said. "There's still always competition. You still have to work hard on and off the field. You can't take anything for granted."
Up until opening day, it was up in the air who would win the job. Schiano said it was 50-50 the week heading into the matchup against the Bulldogs, and the decision might not be made until game day.
The contest was a big test for Lefeged, but he — just like the other Rutgers' players — was close with the man he was competing with. The guys were always pushing to make their competitor and teammate better so when the starter would be named, they would be ready.
"A lot of competition," Lefeged said, "but off the field we work together because we have to put the family and team first. The best thing for us is to work together in the film room to get ideas from each other and compete on the field."
Lefeged had a leg up on the competition heading into camp because he played in 12 games the previous year. The four-star safety prospect was able to see what Division-I game speed was right out of high school, and he said that was a very helpful experience in his growth.
Help also came from Ron Girault, who Lefeged filled-in for while he was hurt in 2007, and Courtney Greene who were there to ease the adjustment to college ball. The way Greene and Girault handled themselves off the field is what caught Lefeged's eye. By watching them, he learned how important preparation was and what the proper way to do so was.
"The coaches, Ron and Courtney helped me out a lot with the playbook, field adjustments and stuff like that," he said.
Establishing himself as a safety that liked to hit last year, Lefeged continued to hawk down ball carriers and quarterbacks in game one. He had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry against Fresno State.
The hurry stands out because he leveled Syracuse's Andrew Robinson and Maryland's Jordan Steffy when Schiano let him loose last year. Lefeged came off the edge on a third-and-10 play on Labor Day and came very close to adding Tom Brandstater to his personal highlight reel.
"It was a good call by Coach Schiano and the defensive staff," he said. "It was a good blitz because we brought more guys than they could block. I just happened to get through and if I would have been blocked, someone else would have gotten through."
North Carolina is next on the schedule for the Knights and they would like a win to get the season back on track. In the second half, Rutgers was torched for 300 yards after allowing just 102 in the first two quarters.
The Knights were suffocating the Fresno State offense in the first half and Lefeged knows his team needs to return to that style of football if they want to beat the Tar Heels.
"We were just fitting our gaps right and making great calls for the offensive plays they were running," he said about his team's first half on defense. "Everyone was getting to the ball. If someone missed a tackle, we had three-to-four guys coming over to help."
Ready to Make His Second Start of the Season
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