AROUND on the bus ride back from a trip to the movies during preseason camp in
2005, defensive tackle Eric Foster started calling shout-outs, and his
teammates repeated everything he said. The routine soon became a postgame
ritual, and the Scarlet Knights have been following Foster's lead ever since.
After every Rutgers victory over the past two seasons, including a
school-record-tying 11 wins last year, Foster led the team in a celebratory
locker-room chant. "I say whatever's in my head," says the fifth-year
senior from Homestead, Fla. "Guys can't wait to get in the locker
Though he had
only two starts to his credit and was returning from a torn left ACL that cut
short his 2005 season, Foster was so popular among the Scarlet Knights that
they voted him a co-captain before the '06 season. "He brings people
together," says coach Greg Schiano. "He's got that special
charisma." The undersized tackle (6' 2", 265 pounds) delivered a
performance befitting a leader, making six sacks and 14 tackles for loss and
helping his team jump from 55th in the nation in total defense in 2005 to
fourth. "He's every bit as effective as any defensive lineman I've
had," says Schiano, who as an assistant at Miami coached future NFL
first-round draft picks Damione Lewis ( Rams, Panthers) and William Joseph
(Giants). "His athletic abilities are second to none."
biggest victory last year, a 28-25 upset of third-ranked Louisville on
Nov.�9, Foster had seven tackles and four quarterback hurries. That win
lifted the formerly horrid Scarlet Knights, who only a year earlier had ended a
27-year bowl drought, to a historic 9-0 start and turned them into the darlings
of college football. A 30-11 loss at Cincinnati the following week killed some
of that buzz, and a triple-overtime loss at West Virginia kept the Knights from
the Big East's BCS berth, but Rutgers still finished 11-2 after pummeling
Kansas State 37-10 in the Texas Bowl.
The return of
running back Ray Rice, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and quarterback Mike Teel,
who was at his best late in the season, plus a favorable schedule, have fans in
New Jersey thinking of even bigger things in 2007. The key to securing a BCS
bowl, however, remains the defense, which returns six starters. Like Foster,
most of the linemen are considered small for their positions, but Schiano, who
doubles as the defensive coordinator, puts an emphasis on speed and agility in
a scheme based heavily on the zone blitz. "They do a lot of movement
schemes," says West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, "and [ Foster] is one
of the best at changing direction and making a play."
In fact, he has
helped change the direction of the program.