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Rutgers' Joe Lefeged relishes big hits

It happened three years ago, but Joe Lefeged still remembers it vividly.

The Rutgers safety flew into the backfield and leveled Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson in a 2007 win. The hit forced a fumble, and Robinson didn't get up right away.

"It was," Lefeged says, smiling wildly, "a lot of fun."

Lefeged calls that his favorite big hit of his career so far. He should get plenty of chances to eclipse it this season.

The senior is one of the leaders on the Scarlet Knights defense and the veteran voice in the secondary now that Devin McCourty is gone. Lefeged is entering his third year of starting and holds the reputation as one of the biggest hitters in the league. That's a reputation he loves.

"A big hit changes a football game," he said. "It changes momentum. It gets the team involved and excited, it gets the crowd excited. You notice it instantly."

Lefeged made his mark early in his career. In the first month of his freshman year, he delivered a punishing blow to Maryland quarterback Jordan Steffy, which knocked him out of the game. The helmet-to-helmet hit was so vicious that Terps coach Ralph Friedgen accused Lefeged of intentionally trying to hurt Steffy, though Greg Schiano took exception to that claim.

Regardless, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Lefeged lives for those moments when he can lower his shoulder and deliver the boom. But he also knows he has to pick his spots.

"The timing has to be right, the positioning and leverage have to be right," he said. "If you miss a big hit, especially playing safety, it will probably be a touchdown. So you have to find the right moment. But once you get it, it's a sweet feeling."

Lefeged said the other big hitters among the Scarlet Knights are fellow safety Khaseem Greene, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive end Jonathan Freeny and even receiver Mohamed Sanu. "When he gets a crack-back block, he knocks people out," Lefeged says of Sanu.

Lefeged doesn't just throw haymakers. He also scored on a 91-yard kickoff return against West Virginia and blocked two punts last year. He's developed into a strong vocal leader on and off the field.

"I'm the most experienced player in the secondary, and it's my job to make sure everybody is focused and on the same page for us to be as good as we can be," he says.

And if that includes laying the wood on a few receivers and quarterbacks along the way, even better.