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Rutgers' Carroo hones in on end zone

The 28 receptions don't jump out. Dozens of FBS wide receivers reach that mark in a season.

It's the ratio -- nine touchdown catches, nearly one-third of the total production -- that suggests something is special about Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo. There are possession receivers and then there are playmakers. Carroo undoubtedly belongs in the second category.

Not only did he lead Rutgers in touchdown catches and record the third-highest total in team history, but eight of his scoring grabs came in the fourth quarter or overtime. After playing special teams as a freshman in 2012, his first career reception turned out to be a 69-yard touchdown in the 2013 debut against Fresno State.

His opening line: five catches, 135 yards, three touchdowns. Not too shabby.

Carroo's scoring secret is treating plays in or near the end zone like any others. Rutgers' fans undoubtedly have heard him recite the line his mother, Lavern, first told him after watching him drop a key pass in a game as a 7-year-old.

When the ball is in the air, everyone else is invisible. You don't see the defender, you don’t see the crowd, you just see the ball. As long as you focus on the ball 100 percent, you’ll be fine.

"It's almost like the ball is coming to me in slow motion," Carroo told ESPN.com. "That's why I feel comfortable catching the ball if there's 35 seconds left and my team's losing, or whether it's in the second overtime. I'm just going out there and making plays."

Levern, who Leonte says "knows pretty much nothing about football," gets a kick when she sees her advice in print, since Leonte often mentions it in interviews. It's a directive that has carried him through Pop Warner, high school and now college football, and will stay with him if he reaches the NFL.

Carroo's teammates expect big things from the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior this fall as Rutgers makes its Big Ten debut. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova this spring called Carroo the "best receiver in the country," while fellow signal-caller Mike Bimonte added, "The sky is the limit for Leonte."

The Knights need big things from Carroo, and not just touchdowns. Rutgers loses top wideouts Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt, and returns no player with more than 43 receptions (tight end Tyler Kroft) from the 2013 team. Although Carroo left his mark in the end zone last season, he also disappeared for stretches.

Coleman's departure means Rutgers needs a true No. 1 receiver. Carroo wants the job.

"Last year, I was a big-time underdog, I was young," he said. "I'm sure in the beginning of the year, a lot of my teammates didn't expect much from me and they didn't expect that I was going to do what I did last year. This year, I want to start off like that and let this team know I’m going to do whatever it takes to lead this team to a Big Ten championship."

First, he has to get fully cleared to play. Carroo wore a no-contact jersey in practice this spring after missing the final three games last season following a concussion. He had suffered a previous head injury earlier in the year after crashing into a brick wall behind an end zone at SMU.

Carroo spent spring ball working on his leadership skills and his route-running, especially the shorter routes like hitches and curls. Although he felt 100 percent following winter break, he leaned on the strength coaches to improve his conditioning.

"They did a great job putting me in uncomfortable situations to see how far I was off and how fast I could recover," Carroo said.

Carroo isn't sure when he'll be cleared for contact but doesn't seem concerned.

When the lights come on this fall, he'll be ready to follow his mother's advice.

"All I know is if I see the ball and it's coming to me," he said, "I'm going to make a play."