STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Rutgers running back Paul James understands the criticism surrounding his university. He knows some people think the football program at the New Jersey school is out of control.
But, he said Saturday night, they don’t know Rutgers like he does.
“I just say that’s not who we are,” said James, a redshirt senior. “If you came to Rutgers and you really see who we are, you know that’s not us.”
Seven Rutgers football players have been arrested in the past month – in addition to three former players – and head coach Kyle Flood was suspended for three games after improperly contacting a student-athlete’s professor. The most recent arrest came last week when the team's top player, Leonte Carroo, was suspended indefinitely after he allegedly slammed a woman’s head on concrete, according to a court complaint.
Players haven’t been deaf to all the negative headlines. But, they said, a few bad apples shouldn’t overshadow a majority of a team that stays out of trouble.
“We’re not out of control,” receiver Carlton Agudosi said. “People close to the program know how we are. My brothers made a few mistakes but I feel as though the team we have right now, we’re all focused, we’re all hard-working, we all take this very seriously – and we’re all looking to move forward.”
Added defensive tackle Darius Hamilton after Saturday's loss to Penn State: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this team except for the fact we came out here and didn’t do our jobs tonight.”
Interim coach Norries Wilson declined to say just how the arrests and suspensions – “distractions” – have made an impact on the team. And even Rutgers’ players seemed split on how to answer the media. Some said Flood’s absence wasn’t strange at all; others admitted it was odd. Some said all the news lately hasn’t affected the Knights; others acknowledged the absence of some starters hurt.
Call it sincerity or denial, loyalty or ignorance. Whatever you call it, Rutgers’ players said they’re moving on. They don’t have any other choice.
“The off-the-field things that took place over the last few weeks, that’s something we can move on from," Agudosi said. "It happened. It’s time to move on.”
Added offensive lineman Keith Lumpkin: “You can’t let distractions be in the way. You just have to focus on the task at hand and concentrate on each week.”
It hasn’t been an easy month for those associated with the university. Four players were charged in connection with a spring assault that left a student’s jaw broken and two other players were arrested for their roles in home invasions.
Flood was suspended Wednesday after a university investigation found he improperly contacted the professor of now-dismissed defensive back Nadir Barnwell, who was one of the players charged with assault. According to the university, Flood contacted the professor against the advice of Rutgers’ academic advisers, used his private email account to avoid open-records laws and met with the professor without wearing Rutgers paraphernalia so he wouldn't attract attention.
But Rutgers’ players refused to use his absence as an excuse following Saturday night’s 28-3 loss to Penn State.
“It doesn’t matter who coaches,” Lumpkin said. “If Coach Flood’s there or not, we know we have one job to do, and that’s to play the game and win.
"And team morale’s still high. There’s no reason to be down.”