The Big Ten is officially welcoming two new teams into the conference on July 1, and with them come some marquee players.
Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft is one of those players. He was an honorable mention on at least one All-American team last season and led the Scarlet Knights with 43 catches for 573 yards and four TDs. At 6-foot-6, he’s the biggest offensive weapon Rutgers has and should make an immediate splash in the Big Ten.
ESPN.com checked in with Kroft earlier this week to get to know him on -- and off -- the field:
You’re just two weeks away here from being a full-fledged member of the Big Ten. So, as a Scarlet Knight who grew up in Pennsylvania, do you think Rutgers already has a conference rival in Penn State -- or is that main rival to be determined?
Tyler Kroft: It’s still to be determined. Obviously we share a border, Pennsylvania and New Jersey -- and with Maryland, there’s that recruiting battle that’s always being played out. It adds to it, too, that we’re opening our Big Ten inaugural season with Penn State at home. So that adds to the buzz, but that’s to be determined.
I think it’s going to have to do with how we play. If everyone comes out high energy and it’s a high-quality game, where everyone plays their best, that’ll lead into making this a rivalry game from then on. I think it’s just going to [depend on] the quality of this game, with this being the first one.
As I said before, you’re a Pennsylvania guy. So I feel like you’re qualified to answer this question since you’ve tried both the fat sandwich and the cheese steak. What’s the one restaurant Big Ten fans need to stop at when they visit RU for the first time?
TK: I know there’s a lot of hype around the grease trucks, but I’ve always liked ‘Stuff Yer Face.’ It’s right on Easton Avenue, which is right off College Avenue. They have good strombolis and burgers and pretty much anything you want there.
I’m adding that to my to-do list. But let’s bounce right back to football: What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit in your career?
TK: Biggest hit? Probably when I was younger playing Pee Wee football because I always thought I was bigger and better, so I would try to play with my brother -- and he was four years older than me. So I just remember him laying me out in the practice field one day; he really stuck it to me. It was just one of those moments, where I was like, ‘This is what football’s all about.’ That’s when I fell in love with the game.
Hold on a second. So you fell in love with football the moment your brother cleaned your clock?
TK: [Laughs] Yeah.
I think that’d make some kids want to play soccer. Why’d that make you want to play football?
TK: I guess it just kind of goes back to my family and how I was brought up. We liked to take on challenges and, basically, I knew football was going to bring a lot of those challenges. I guess kind of knocking that sense into me at young age -- that this is something difficult. I don’t know how to explain it. Really, it’s just how I was brought up: Take up the hard things; don’t take the easy way out.
Let’s mix it up because we want to know about you outside the football field, too. So, outside the football realm, what is the most interesting -- or weirdest -- thing about you?
TK: Probably that I have a love for animals. Ever since I was a younger kid, just like horses, dogs -- all sorts of wildlife. I’ve always been intrigued with the outdoors. Whether it’s camping, fishing or kayaking, I’m just an outdoors kind of guy.
Liking animals isn’t really that different. What makes it unique in your case, do you think? Are you the type of guy who wants to have like four or five dogs once you get out of college -- or do you think the outdoors lifestyle just really defines you?
TK: [Laughs] I’m probably going to be that guy with a few dogs, to be honest with you, when I’m older. But definitely the whole outdoors theme, also. I definitely see myself near a lake or near something where there’s stuff to do outside all the time. You don’t have to take a trip somewhere; you can just be there and do something on a daily basis.
If you were able to spend a weekend anywhere, a dream vacation of sorts, where’d you go?
TK: I’d probably go down to the Jersey Shore and relax, especially after a hard week of training, and be able to relax and basically just get my bearings back. Just being with friends and family.
You can tell you’re a Rutgers guy -- picking Wildwood and Cape May over those white sand beaches in Hawaii? OK, fair enough. Let me kind of reverse course here: Who’s the best player you’ve gone up against in college?
TK: Probably the D-End from Notre Dame last year, [Stephon] Tuitt, in the Pinstripe Bowl. He’s a very good football player; I know he got drafted. Physically, he was just a monster. He was in the 300s and he was 6-6 so having to block him was a challenge.
Final question: Who’s winning the World Cup? And you can’t say the USA; that’s cheating.
TK: I’m going to go with Germany.