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After suspension, Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo eager to make impact

Rutgers wideout Leonte Carroo struggled sitting still during his 24-day suspension.

On game days, he’d take a short drive home to watch Rutgers on the family TV, shouting at the screen whenever a play didn’t go as planned. On Fridays, he’d call or text teammates. And, during the week, he continued to lift weights and work out.

“I knew I couldn’t mope and sit around; I knew I had to get up and do something,” Carroo said Wednesday afternoon. “Because, ultimately, I knew one day I would come back to this team. I just didn’t know which game. I knew, whatever game it was, I had to be prepared.”

Carroo was indefinitely suspended Sept. 13 after an altercation outside Rutgers’ football building. A judge dismissed the charges last Tuesday when the alleged victim declined to pursue the case further, and Carroo was reinstated the next day, Oct. 7.

It didn’t take long for him to make an impact. On Saturday, against No. 7 Michigan State, he caught seven passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns.

The performance caught the eye of former Spartans great and NFL wideout Plaxico Burress, whom Carroo didn’t know played for the school until he caught a glimpse of him in the third quarter. Burress stopped Carroo in the tunnel after the game and told Carroo he was a “baller,” that he would be something great one day.

Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood has been saying that all along.

“He’s a special football player; he’s a special kind of competitor,” Flood said. “It did not surprise me one bit that he was able to come back and perform the way he did. He’s a difference-maker for us.”

Carroo said the transition back was harder than it might have seemed judging from his stats Saturday. (He was gone for two games and a bye, after all.) Carroo felt more anxious than comfortable -- he said he still feels anxious -- but his transition was eased by how his teammates welcomed him back.

About a dozen players lingered in the football building when Carroo walked through its doors for the first time in three weeks. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton greeted him with a hug so big that Carroo was lifted off his feet. Other players, like offensive lineman Chris Muller and defensive tackle Julian Pinnix-Odrick, also embraced him.

Carroo was -- and remains -- a popular player in the locker room. He was named a captain before the season, and his importance to this team has been undeniable. He’s played in just 10 quarter this season, but he still has 14 catches for 315 yards and six TDs. Despite his limited time, he still leads the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns and is ranked within the top 10 nationally.

The senior wideout knows some outsiders may still think he shouldn’t be catching passes on Saturdays, but he’s maintained his innocence throughout and said those who know him best know he’s a high-character guy with a big heart. And for those who don’t?

“For those people who don’t quite believe that, that’s unfortunate for them,” Carroo said, “because I know what type of kid I am.”

Regardless, Carroo said he can’t describe just how happy he is to be back. He told himself his return was always a matter of when, not if, but those 24 days passed by slowly.

So, now, he’s playing with a renewed sense of appreciation.

“I’m looking forward to each and every week now, especially being that you can’t take this game for granted,” he said. “I was out with an unfortunate situation and, now that I’m back, I understand this could be taken from you at any time. You never know when’s your last game, you never know when your last moment is.

“You have to approach every single play, every single quarter, every single game, that way.”