PISCATAWAY - As Logan Ryan made the drive from Berlin, N.J., to Piscataway, he started to get butterflies. No, he wasn't nervous. This was the third time he was making the trip to the Hale Center to report for Rutgers training camp.
This year however, he felt different. He had a different sense of optimism.
"I'm so excited," Ryan said in the Hale Center foyer as players reported for training camp Sunday. "Probably the most excited I've ever been for a football season . . . I'm not only excited for me, but this entire team."
Forget that there's a plethora of returning upperclassmen. Forget the top recruiting class in school history is ready to kick off camp. Forget that there's an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball.
This team's greatest attribute comes from the bond that's been forged between teammates.
"Off the field," Ryan said when asked what the team's strength was. "I feel like this is the tightest team I've ever been around. We return a lot of starters, we return a lot of experience. We know how good we can be. I just think off the field we're really tight."
This bond came from the adversity this team has had to overcome.
"I think it just comes from the trials and tribulations we went through last season with how the season ended - not winning a Big East Championship and the head coach leaving," Ryan said.
Between ending the regular season by being blown out by UConn with a share of the Big East title on the line and seeing their head coach leave for the NFL a few months later, Rutgers used what could have been breaking points to unite the team.
And it was none other than the team leaders who made sure this team would not come apart at the seams. That they would live up to the hype that they would have had, had their head coach not left. That they would show that Rutgers was about more than one man. That it was about the players.
And two days after Schiano left, it was the players who took it upon themselves to make sure the ship stayed sailing in the right direction.
"Khaseem Greeene by himself, he held a team meeting. And he's a hard guy to get to. He holds a lot of feelings back, but he expressed how he was feeling throughout the whole process," Steve Beauharnais said. "I got up and spoke. A lot of the other team leaders spoke and we haven't had any transfers that I know of and we stuck together."
Beauharnais added: "That was the moment [that brought us all together]."
So as soon as Kyle Flood was named the new head coach, the players rallied around him like they recently did with one another.
Throughout spring they got to know their new head coach, and through summer they continued to bond. And they have done so in a way that they hope is unbreakable and will lead Rutgers to that elusive Big East title.
"Everyone stuck around, everyone worked hard," Ryan said. "And we're hungry and we want a big East Championship for our new coach Kyle Flood."