WHILE CLOWNINGAROUND on the bus ride back from a trip to the movies during preseason camp in2005, defensive tackle Eric Foster started calling shout-outs, and histeammates repeated everything he said. The routine soon became a postgameritual, and the Scarlet Knights have been following Foster's lead ever since.After every Rutgers victory over the past two seasons, including aschool-record-tying 11 wins last year, Foster led the team in a celebratorylocker-room chant. "I say whatever's in my head," says the fifth-yearsenior from Homestead, Fla. "Guys can't wait to get in the lockerroom."
Though he hadonly two starts to his credit and was returning from a torn left ACL that cutshort his 2005 season, Foster was so popular among the Scarlet Knights thatthey voted him a co-captain before the '06 season. "He brings peopletogether," says coach Greg Schiano. "He's got that specialcharisma." The undersized tackle (6' 2", 265 pounds) delivered aperformance befitting a leader, making six sacks and 14 tackles for loss andhelping his team jump from 55th in the nation in total defense in 2005 tofourth. "He's every bit as effective as any defensive lineman I'vehad," says Schiano, who as an assistant at Miami coached future NFLfirst-round draft picks Damione Lewis (Rams, Panthers) and William Joseph(Giants). "His athletic abilities are second to none."
In Rutgers'sbiggest victory last year, a 28-25 upset of third-ranked Louisville onNov.¬†9, Foster had seven tackles and four quarterback hurries. That winlifted the formerly horrid Scarlet Knights, who only a year earlier had ended a27-year bowl drought, to a historic 9-0 start and turned them into the darlingsof college football. A 30-11 loss at Cincinnati the following week killed someof that buzz, and a triple-overtime loss at West Virginia kept the Knights fromthe Big East's BCS berth, but Rutgers still finished 11-2 after pummelingKansas State 37-10 in the Texas Bowl.
The return ofrunning back Ray Rice, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and quarterback Mike Teel,who was at his best late in the season, plus a favorable schedule, have fans inNew Jersey thinking of even bigger things in 2007. The key to securing a BCSbowl, however, remains the defense, which returns six starters. Like Foster,most of the linemen are considered small for their positions, but Schiano, whodoubles as the defensive coordinator, puts an emphasis on speed and agility ina scheme based heavily on the zone blitz. "They do a lot of movementschemes," says West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, "and [Foster] is oneof the best at changing direction and making a play."
In fact, he hashelped change the direction of the program.
CONFERENCE: Big East
COACH: Greg Schiano
2006 RECORD: 11-2(5-2¬†in Big¬†East)
FINAL AP RANK: 12
Offense 7, Defense 6
RB Ray Rice (Jr.)
Nation's third-leading rusher had 20¬†TDs in'06
QB Mike Teel (Jr.)
A 65.2% passer over the last three games
S Courtney Greene (Jr.)
Had 82 tackles, team-high four interceptions
Aug. 30 BUFFALO
Sept. 7 NAVY
15 NORFOLK STATE
Oct. 6 CINCINNATI
13 at Syracuse
18 SOUTH FLORIDA
27 WEST VIRGINIA
Nov. 3 at Connecticut
9 at Army
29 at Louisville
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"He brings people together," Schiano says ofFoster. "He's got that special charisma."
NED DISHMAN / GETTY IMAGES
Foster fires up an undersized but fast defense.
LARRY LEVANT / RUTGERS ATHLETICS (MASCOT)