PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Like the rest of New Jersey, the Rutgers football program spent its bye week rebounding from Hurricane Sandy and throwing out helping hands wherever possible.
Whether it was advice on where to get gasoline during the shortage or spending time on campus with refugees from the storm, Rutgers football was there to help those in need.
“We were distracted as a program, but distracted for all the right reasons,” said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. “There were a lot of things going on in our local areas here in New Jersey and New York that were much more important than a football practice. But with that said, there were certain things that were out of our control.”
The Scarlet Knights have a series of benefits planned for their game against Army this weekend. The specially designed “JeRsey StRong” logos will be sold in t-shirt form for $15 with all proceeds going to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.
The shirt will be sold Friday night at the basketball opener against St. Peters, Saturday at the football game against Army and all week at Scarlet Fever – a Rutgers memorabilia store in New Brunswick, N.J.
“People are hurting out there right now and nobody understands that better than we do,” said Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti. “All we can do is our part. Everybody that’s participating, that’s doing their part, every little bit can help the people that were affected by this.”
Associate athletic director Jason Baum and director of branding Andrew Robinson designed the logo last week, which quickly went viral through social media.
Rutgers has a series of other plans set for the upcoming week, including a coat drive at Saturday’s game against Army and a strong Red Cross presence accepting donations for its relief fund. Anyone can donate to the relief fund by sending the text message “REDCROSS” to 90999.
The 23rd ranked Scarlet Knights (7-1, 4-0) spent the bye week in rebound mode following a homecoming loss to unranked Kent State. Losing for the first time in nearly a year, Rutgers balanced its focus in the bye week with off-the-field distractions.
Rutgers had its week cut short by a day because of the storm and Flood missed the final practice of the bye with a death in his family.
“I think you have plans and then you have things that happen in life that are more important than your plans,” said Flood on balancing football with helping refugees. “I think that's what happened last week. So I don't have any concerns about anything that we may have missed last week.”
As a state university, Rutgers was one of many evacuation zones for families displaced out of Atlantic City and other impacted areas. Power came back to Rutgers within 48 hours of the storm, making it a safe haven for many.
After breaking for a bye week, a quarter of the team delayed their trips home to play a spur-of-the moment touch football game with children staying on campus.
“When the storm first hit, I didn’t really believe in the storm,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Marvin Booker, who grew up in the shadows of Rutgers University at nearby Piscataway High. “I didn’t think it was going to be that bad. … I thought it was important to go over to [evacuation shelters] and see what was going on.
I didn’t really think about the kids that were there. I just thought they may need help passing out water or something. But then when I went there and saw the kids that were there, I just thought that was something that was really important. We need to help out the kids, put smiles on their faces. Their parents would be happier. The stress, the tension would drop.”
|Rutgers players at evacuation shelter|
As the Rutgers staff released the players for the weekend, Booker announced his intentions to visit the evacuation shelters. Approximately 20 players jumped at the opportunity.
“It was a really good experience,” said starting quarterback Gary Nova. “Something like that really touches you. It’s really bigger than football. There are so many people that had it worse than you out there.”
Unrelated to the storm, Rutgers will wear special American flag helmets this week to honor Army and the United States military. Flood unveiled the helmet at his weekly press conference earlier today.