By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 7, 2014) – His demeanor appears to be calmer and more self-assured without coming off as cocky, his body language is better and his connection with the offensive coordinator – his fourth in as many years – is the best one he has had yet in college.
So will all of those things result in Rutgers finally seeing quarterback Gary Nova at his best?
All of the signs through eight preseason practices are pointing that way.
“I feel great. This is the best I’ve ever felt,” the 6-2, 220-pound senior said in a moment of candor following practice today. “I’m not just saying that because it’s my fourth year. This offseason was really big for me in terms of just kind of taking a step back and getting away a little bit from football and finding myself in a way.
“Right now I’m really just trying to give everything I have for this last year and just go out the right way and do it with these guys.”
Nova, to the surprise of almost no one, was officially named the Scarlet Knights’ starter by coach Kyle Flood on Wednesday, meaning he will be Rutgers’ opening-day starter for the third straight year.
Though Flood opened the quarterback competition in the spring, and left it that way through the first six practices this summer, Nova’s experience (33 games played, 28 career starts) gave him a massive head start over challengers Chris Laviano, a redshirt freshman, and junior Mike Bimonte.
Neither Laviano nor Bimonte has taken a snap in a college game.
But Nova also earned the job again through his consistent play and by cutting down on turnovers both in the spring and this summer under the watchful eye of new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen.
“It’s always great to hear the coach give you the nod as the starter but it didn’t really change anything for me,” Nova said. “I’m going to come out here and perform my best every day regardless. Now that he has named me the starter I’ve just got to get everybody rallied up and ready to go.”
Nova has not always had that ability because of the spotty circumstances throughout his career. He started five games as a true freshman, then all 13 during an up-and-down sophomore season that did not end well in the Russell Athletic Bowl. After starting the first 10 games last year he didn’t play in the final three.
Despite those uneven first three years, Nova is fifth all-time on Rutgers’ passing yardage list with 6,407 and his 51 touchdown passes are No. 3 on the school’s career list. He can catch record holder Mike Teel in both categories with a good senior season.
With Friedgen overseeing the offense now, Nova appears poised to make an assault on the school’s record book.
“He reminds me a lot of my old high school coach,” Nova said of Friedgen. “He’s kind of an old school guy, somebody who is going to push you every day, someone who teaches you as well.
“The biggest thing he does is in the meetings. He will stop them and we’ll get on the same page on the play and he wants to let me know what he’s thinking. That’s awesome. He’s always looking for feedback for me and the other guys.”
Friedgen has already changed a flaw in Nova’s throwing style, getting him to plant his right foot more before he lets fly with a pass.
“It’s definitely helped. I think it takes a lot of stress off my arm,” Nova said. “It’s practice eight now and my arm still feels great. Usually you feel the soreness around this time. But my arm feels great. The training staff is doing a great job stretching me every day.
“I think as you get older you realize how precious your arm is. I’m not young like (redshirt freshman) Hayden Rettig. He’s just firing it around all over the place. You’ve really got to take care of it. So that was really something big for him to talk to me about.”