By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 10, 2014) – Their relationship is a relatively new one. Fifteen spring practices, 10 more so far this preseason, with the summer’s first full scrimmage – the first significant showcase of camp – set for Monday at High Point Solutions Stadium.
But it’s clear already that Ralph Friedgen, Rutgers’ new offensive coordinator, and senior quarterback Gary Nova have already developed a bond.
Nova even gets Friedgen’s jokes now.
“You know, I’m just a straight-shooter,” said Friedgen, a 40-year coaching veteran who is considered one of the game’s sharpest offensive minds. “I like having fun in my meetings. I went about three months and no one laughed at my jokes. I really kind of thought I lost it. Then one day there was a power surge and the lights went out and I said ‘oh my God, I’m having a seizure,’ and that cracked them up.
“Since then they’re laughing at a lot of my jokes now.”
In Nova, the only experienced quarterback Rutgers has heading into its inaugural Big Ten season, Friedgen understands he has a very specific task: Coax the best out of a quarterback who has shown flashes of brilliance but who has struggled with consistency.
Those struggles led to Nova sitting for the final three games last season after he started 23 straight games.
“From what people have told me, he can lose focus from time to time,” Friedgen said. “I see that a little bit but he’s usually pretty focused. He doesn’t say a lot in meetings. He takes a lot of notes. I’ve had quarterbacks, and I encourage them all to either take notes on their iPad or to write them down. He writes all his notes down.
“He has been very focused with me. I’ve had no problems with him. I think he has a very good football intellect, he sees things, he learns very fast and he has very good vision. What gets Gary into trouble sometimes is that he’s so confident in what he can do he lets his confidence override his decisions and he’ll force the ball in there. Now a lot of times he wins on those throws too and everybody thinks it’s a great throw, but when he loses them it’s an interception.
“That’s what we want to cut down – the interceptions. (We want Gary to) make good decisions, not just look at people. That’s my job to get the ball to people to do something with, or at least try to do that anyway. Sometimes you can’t even do that because the defense will take it away but I’ve been very impressed with the kid. I think he has a chance to be a very good quarterback.”
Despite the ebbs and flows throughout his 28 career starts, Nova enters this season fifth on Rutgers’ all-time passing yardage list with 6,407 yards and third in career touchdown passes with 51. He can become the school’s all-time leader in almost every major passing category with a good season.
That’s where the Friedgen difference can play a factor.
“The reason that Ralph has helped Gary is that he’s one of the best teachers that I’ve been around,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “Ralph has helped that entire (offensive) room, with Gary being the guy that is up front. He’s showed him how to process what’s going on before the ball has snapped, and after the ball was snapped. Making the right decision, where to throw it and making great decision on when to take chances and when it was not needed.
“Gary needed someone who was a great teacher. For Gary, this is four offensive coordinators in four years. That is not ideal for any quarterback to have four voices in four years. He needed someone that was very organized, a great communicator, and a great teacher. And that’s what he’s got in Ralph Friedgen.”
Friedgen sees no reason why Nova won’t have a good season, saying his field “vision” compares favorably with that of the other quarterbacks he has coached in his career.
“The thing that Gary has in common with them is his vision,” said Friedgen. “When I say ‘vision’ … there are a lot of quarterbacks that will look at receivers and make a decision, but I’m of the belief you have to look at the defenders and make a decision. Gary can see defenders. For a lot of guys it becomes a blur out there until they learn to settle down.
“Of the really good quarterbacks I’ve had, I’ve had Joe Hamilton, who I’m very proud of. He’s being inducted into the National Collegiate Hall of Fame this year. He was 5-9, if that, but could see. I’ve had 6-5 guys in the NFL that couldn’t see. I don’t think that’s taught. I think that’s God-given. Gary, I think, has that, so it’s really up to all of us – myself, the team, the offensive team, the offensive players – to play well so he can use that talent.”
The feeling is mutual, since Nova has already said he “wishes coach Friedgen was my offensive coordinator all four years.”
Dre Boggs admits he isn’t much of a talker – he’d prefer not to give interviews, he said during the team’s annual media day today – but there’s a quiet confidence with Rutgers’ true freshman cornerback.
One example: Before Boggs turned to football his junior year at Coatesville (Pa.) High School he was a highly-regarded basketball player at a school that has produced its share of them, foremost being Richard “Rip” Hamilton and John Allen.
Asked if he would have made a run at the scoring records held by both, the 5-11, 175-pound Boggs didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, definitely. I was a pretty good basketball player,” he said, adding that he “has a good relationship with both guys.”
Boggs, perhaps more than any other newcomer, has made a splashy impression in preseason camp, showing off his athleticism and speed. But it hasn’t been easy, he said. A wide receiver during his two years of high school football, he only started playing cornerback at Avon Old Farms (Conn.) Prep last season.
“I’m still learning. I’ve got a lot to learn,” he said. “Technique is the biggest thing I’m trying to get better at. That’s the biggest thing holding me back.
“Everything is happening so fast. It’s a lot to adapt to. A lot of it is ability but it can hurt me – and has hurt me – at times.”
Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi has been impressed by what he has seen so far, with Boggs moving up in the corner rotation following a lower body injury that will sideline Nadir Barnwell indefinitely.
“I think he’s had a great start,” Ross said. “He’s flashed in a lot of the drills that we’ve done. So we’re going to get an opportunity tomorrow to see him in the stadium in a live situation (during the scrimmage) and evaluate him and see how he does.”