By Tom Luicci
CHICAGO (July 28, 2014) – The role Lorenzo Waters finds himself in this football season isn’t one that came naturally or easily. But as he enters his fifth year at Rutgers – and his third as the Scarlet Knights’ starting strong safety – it’s one he’s embraced.
In a secondary still dominated by freshmen and sophomores Waters, the group’s elder statesman and most experienced player, is the unit’s unquestioned leader, referred to as “the quarterback of our back end” by head coach Kyle Flood.
He’s fully prepared for the responsibility, too.
“I think you grow into that leadership role,” Waters said during Big Ten football media day at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. “I can’t say I was always ready to be a leader. Now that I’m in the position I am, if you want to win games you’re forced to be a leader.
“You have to make sure that everyone else knows what they’re doing or it’s going to be like a bunch of chickens running around with their heads off. So you have to calm the younger guys down and make sure everyone knows what they’re doing because you’ve been in their shoes and you’ve done it before.”
Beyond his athletic success, Waters commands his teammates’ respect because of what he has accomplished in the classroom. The 6-0, 195-pounder, with a double major in political science and criminal justice, graduated from Rutgers in May with a 3.2 grade point average.
“The reason I can be a leader now is it’s not just football with me,” he said. “I can speak to them about any aspect of college, whether it’s academics, football or life. I’ve been through it. I can be the role model they look up to.”
Flood said Waters is “one of the reasons why I think we’ll be much-improved (in the secondary),” a season after Rutgers started seven different players at cornerback and three at the two safety spots. The corner starters last fall included three true freshmen (Nadir Barnwell, Anthony Cioffi and Delon Stephenson) and a redshirt freshman wide receiver (Ruhann Peele) who was pressed into service to help the beleaguered unit.
Barnwell, Cioffi and Stephenson, who will battle senior Johnathan Aiken for the starting free safety position when pre-season camp starts on Friday, should benefit from the force-fed minutes they played a year ago when the Knights’ defense was roughed up in the passing game.
But youth will still be the theme in the secondary with true freshmen cornerbacks Isaiah Wharton, Saquan Hampton, Kam Lott, Darian Dailey and Dre Boggs competing for playing time along with sophomore Brian Verbitski.
“I think they’re a lot more improved,” Waters said of Barnwell, Cioffi and Stephenson. “I’ve seen them from last year, getting thrown into the fire, until now, where they have a lot more confidence in their abilities.
“I think the biggest stride they’ve made is their overall demeanor on the field, their confidence level. I see it in the way they’re attacking the (off-season) practices. The workouts are a lot different. They’re not the young guys anymore.”
Among the five true freshmen cornerbacks, Waters said “Kam Lott and Dre Boggs have shown me a lot this offseason.
“I think they’re going to have a big role this season,” he added.
But they’ll need help and guidance. Which is what Waters can provide, in addition to his consistent play. Despite missing two starts due to an injury last season, Waters still finished third on the team in total tackles with 62.
“He’s really the next in a line of what has been many really high-level players in our defensive secondary at Rutgers,” Flood said.