Curtis Samuel chose to have a private party at home rather than have the entire Erasmus High School student body watching when he signed a national letter of intent to play football for Ohio State in February 2014.
One of those guests in Brooklyn, New York, was close friend and teammate Deonte Roberts. Roberts envisioned himself signing on the dotted line someday to play for a major college.
“I do remember that day with only family and friends invited because Curtis was so excited when he picked Ohio State," he said. “Curtis gave me a lot of advice about college, and, yes, I thought that one day that could be me signing. Curtis told me to keep working at it and I could follow him."
That special signing day for Roberts came in ’15 when he chose Rutgers over Central Florida. He was rated the ninth-best prospect in New York state and a must-have recruit for the Scarlet Knights.
Roberts will be a starting linebacker and captain when Rutgers (1-3) plays Ohio State (3-1) on Saturday.
Ohio State did not recruit Roberts.
“It came down to Rutgers and UCF, and Florida was too far away," he said. “I’m not a heat guy, either. Staying home was a big thing for me. I signed here with the idea of making an impact."
The Knights played in nine bowl games, winning six, from ’05 through ’14. Seven of those teams won at least eight games. The ’06 team finished 11-2.
But these are hard times for Rutgers, with records of 2-10 last season and 4-8 in ’15. Second-year coach Chris Ash is attempting to restore the glory. He was Ohio State co-defensive coordinator in the national championship season of ’14 and in ’15.
“We’re a work in progress, so you keep coming to work every single day," Roberts said. “It’s a lot of work, but guys are on the same track. I do see some things Coach Ash has brought from Ohio State. A lot of coaches piggyback off successful things."
Roberts has done his part. Last season, he was second on the team with 95 tackles. He averaged 9.0 tackles to rank seventh in Big Ten conference games.
This season, he has 26 tackles. He led the team with eight tackles against Washington and Eastern Michigan.
Does Samuel have any advice for Roberts going against Ohio State? Samuel was drafted in the second round by Carolina in this past NFL draft.
“We speak every other day, and Curtis gives me advice and asks how things are going," Roberts said. “But, no, we haven’t talked about this game. This game is going to be exciting, it being at home and at night. We’re the underdogs and we’ll have a chip on our shoulders."