As he has since he became Rutgers head coach on Dec. 1, 2000, Schiano spoke of building the Scarlet Knights into a national champion. This time was different, though. No one was laughing. Not after going 11-2, finishing No. 12, and becoming college football's feel-good story last season.
With such success comes a price. Perhaps no coach in the game had more demands on his time during the off-season than Schiano, which could have been a problem because he's no less obsessive about preparation than the rest of them. It turned out Schiano even prepared for the whirl of appearances he made when he set his goal to become a head coach nearly 20 years ago.
"I've been blessed to work for Coach [Joe] Paterno and Butch Davis, two guys who were high profile coaches who had great time demands," he said. "Hopefully that serves me well now. I can tell you I worked very, very hard not to let it [interfere]."
Then, thrusting his arms in the air, Schiano added, "But I can also tell you I'm not going into the spring well-rested, either."
The Scarlet Knights return 13 starters on a team that appears capable of again challenging for the Big East Conference title and proving its rise to national prominence was not an aberration. And perhaps for the first time in school history, they will be a big game for several of their opponents. One of Schiano's chores is to prepare his team to deal with its unfamiliar role as the hunted.
"I think there's definitely a different phenomenon now," Schiano said. "After one year of going to a bowl game, it's, 'Ah, maybe they got lucky. Maybe they had special chemistry.' After two years, I still think there are doubters out there, but I think the people we beat a couple times now are saying, 'Hey, we've got to beat Rutgers.' And that's different, no doubt about it.
"We've got to worry about us first. But we don't want to stick our heads in the sand and not be aware we are going to be the circle game for some teams."
The 15 spring practices, which culminate with the Scarlet and White scrimmage on April 21, will hold significance for at least three South Jersey players - sophomore running back Kordell Young of West Deptford High; sophomore fullback Jack Corcoran of St. Joseph's Hammonton; and redshirt sophomore center Ryan Blaszczyk of Shawnee.
Schiano said he will look for ways to get the ball in the hands of Young more frequently, even though the speedster is listed as backup to Heisman Trophy contender Ray Rice.
"He's an electric player," Schiano said of Young. "Without a doubt, we've got to find ways to get the ball in his hands."
Corcoran is the likely successor to Brian Leonard, who may be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
"Brian is a freakish type athlete, a man his size and what he can do," Schiano said. "But Jack brings some similar things, and I think there are some things he can do better. That's what we've got to figure out - what he does best."
The 6-4, 290-pound Blaszczyk goes into spring No. 1 as the starting center.
"Ryan had a tremendous off-season," Schiano said. "He's one of the hardest-working guys we have. That's all good, but he still has to go out and play the position. We'll see how that goes."
Schiano said sophomore defensive end George Johnson, a Big East all-freshman team pick by the Sporting News, may be limited during the spring because of a lower-back issue.
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo