PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) One can point to a number of reasons why No. 19 Rutgers is unbeaten midway through its season, but linebacker Khaseem Greene's decision to forgo the NFL Draft is chief among them.
After leading the Big East in tackles and earning a share of the conference's player of the year award, Greene announced he was returning to Rutgers for a fifth-year campaign four days before the Scarlet Knights' Pinstripe Bowl triumph over Iowa State last December.
It's been a good move.
While the Scarlet Knights (6-0, 3-0 Big East), who travel to Philadelphia to renew a rivalry with Temple (3-2, 2-0) on Saturday, underwent a massive transformation this offseason as Greg Schiano abruptly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kyle Flood took coaching reins at Rutgers, Greene's leadership has been credited for keeping everything together.
``I wasn't going to let any of that take away from what we needed to get accomplished,'' Greene said. ``I knew we were too good to take a step back this year.''
The same can be said about Greene, who has picked up where left off in lifting Rutgers to its best start since 2006. The Scarlet Knights can improve to 7-0 for the second time in six seasons - and just the fifth time since being credited with playing the first college football game 143 years ago - Saturday against the improved Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.
``A lot of things went into that decision,'' said Greene, who recorded 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in Rutgers' 23-15 win over Syracuse last Saturday. ``This place has been home for me for the last five years, and leaving would've felt like leaving my family's house. And it was also because of how we finished last season, knowing we had unfinished business and then realizing what type of team we had coming back.
``I'm definitely glad that I stayed.''
The opportunity to earn money playing professionally was intriguing for Greene, who grew up in a tough section of Elizabeth, N.J. With his father, Raymond, having spent most of his life in and out of jail, Greene credits his mother, Arnessa, for his mentoring and making the right decisions.
``It was tough turning down the money, but my mom said something that stuck with me,'' said Greene, whose father was recently released on parole and attended his first Rutgers game when the Scarlet Knights defeated Connecticut, 19-3, earlier this month. ``My mom said 12 months or however long it takes for me to get paid is not going to hurt us any more than it has for the 22 years of my life. It's always been rough for us growing up, so if the money happens it's going to happen regardless.''
Another year of academics won't hurt, either.
``That's what made me announce I was staying at Rutgers before the bowl game. My mom, my uncles, they all told me not to make it about the money. Because you're not going to be happy with your decision at the end of the day,'' he said. ``The NFL career isn't long anyway. Some guys are blessed to play 15 years in the league, but most guys don't get to play that long. I just never made money the focal point of my decision to leave or stay.''
That Greene ranks among the Big East leaders in six statistical categories is a tribute to his perseverance after he bounced back from an ankle injury that needed to be surgically repaired following last year's bowl.
``It was definitely a scary thing to go through but going into the surgery the doctors told me it was just a broken bone and my ligaments were fine,'' Greene said. ``Doc even told me right before the surgery that I'd have a better leg then I had before, and that's exactly how I feel now.
``I feel faster than I was before.''
It shows. And numbers aside, Greene believes he is having a better all-around season than last.
``I don't know how many tackles I had last season at this point compared to this year, but I just know I feel a lot better,'' he said. ``I know I worked real hard this offseason, and my team worked hard this offseason, which you see is really paying off. It's just crazy how it's all coming together.''
Greene's standout performance vs. the Orange was witnessed by scouts from eight NFL teams. And as the season nears its end, and the draft draws closer, there will likely be more watching the 6-foot-1, 230-pound weakside linebacker.
``I never heard first, second or third round. I never even got a legitimate grade,'' Greene said. ``I got an email that said I wouldn't be in the first three rounds and that was it. Not that I cared about the grade, it was more going to be about talking to my family, talking to coach, and being around my teammates. I didn't prove anything to anybody because if I did, I would've gotten a better grade.''
Greene is a big reason why the Scarlet Knights defense ranks among the nation's top 15 in six statistical categories, including rushing defense (2nd, 60.8), turnovers gained (7th, 17) and points allowed per game (3rd, 11.5).
``Their linebackers are outstanding players,'' said Temple coach Steve Addazio, whose Owls are bidding for their first upset of a Top 25 team since 1998. ``Those guys have a tremendous impact on the game. I'm watching their tape and I feel like, `Am I watching Rutgers or the New York Giants here?' I'm extremely impressed with this Rutgers football team.''