After spending their sophomore seasons pitted in the latest of a long string of quarterback battles and the latter half of their junior year watching from the sidelines on Saturdays, two signal-callers are leaving the Rutgers football team for the fourth and final years of their eligibility.
Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig are transferring from Rutgers to greener pastures upon graduating from the University, they said to NJ Advanced Media’s Ryan Dunleavy in a pair of exclusive interviews with NJ.com this week.
Both players will be immediately eligible to participate with their new programs. Rettig is on pace to graduate this winter with a degree in labor relations, while Laviano is headed toward a spring graduation.
Laviano completes his career on the Banks with 3102 yards, 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on 268-for-480 passing, 83 yards rushing on 117 attempts and a five yard touchdown reception in 24 games, 18 of which he started.
Rettig finishes with 233 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions on 14-for-25 passing in five appearances.
The announcement comes following a season in which Laviano saw his streak of 18 consecutive starts come to an end midway through, with sophomore Giovanni Rescigno being handed the reigns by first-year head coach Chris Ash for the final five games of the campaign.
With Laviano behind center, the Scarlet Knights ranked penultimate among 128 FBS teams in total offense and were shutout in back-to-back blowout losses to then-No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 3 Michigan.
A competitor by nature, Laviano was naturally unhappy to get bumped from his spot at the helm. But after evaluating his options, he reached a conclusion.
He could either be a bad teammate, cause a ruckus in the locker room after returning to the backup role he played behind Gary Nova in his redshirt freshman season, or he could be a good teammate, a positive reinforcer of Rescigno as he learned the ropes of the job.
He chose the latter.
"After that happened, after the week that I got benched, after the Minnesota game, I made a decision to continue that great relationship with Coach (Drew) Mehringer, Coach Parker and Coach Ash although they didn't think that I was in a position to help them win or play,” Laviano told Dunleavy. “It was a business decision. They had to move on, and I completely respected that.”
A contentious topic among the fanbase, Laviano had his fair share of controversy in his time on the Banks.
Before making his first career start, he was suspended from the first half of Rutgers’ season opener against Norfolk State last season after attempting to enter a bar with a fake I.D. Once he was named the starter, his rocky play spurned shouts from the fanbase for former head coach Kyle Flood to swap Laviano with Rettig, a highly touted transfer from Louisiana State University.
It would never happen as Laviano would start the final 11 games of a 4-8 campaign which would lead to Flood and his staff being fired after four years at Rutgers.
Before he was fired, though, Laviano showed his support for the coaching staff with a post on Instagram in which he fired back at the fans, defending both Flood and himself. It came a day after boos were heard from the High Point Solutions Stadium crowd when he returned to the field after missing a play due to injury in the fourth quarter of the Rutgers season finale against Maryland.
Approached about it during the following spring, Laviano said it was in the past and that he and the new coaching staff led by Ash “all had support for each other.”
A similar situation appears to have occurred with those same fans, a majority wished him well on social media and in the comment section of the article in which the decision was announced.
"As far as the fan base goes, I want to thank them and appreciate everything that they've done for this program,” Laviano told NJ.com. “...there is no rivalry between me and the fans. I've had multiple encounters, multiple conversations of tremendous support throughout my career of them black-and-white wanting to see Rutgers do well and win.”
Rettig’s portrayal among the fan base has never waivered from positive in his two-year stay in Piscataway. A former four-star high school, Rettig reportedly chose Rutgers over California, Boston College and Tennessee when he transferred from Baton Rouge.
After completing a redshirt season, Rettig started that season opener in 2015 because of Laviano’s suspension. Despite throwing for 110 yards and a touchdown on 9-for-11 passing in the first half without star wide receiver Leonte Carroo, it would be his last start, a trend which the vocal portion of the fanbase were not shy of disapproving.
Twitter would be filled with #FreeRettig, a movement from fans to have Rettig start in place of a struggling Laviano. Though the change was never made, the Los Angeles native felt the support from the Scarlet Faithful.
"The fans have always been behind me, which is great. I really do appreciate them. They kept me going. I never had anything bad said to me. Rutgers University is a classy program."
The debate on who should start behind center for the Knights was a heated one amongst the fanbase. At first, Laviano took Rettig as a threat, he said to Dunleavy.
But after two years of competing for the starting role, both leave Piscataway not as bitter enemies but as close friends.
"It's funny because throughout my four years you would never think that me and Hayden were kind of best friends," Laviano told NJ.com. "... the maturity that me and him have grown throughout the years — even while the competition was still going on this past year — we were very close and our relationship has gotten better and better."
The departure of the pair came as little surprise to those who followed the team closely. Upon losing the job, Laviano joined Rettig in working behind Rescigno and junior Zach Allen both in practice and in pregame warmups.
Both Rescigno and Allen, who transferred from Rutgers to Texas Christian University over the summer to “throw a bomb into the quarterback room” according to Ash, will be apart of a quarterback competition for the second straight offseason.
Ash revealed the competition would be open, and with Jonathan Lewis, a four-star recruit out of St. Peters Prep (N.J.), verbally committed to the Knights and Tylin Oden having an entire offseason to build off what he learned as a true freshman this season, there is no telling which direction it will go.
“The quarterback room will look different with the recent decisions by Hayden and Chris and we’ll have an incoming quarterback next year,” Ash said in a teleconference with reporters to wrap up the season Wednesday. “We’ll have to sit down as a staff and evaluate the overall, the big picture of the offense and who’s going to be the quarterback.”
With that, the Rutgers quarterback room enters its umpteenth straight year without a clear cut favorite. But this time, it will be without Rettig and Laviano. Despite how tumultuous their experience seemed from the outside, both told Dunleavy they have no regrets.
“My life has completely changed being at Rutgers,” Laviano said. “I'm never going to sit here and say I regretted anything. It's actually quite the opposite. I'm extremely thankful for everything that this school has brought me. I've enjoyed the time here with my teammates and my coaches tremendously, and I wouldn't honestly do anything different.”