Former wide receiver Leonte Carroo stood on the sidelines adjacent to the Rutgers football team's bench watching the top wideout on the Scarlet Knights (1-0) tear up a UMass defense.
In his 11th career start, junior wide receiver Bo Melton made his mark on the young 2019 season by scoring the first touchdown of his career. In 24 games played prior to last Friday evening, Melton had seen time at all ends of the field. Except for the end zone.
Melton's long-awaited touchdown would come in the second quarter, the first score by either side in what was a 21-7 Minutemen (0-1) lead. He hauled in a 33-yard long throw from graduate student starting quarterback McLane Carter with UMass' Isaiah Rodgers draped all over him.
The Mays Landing, New Jersey, native has Rutgers Athletics in his genes. His mother, Vicky, competed for the women's basketball team, which earned NCAA Tournament berths from 1989 to 1993. Gary, his father, played wideout as well, and was a part of a Knights team that was selected to the now-defunct Garden State Bowl in 1978.
But, it was Carroo, the team's leader in career and season receiving touchdowns, who pushed for Melton to heavily consider the Banks to further his football career. While Carroo graduated in the spring of 2016, he saw something special in Melton and was able to connect with him during his recruiting phase.
"Bo's a guy that as a freshman, when I was recruiting him, I always used to talk to," Carroo said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Targum. "I told him, 'I hope you break all my records when you come.'"
While Carroo's career 29 touchdowns may just be a faint glow in the distance for Melton, the 5-foot-11-inch wideout ran crisp, clean-cut routes against a Minutemen rush that allowed 348 passing yards to receivers. His agility was of notice, all results of reps with the first team offense in the spring and in training camp the past month.
For Melton, this training camp was especially different than his previous two on the Banks. He has had to adjust to Carter's left-handed throws out of the pocket, amid a starters position battle between the southpaw and last seasons starter, sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski.
It wasn't Melton's first time dealing with a quarterback battle. Last season, Sitkowski, then a freshman, and alumnus Giovanni Resicgno competed for Ash's first spot.
Now, as one of the elder statesmen in the wideout group, Melton has stepped into a leadership role, much like Carroo did when he was selected a team captain in 2015. Especially when there are 11 underclassmen wide receivers on Rutgers' roster.
"I see a lot of improvement going forward. We did very well this spring," Melton said after the spring game back in April. "Being one of the older receivers and playing a lot, our team is looking really well. It's a lot of good things happening in the receiving group."
In some ways, Carroo and Melton's arrivals to the Knights mirror each other. Carroo attended the powerhouse Don Bosco Prep while the latter opted for Cedar Creek High School, a public high school near Atlantic City. Both were considered four-star recruits and were instrumental to their high school teams' successes in the postseason.
Melton totaled 328 yards between his first two seasons on the Banks without a score. But, wide receivers coach Lester Erb has helped hone in on adding speed to his route running in the spring and summer.
"It's really been a two-year process of physical changes in the weight room and getting the speed to translate in football," said offensive coordinator John McNulty. "Lester made Bo a priority because we knew we got to have speed, there's no substitute for it."
Melton's speed has certainly been a factor against UMass. But, now he has to shift his attention to an Iowa defense that allowed 186 passing yards and two touchdowns last season to opposing receivers.
The Hawkeyes (1-0) defense should prove to be an intriguing matchup for Melton, who will face his first Big Ten team of the season.
"He's put in a lot of work this offseason," Carroo said. "All the success he's had so far, he definitely deserves."
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