By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Darnell Stapleton always wanted to coach football. First though, the former Rutgers offensive lineman pursued his NFL dreams.
After starting for the Steelers during their Super Bowl run in 2008, Stapleton had hopes he’d have a long tenure in the league. A few knee injuries later, Stapleton’s NFL career was cut short.
Already knowing his next career, he turned to the high school ranks, coaching at Montclair Kimberly last season. When Greg Schiano bolted for the NFL and was replaced by Kyle Flood, Stapleton reached out to his former offensive line coach. Flood offered his former center a job as a graduate assistant.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Stapleton said. “Being that I played here, my brother [Desmond] played here, I’m a jersey guy so to be able to come back to Rutgers and help coach [Flood] out and work with the offensive line is a dream come true.”
It’s also an ideal scenario for Rutgers’ offensive linemen. As Stapleton helps coach up the unit, they can look at him as an everyday example of where they want to get. The NFL.
“They ask me about what it’s like to be an NFL athlete, but I continue to try to stress that you got to be a solid and consistent college player first,” Stapleton said. “Some of them miss that and always think about making it on Sunday and being successful Sunday when they don’t really realize that they got to be successful on Saturday first and there’s a lot of things that go into that.”
There’s also a lot that goes into the transition to post-football playing life. But Stapleton has taken the transition of going from player to coach smoothly.
“I knew this was something I wanted to do when I was done playing,” Stapleton said. “Of course I finished playing a lot sooner than I thought I would, but that’s the name of the game. Injuries happen and some careers are cut short.”