By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – The thing that sticks out most in Gary Nova’s mind is the churning feeling in his stomach. Sure, he had played in two of the first three games, but it was in mop up duty with the outcome well in hand.
When he entered the Syracuse game for a struggling Chas Dodd with 8:54 left in the third quarter at the Carrier Dome last season, Rutgers was down 13-3.
“I was nervous,” Nova recalled. “I think it was after an interception I was just standing on the sidelines and they started screaming ‘Nova you’re in.’”
His mind was racing. And it wasn’t just him trying to sift through the playbook.
“I didn’t know what I was thinking,” Nova said. “A million thoughts were going through my head. Are my shoes tied? Is my helmet bucked? Mouthpiece, all that stuff.”
Then came having to call and run the play as an 18-year-old true freshman signal caller. And doing so against a blitz-happy Syracuse team and a raucous home crowd.
“Trying to get the play, get to the line of scrimmage. It seems like they were brining everybody and it looked like they had 22 people on the field instead of 11,” Nova said. “Now looking back at it, it was fun, but while I was in there I was pretty nervous.”
While Nova may have felt that way, the Don Bosco Prep product didn’t show it. His teammates had no inkling that of Nova’s trepidation.
“He just came in like it was natural to him. Like he had been there before and it was natural to him,” running back Jawan Jamison said of Nova entering the game. “He wasn’t panicking or anything. He just came in and did work.”
Nova would rally Rutgers to a double overtime victory, throwing a touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 2:09 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
Despite his inability to hold onto the starting spot and splitting time with Chas Dodd the rest of the season, it was Nova’s coming out party. The game that showed he can play – and play well – at the collegiate level.
“It just gave him more confidence,” wide receiver Mark Harrison said of the game. “He finally had that game swag and was able to get that feel for it in front of a big crowd, and now he’s just at another level. You can tell by the way he walks around, his whole demeanor is of a Division I quarterback right now and that’s what we love about him.”
Now, after winning the starting job in August and leading No. 19 Rutgers to a 5-0 record, Nova’s ready for the rematch with Syracuse this Saturday.
“I got thrown into the fire pretty fast,” Nova said. “But I loved it and I’m looking forward to it [playing Syracuse] again.”