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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Leonte Carroo didn't impress Gary Nova when they met roughly seven years ago.
"I remember I was going into my freshman year, he was in eighth grade, it was a (Don) Bosco football camp," Nova said. "He was there in a big white T-shirt, cleats that looked like they were eight years old."
Based on what he saw, Nova concluded that Carroo wasn't going to be a good football player. Then the Edison, N.J. native started running routes and catching passes, and the quarterback's view of the receiver quickly changed, realizing Carroo was the best player on the field.
In the years since, Nova and Carroo formed a dynamic combination that started at Don Bosco Prep. It has continued at Rutgers, where the two have helped the Scarlet Knights (4-1) get off to a great start heading into Saturday's Big Ten Conference game against struggling Michigan (2-3).
"I was just clueless and wanted to play football," Carroo said of their first meeting. "I was just going out there running around and just playing and I think that's what the Bosco coaches liked about me."
Caroo said he really didn't care about new gloves or cleats.
"As I started to become a solid player people were like, 'Alright you have to start looking good out there on the field, so let's get you some swag,'" he said.
Dressed in a tight red Rutgers warmup suit with a pair of fluorescent sneakers from Kevin Durant's shoe line, Carroo's appearance has improved. But the playful ribbing continues between Carroo, Nova and fellow Don Bosco alum Darius Hamilton.
"Why's that shirt so tight?" Nova asked Carrroo while pretending to be a reporter.
The trio is still as close as they were in high school off the field. And the chemistry between quarterback and wide receiver is seen every Saturday.
"He could have four guys on him and Gary will throw it to him and Leonte usually comes up with it," offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen said over the summer.
Carroo has 25 catches on 40 targets and five touchdowns, all of which lead the team. His 475 yards rank third in the Big Ten behind Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis.
A junior, Carroo is seventh in career touchdown catches with 14 in just 15 games at wide receiver, and is six touchdowns away from tying Tim Brown's record.
The speedy Carroo says his knack for finding the end zone has to do with his will to score. You wouldn't know it, though, based on his mundane TD celebration of simply handing the ball to a referee. That's a habit he formed in Pop Warner after his first touchdown ever.
"I caught like a 60-yard post and as soon as I got in the end zone I spiked it," Carroo said. "A flag came and it got called back and I was crying."
Now, he's also learned about giving opponents bulletin board material. Prior to the Penn State game, Carroo responded to comments made by Nittany Lions running back Bill Belton over the summer of why he chose Penn State over Rutgers.
"(He's) quoted as saying he wanted to go to Penn State because he wanted to play 'big-time football' instead of staying home," Carroo said. "Well, I guess we're going to have to show him that he made a terrible decision."
Belton went on to score the game-winning touchdown, and called out Carroo and safety Jonathan Aiken after the game for their verbal jabs during the week.
This week, Carroo will face his former high school teammate Jabrill Peppers. Michigan's freshman cornerback was one of the top recruits in the country.
Carroo wouldn't take the bait when asked several questions about playing Peppers.
"I want to go against the best corners. I hope the best corners line up against me. I hope they press me. I hope they play me man to man coverage," Carroo said. "I like the big stage. I like to go against whoever the best is."
He's succeeded when doing so. And just like when he was an eighth grader, his physical appearance doesn't matter to him.
"I still just go out there and play. I really still don't care about looking pretty or anything on the field," Carroo said. "I just want to go out there and play."
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