PISCATAWAY – The end of December meant the same thing to Andrew Turzilli in each of the last four years: Final exams, returning home to Morris County for the holidays and watching college football bowl games on television.
Turzilli’s reaction to the latter step of his routine? “Just disgusted,” he said. “Sick.”
The fifth-year senior wide receiver from Butler likes the idea of spending Christmas in Detroit – the reality for all Rutgers football players headed to the Quick Lane Bowl to face North Carolina on Dec. 26 – “a lot better” than his old fate as it is the fruition of a goal set when he transferred from Kansas last spring.
“I knew I was going to a program that’s been to bowl games,” said Turzilli, who was immediately eligible because he earned his undergraduate degree in May. “Definitely knowing I had a good opportunity to get to a bowl game my last year was a deciding factor. I’m really glad I got the opportunity.”
Rutgers will be making its ninth bowl appearance in the last 10 years so Turzilli is the only non-true freshman for whom the experience is new. “Do it for Drew” became a team rally cry – and a hashtag on Facebook and Instagram – in the days before Rutgers became bowl eligible Nov. 15 by beating Indiana.
“It meant a lot to me knowing that guys cared about me,” Turzilli said. “Coach (Kyle) Flood started that. It’s my fifth year. I’m a transfer. Just knowing that they wanted to get me to a bowl for my last game was special.”
Flood actually started the campaign during a team meeting when he pointed out that there was a senior in the room who had never been to a bowl. The puzzle took most players a moment before it hit them.
“He sits behind me in the team meeting room so I turned around and started laughing,” quarterback Gary Nova said. “It’s just great to get him that experience because bowl games really are a great experience.”
Flood’s theory as to why the team made a point of celebrating Turzilli is because he “has assimilated well into the team, (is) very well-liked, a good teammate, the right kind of person for our team.”
Kansas went 9-39 under two coaches, Turner Gill and Middlesex native Charlie Weis, from 2010-13.
“When guys go to play Division I football, you dream about playing in bowl games and unfortunately for him he didn’t get an opportunity to do it before this year,” Flood said. “It was one of the things that we told him when he came here we were going to make sure he got an opportunity to do that in his last year.”
Ironically, Turzilli hurt his hamstring legging out a 58-yard catch – negated by a holding penalty to add insult to injury – in the same game that Rutgers did it for Drew, improving to 6-4. He missed the final two games but returned to practice Tuesday and says there is “no doubt I’ll play” in the bowl.
“I think we did some really good things year,” said Turzilli, who was also hurt in training camp. “I’m excited to have my family and my friends around. I grew up watching Rutgers football so it’s just great to be part of this team.”
It’s difficult to imagine a season with more bang for the buck than the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Turzilli’s.
Turzilli made only nine catches but was on the receiving end of Nova’s school-record-breaking 60th career touchdown pass – which also is the longest offensive play (93 yards) in the home stadium’s 66-year history – and had two touchdown grabs against Michigan in Rutgers’ first-ever Big Ten victory.
“It’s definitely very strange,” he said. “It was a little disappointing because I battled injuries throughout. I feel like if I was a little healthier I could’ve made a few more plays, but everything happens for a reason and I have no regrets. I’m glad I was able to make a few plays for the team.”
Among Turzilli’s best memories in Piscataway, he counts his first home game, which was the first time his mother saw him play a college football game in person. He plans to train for Pro Day and a possible NFL career after the season ends.
“I love football,” Turzilli said. “I’m definitely going to give it an opportunity and see what happens.”
Staff Writer Ryan Dunleavy: email@example.com