PISCATAWAY — The Recruiting Pavilion at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium features paintings of former Scarlet Knights standouts who went on to play in the NFL.
Wide receiver Kenny Britt, running backs Brian Leonard and Ray Rice and tight ends Marco Battaglia and L.J. Smith are among the players whose portraits adorn the walls.
If everything goes according to plan, wide receiver Damon Mitchell Jr. someday will have his likeness on the wall.
“I absolutely, 1,000 percent want to play in the NFL,” Mitchell, an Egg Harbor City resident and 2013 Cedar Creek High School graduate, said Sunday in a phone interview during Rutgers’ annual Media Day luncheon. “That’s my main goal. That’s one of the reasons I’m here (at Rutgers). I want to showcase my talents and show people I can play at the next level.”
He received limited playing time during his three seasons at the University of Arkansas, but the graduate transfer is expected to get an opportunity with the Scarlet Knights this season.
Rutgers’ training camp barely has started — the team has held 11 of the 29 preseason practices allowed by the NCAA — Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash and his staff already foresee Mitchell getting a lot of playing time on offense and on special teams.
“’Duwop’ (Mitchell’s nickname) is going to have a huge role on our football team,” Ash said at the Hale Center. “He’s big (6-feet-2, 213 pounds) and physical. He’s been learning the offense. and he’s probably a lot better right now than he was in the spring.
“He’s a big, athletic body, and he’s got a good football IQ. We’re excited about what he brings to the table.”
A reserve Razorback
Mitchell barely even got to sit at the table at Arkansas.
He was recruited as a quarterback, then played running back and wide receiver for the Razorbacks but could never quite establish a role for himself.
Last season, he played running back and had seven carries for 18 yards while appearing in 11 games. In three seasons, he had 17 carries for 105 yards and six receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown, a 49-yard catch in 2015 against Tennessee-Martin.
Upon graduating from Arkansas last December with degrees in English and journalism, he decided to join younger brother Ahmir Mitchell, a transfer from Michigan, and fellow Cedar Creek grads Bo Melton and Owen Bowles at Rutgers while pursuing master’s degrees in education and psychology.
Ahmir Mitchell, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during spring practice but is ahead of schedule in his rehab. Ash indicated he hopes to have him playing by mid-season.
Bowles, a freshman offensive lineman, is vying for playing time at center. Melton, a freshman wide receiver, is competing with Damon Mitchell and a slew of other wide receivers — there are 18 on the current roster — to crack the lineup.
“I want to play right away,” Melton said at the Recruting Pavilion. “That’s my goal every time I step on the field.”
Even if Damon Mitchell doesn’t start at wide receiver, he could still have a big impact on special teams.
Special-teams coordinator Vince Okruch raved about the physical, aggressive style Mitchell will bring to the coverage units.
“He’s quite nasty,” Okruch said. “He plays with a nasty attitude, and that’s rare for a wide receiver.”
Mitchell is spending the preseason camp working exclusively at wide receiver but wouldn’t be opposed to lining up at other positions if Ash and offensive coordinator Jerry Kill think it would help the team.
He could be used at running back and perhaps even quarterback in certain formations.
“I’m primarily a wide receiver, but I feel like I could help at other positions, too,” he said. “I just want to have a major impact on the offensive side of the ball.”
Notes: In addition to Bowles, Melton and the Mitchell brothers, Rutgers’ roster includes redshirt-junior defensive lineman Eric Wiafe, an Egg Harbor Township High School graduate. ... Rutgers will open the season at home Sept. 1 (a Friday night) against nationally ranked Washington.