Drive through Pennsylvania and you might get lost. You find yourself spending more time looking at what’s beside the road than where you’re supposed to be going. Particularly if you’re from the part of the country where streets are numbered and laid out on a grid and everything approaches a right angle.
“My mom came out to the East Coast for the first time,” said Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral, whose younger sister was playing a tournament in Pennsylvania, “and my mom’s like ‘I can’t see the turns.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, all the roads are really curvy.’”
Lots of bends and unexpected twists. Noah Vedral, a Wahoo native and a Nebraska football legacy, had to get used to it when he made the move last year from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Piscataway, New Jersey. He was off the grid, away from the known and thrust into an entirely new situation. He’d never been in this part of the country before. With COVID-19 complicating matters, Vedral had to embrace the bends.
A reserve and spot starter for coach Scott Frost at Central Florida as a freshman and then at Nebraska for two years, Vedral decided it was time for a change. As a graduate, he wanted an opportunity to play and with Nebraska seemingly decided at the top of the quarterback depth chart, that meant a transfer.
“I was actually sitting in my home in Columbus and he went into the portal,” said Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. “My recruiting guy shot me the video, I watched like 180 snaps and I said, ‘This is the guy. We’ve got to get him. He’s going to be perfect for what we do offensively.’”
With a no-huddle, up-tempo attack that’s very similar to what Vedral had run under Frost, Schiano was looking for the right quarterback to turn around Rutgers’ fortunes in his first year on the job. There were candidates internally, but the Scarlet Knights had been the Big Ten’s doormat for years and Schiano knew he needed to strengthen the quarterback spot to turn that around.
Vedral was in the portal by the afternoon and Schiano was in his ear that evening.
“That call was really crazy because I didn’t know the number.,” Vedral recalled. “I remember picking up the phone and I said, ‘Hello?” And he said, ‘Hi Noah, this is Coach Schiano.’ I remember being like, ‘Woah, that’s a big name.’”
He was familiar with Schiano’s resume. Schiano was intimately familiar with Vedral’s.
“When he said he’d watched every college tape I remember being like, ‘Every single one? They weren’t all good.’ But him saying they were still super excited about me, even seeing the good with the bad, I thought that was a really cool vote of confidence,” Vedral said. “It made me trust him. He did his diligence. He talked to people from my past, people I’d worked or maybe coached me in the past. I thought it was a really cool way of introducing (himself) and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve done our diligence and we want to talk to you and really recruit your throughout this process.’”
For a player who’d already transferred once before in his career—from UCF to Nebraska after the 2017 season—this one was different. The first time, Vedral was following the coach who’d recruited him from one situation to another. This time, he was, for all intents and purposes, a free agent, free to survey the field and weigh options and consider levels of interest.
It was clear Schiano wanted Noah Vedral for Noah.
Vedral has no regrets about leaving Nebraska and no hard feelings for the way that period of his career ended—he’s still close with many on the team—but to be wanted again was a nice feeling.
“That’s what you’re looking for as a graduate transfer,” he said. “I mean, the clock’s ticking. You don’t have five years anymore, so you’re looking for a home that says, ‘Hey we see you as a potential starter. We want you to come in and compete.’
“Nothing’s promised in college football and I don’t think it should be. Too many talented players come in and deserve their chance to compete for jobs and I thought it was really cool to hear ‘We’re going to give you your fair shot.’ I was really grateful for that.”
Once Vedral decided Rutgers was going to be the place for him, he got on the horn with offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson. “Right away I knew it was going to be a really good fit,” he said. The football piece of it came naturally. There’s different language between schemes and intricacies that individualize coaches, but on a macro scale Vedral was moving from one no-huddle, up-tempo system to another. That’s what he wanted to stay in.
The challenge came not from having to learn a new playbook, but from having to learn his new teammates.
“I think the hardest part would be like I knew them as football players before I knew them as people,” he said. “I think that’s a backwards way to do it.” Vedral tried to make himself available, to go out of his way. But because of COVID restrictions and a severely altered offseason schedule, it was just different.
“It felt a little wacky and backward and hard and just slow,” he said. “It just felt like it took way longer than it should have. I didn’t feel like I knew everyone and was really comfortable probably until the end of July, August, where usually it takes about a month to feel like, ‘OK, I’m a part of this team.’”
Teammates tried to help out, make him feel at home. His family wasn’t even able to come see his new apartment or his football home. The new quarterback was on an island, in a sense. But Vedral’s natural football instincts were endearing.
“When I first met him, we sat down and talked about plays, and I looked at him like, ‘I don’t even know as much as you know,’” said Rutgers wideout Bo Melton. “He just explained stuff to me that I had no clue of.”
The first impression was that Melton’s new quarterback had quite the football mind. Melton hit him up on Instagram to try and nail down times to meet and get in some pitch and catch. Build the connection.
“First time we started talking, we had to go straight into it because of COVID,” Melton said. “We had to talk about football right now, so he only knew us as football guys, football players, before he knew me as Bo or I knew him as Noah. It was Noah Vedral and Bo Melton, and I didn’t know Noah.
“But when we started to bond and started to get things, I started to really know who Noah is. He’s a great guy to be around. He’s very smart, very dependable, and he’s a funny guy. I just like being around him in general.”
Schiano saw that too.
“He’s got a respect of his teammates,” the head coach said.
Which also meant there wasn’t a ton of looking back. Vedral was all-in on Rutgers. Never did he allow his mind to think, “What if?” He played his last few games with a broken thumb and a sprained wrist on his throwing hand. This was his team.
“He’s been everything that we were looking for,” Schiano said.
Two years still to play, too. Asked if he planned to use them both at Rutgers, Vedral smiled and said he’d play college football as long as they let him.
Mostly, there seems to be an excitement about what’s ahead.
Vedral threw for 1,219 yards and nine scores last season in seven games. The Scarlet Knights were competitive and entertaining each time out. Though just 3-6, Rutgers suffered three losses in one-score games. This season, they return more production than anyone else in the Big Ten.
The 2020 season, Vedral said, felt like a preseason. This upcoming year feels like the real thing. The thinking is that with a full offseason of work and more of a normal routine back, the entire offense can take a step.
“I think he’s capable of a lot,” Melton said. “He has a lot of talent.”
Never did he think he’d represent his team at a media days event. Ironic that his time to do so would coincide with the event moving from its normal home in Chicago to Indianapolis. The last time he was there he was playing as a fill-in member for the Nebraska basketball team in the Big Ten tournament. His career has been a ride, to say the least.
Lots of bends and unexpected turns.
Vedral’s focused on the road ahead though. No looking around at the sideshows. No looking in the rearview mirror.
“I gotta be careful doing that, though, because it’s not over,” he said. “I’ve got a lot more football to play.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.