When Rutgers lost Reggie Sutton in practice due to suffering a major knee injury in week four of the 2021 season, his career was in serious jeopardy. He left the practice in an ambulance and didn’t return until this past spring. Sutton’s perseverance earned him the Frank R. Burns Award given annually to the player who “displays extraordinary mental and physical toughness during spring practice.”
If Sutton’s road to recovery and journey back onto the field ended there, it still would have been a significant accomplishment. On Saturday, Sutton completed one of the more impressive comebacks in Rutgers history.
Appropriately on the day the 1976 undefeated team that was coached by Burns was honored at halftime after being inducted into the Rutgers hall of fame, Sutton played in his first game in over two years. He entered late in the third quarter and lined up at left tackle. Sutton played 23 snaps in his return.
“Some great things happened today. Probably my favorite part was when Reggie got to go in and play,” Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said after the win over Wagner. “We gave him a game ball, and he said a few words; and 738 days since his injury. He’s the epitome of chop. There was many times I talked him out of playing. I said, “Regg, come on, man, you’re such a bright guy, you’ve got a bright future let’s get going. He said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to do this. So that was a really special moment; I know for me, and our coaches and our teammates. So that was really cool.
From 2018 to 2020, Sutton started 13 games on the offensive line and played 22 career games total. He is a four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by the coaches in 2020. In my opinion, Sutton was the best offensive lineman that Rutgers had that season and in 2021 before his injury. It was a major loss for the team but obviously devastating for such a hard working student-athlete. His ability to get back into a game over two years later speaks of his character and will.
“I think he’s had this steadfast vision of what he wanted to do, and he was not coming off it and more power to him,” explained Schiano. “It’s his body, you know. I can tell when he’s sore. You guys have got to understand that that operation was one of the most extensive knee operations I’ve ever been a part of as a coach, and that’s 36 years. It was Ryan Neal-esque, maybe even worse, which those of you who have been around a while know how bad that one was. Yeah, it’s a pretty special moment.”
As for whether Sutton has a chance to work his way back into the rotation along the offensive line, that remains to be seen.
“I really believe it’s week-to-week,” Schiano said. “He’s a tough guy. But I’m sure he’s going to be sore. You know, it’s one thing in practice; it’s another thing to play in a game. But we’ll just play it by ear.”
Whether Sutton does play more this season or if today was his last game of his career, he’s earned the respect of his coaches, his teammates, Rutgers fans and anyone else who learns of his story. It has been a heroic comeback. He conquered a major challenge in his life and it will be a driving force for anything else he accomplishes in the future. Congratulations to No. 70 on proving to himself that he could overcome such a difficult obstacle and hopefully it is as rewarding as he hoped it would be.
738 days later, Reggie Sutton made it back on the field 🪓 pic.twitter.com/hL8mfwyKLb
— Rutgers Football (@RFootball) October 1, 2023
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