Scott Vallone is Big East's iron man

Rutgers nose tackle Scott Vallone is perhaps the most unheralded player on his team, let alone the entire Big East.

He has never gotten the pub that some of his teammates have received. Never been honored on the Big East first or second team. Yet Vallone is one of the biggest "glue guys" the Scarlet Knights have, holding everything together on the defensive line.

How has he done it? Vallone has become a new-age Big East iron man, starting every game of his Rutgers career. That would be 38 to be exact, leading all returning players in the league as he heads into his senior season.

"It’s definitely something I can take a little bit of pride in, but I also have a great understanding for what’s gotten me to this point," Vallone said in a recent phone interview. "Our strength and conditioning staff has done a great job getting me ready every week, and I have learned how to take care of my body. A lot of the credit has to go to the staff for having that faith in me as a redshirt freshman and realizing I could have an opportunity to make an impact."

Nothing about the way his career started would have given anybody the idea that Vallone would go on to become Mr. Dependable. As one of the more highly heralded defensive tackles in the nation, Vallone arrived to Rutgers as a freshman in 2008. He played in two games before undergoing season-ending foot surgery and taking a redshirt.

The following spring, Vallone was listed third on the depth chart at defensive tackle and nose tackle.

"The odds were a little stacked," Vallone said. "I knew it was going to be a tough road ahead."

Vallone also was trying to shake off the last bit of his foot injury as well. But he worked as hard as he could to make an impression on his coaches. That hard work turned into a starting job. Vallone trotted onto the home field Sept. 7, 2009, against Cincinnati for his first career start as a 19-year-old redshirt freshman.

"I was taking it all in at that point," Vallone said. "It was the biggest crowd in our school’s history, so the place was rocking. The memories weren’t too fond, we got beat pretty bad (47-15). It was a tough game but it was a great experience to get under my belt and it set me up well for the rest of that season and rest of my career to deal with that type of energy, and deal with the type of players we were going against."

Vallone ended up making the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America team after making 41 tackles, nine for loss. In 2010, he had multiple tackles in 11 of 12 games. This past season, he had a career-high 58 tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks after overcoming a scary ankle injury in the spring.

In fact, that injury was the only time in his career that left Vallone worried that he might miss some game action. When he initially hurt his ankle, he felt a pop and thought he did some pretty major damage. But Vallone ended up with a sprain and actually returned to spring practice to set an example for his teammates.

"I wanted to send a message to the team that I was for real," Vallone said. "I wanted to play with the guys and finish out the spring."

Vallone was unable to participate in practice this past spring because of offseason shoulder surgery, but he should be ready for the start of fall practice. Missing practice time ate at Vallone, but he realizes now it was probably good for him to prevent so much wear and tear on his body.

After all, Vallone has been an iron man at one of the most physically demanding positions on the football field. Playing inside at an undersized 275 pounds, Vallone has to constantly fight against 300-pound offensive linemen in the trenches, where strength and endurance is an absolute must in order to be any good at your job.

Vallone has spent his share of days and nights in ice tubs trying to heal up from the grind while making sure none of his injuries linger on too long. His role will be heightened this season because the line will be the most inexperienced group on a defense that returns eight starters. Coach Kyle Flood has mentioned that Vallone could play both tackle positions, depending on the circumstances.

That is just fine with Vallone. Whatever keeps him on the field.