This Saturday, Rutgers will conclude spring practice with its annual Scarlet-White spring game. Throughout the past 13 practices, which spanned four weeks, there's no disputing who has been the team's most valuable player on the offensive side of the football. Junior quarterback Gary Nova has enjoyed a stellar spring commanding the Rutgers offense.
Last season ended on a bitter note for Nova following a rough outing in a loss to Virginia Tech in the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl.
"I'm not used to losing so it hurt," Nova said. "Obviously the way I handled some of the post-game interviews and stuff, I really just learned from it and matured."
Nova's arm has looked much stronger this spring than it did at the end of last season, but he wouldn't use fatigue or injury as an excuse for the way the 2012 season concluded.
"Everybody has problems at the end of the season. All quarterbacks do," Nova said. "Your arm gets tired and you throw a lot of balls in training camp and the whole first half of the season. But that's not any excuse to why my production dropped."
Instead of allowing the sour taste of defeat to linger, Nova went right back to work.
"It was a rough couple of days [after the Russell Athletic Bowl]. Looking back, I was disappointed in how I played and finished the season," Nova said. "But I couldn't dwell on it too much. I had to get right back into workouts and get my body right. I didn't have control of the Virginia Tech game any more and I could only focus on what I could control."
That led Nova to take a bigger role in the team's offseason program.
"He led us in winter conditioning. He lost about 15 pounds and he just looks good out there," wide receiver Leonte Carroo said of Nova. "I'm very proud of him."
That kind of focus and work ethic has led Nova to own much more of a leadership role.
"He's definitely become more of a leader, taking care of his body and things like that, not letting his social life interfere with his football games," said starting offensive tackle Kaleb Johnson.
Throughout spring practice, Nova has not let his foot off the gas. His on-field performance has been just consistent as has his off-the-field preparation.
"It's definitely [different]. The other day he called me in to watch film with him," Johnson said. "He's just getting more acquainted with the guys around him. I think that's the biggest [thing]."
Even when Nova has given way to second and third team units during spring practice, he remains one of the most ardent supporters from the sidelines.
"I just want guys to have fun. Last year, guys were pressing and didn't want to make mistakes," Nova explained. "Guys just have to go out there and fly around and have fun. I'm trying to lead that and I feel like guys are feeding off it. It's really helping us play more freely out there and make plays."
Having started 18 games during his first two seasons at Rutgers, Nova looks quite ready to play the part of an upperclassman starting quarterback this season.
"It just shows that he's our leader. He goes out there and he's so confident in the huddle and he's having fun," Carroo said.
Now, as spring practice is set to wind down, Nova has built a strong body of work to carry over into the summer. And on a team that features only a little more than a handful of senior starters, Nova will be needed much more during the 2013 season.
"I feel pretty good going into the summer, but I still have a lot of work to do," Nova said. "I'm looking forward to it and this is a good foot to start off on."