By December 15, 2016 at 9:21 AMon December 15, 2016 at 9:00 AM, updated
When Leonte Carroo packs his bag for the upcoming Miami Dolphins road trip, he is likely to slip an extra football inside.
It will be the one from his first career NFL touchdown catch, scored three weeks ago as the game-winner against the San Francisco 49ers. “I’ve got the ball in my house right now,” Carroo told NJ Advance Media by phone from Miami. “I’m actually probably going to bring it to Jersey so my mom can put it up on my trophy case that she has in her house.” No doubt a mother’s shrine to her son includes mementos won at the Meadowlands, where Don Bosco High School captured four straight NJSIAA sectional titles during Carroo’s pre-Rutgers playing days. Carroo returns to the site of some of his greatest football moments — including his first NFL preseason game in August — when the Dolphins visit the Jets at 8:25 p.m. Saturday at MetLife Stadium.“You have to approach it like any other game,” Carroo said, “but I have people on social media, family and friends, and people that I played with in high school and Pop Warner texting me saying they will be at the game this Saturday and they are excited to watch me come home to MetLife. It’s an awesome feeling to come back and play in front of a state where you’ve had so much love.” A third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Carroo has played 14 percent of offensive snaps and 25 percent of special teams snaps this season, according to footballoutsiders.com. He is No. 4 on the depth chart, with just three catches for 29 yards. Carroo is remembered at Rutgers for a school-record 29 touchdown catches and averaging 19.5 yards per caption in 30 games during his final three seasons. But Carroo’s rookie season — he went nine straight games without a catch before his Week 12 score — is more reminiscent of his true freshman season when he toiled on special teams. “The reason why I haven’t been stressed about it at all is because I kind of went through the same thing at Rutgers,” Carroo said. “My freshman year I had no catches at all. I think I had two offensive snaps. “The following year’s opening game I had three touchdowns. I’m not looking at it as, ‘Wow, I’m not playing.’ I’m just looking at it as a learning year and a year to take the right steps so that when next season comes I’m ready to blow up.” Taking the right steps isn’t just about footwork in route-running. Carroo, who faced questions about a senior year arrest during the pre-draft process, credits fellow wide receivers Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker — who were picked in the 2013-15 NFL Drafts, respectively — with “teaching him to be a pro.” “You have to do everything right on the field and off the field,” Carroo said. “You have to be smarter, you have to be more mature. I could say to myself that I don’t have any kids or a family and I live here by myself, ‘Why not go out?’ But that’s not what I made the NFL for.” Carroo reportedly signed a four-year contract with $3.1 million after the Dolphins swung a draft day trade. “For the first time in my life, I have responsibilities,” Carroo said. “I have to make sure my bills are paid on time. I have to make sure my rent is paid on time. I have to wash my clothes and clean up after myself.“I don’t have class when I get home at 5 o’clock. It’s like, ‘What now?’ You have to be responsible, you have to study, you have to take care of your body and do all the little things that you didn’t think about doing at Rutgers.” Thanks to coincidence in the Dolphins’ schedule, Carroo’s rookie season has been like a welcome-to-the Rutgers-NFL-fraternity tour. He has faced former teammates Tyler Kroft, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan, Marcus Cooper as well as earlier Rutgers stars Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, Kenny Britt, Mohamed Sanu and Jeremy Zuttah. “It’s nothing but fun and love when you see guys you were grinding with,” said Carroo, who did a jersey swap with Sanu, “and guys you looked up to when you were a little kid and they were at Rutgers.”