For Rutgers football defensive lineman Isaiah Iton, the dream has always been playing football at the highest level possible. But if that doesn’t work out, there is always the WWE and being the next Randy Orton.
There is no denying that Iton has been a very solid addition for Rutgers this year out of the transfer portal. He has 28 total tackles, easily a career-high, and has nine total tackles in his last two games, both against ranked opponents.
Iton came to Rutgers from Ole Miss where he has a part of their defensive line rotation. The transfer has allowed him to play a big part in a Rutgers defense that is among the best in the nation.
It is part of the reason why he was drawn to Rutgers in the first place.
“I think it’s been really good every week I’m getting better. And I’m just learning from the guys in the room. So I’m just like building every week is trying to stack days and stack weeks,” Iton told Rutgers Wire this week.
“I just try to make available plays. Everybody got the job. So I try to do my job every chance I get.
“It’s been going really good. You know, I’m learning I’m learning a lot. You know, the big part of it is that I’m learning a lot. So I like that. I like learning and developing and getting better.”
His arrival at Rutgers filled a big need, literally. Since Greg Schiano returned to the program four years ago, the Rutgers head coach has been trying to get his program program along the lines.
At 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, Iton is certainly that: Big. But he is a solid big, one who moves well in the gaps but combines the ability to simply collapse the pocket with his strength.
The adjustment to New Jersey has been a good one, even if he admits to some slight culture shock from his hometown in Houston or having played at Mississippi the last couple of seasons. Things in New Jersey are more compact, he says, but he likes it overall.
The cold, well, that is taking some getting used to he says.
Coming to Rutgers was a leap of faith, albeit one made easier by the presence of Marquise Watson. At Ole Miss, Watson was an assistant coach and worked with Iton closely.
Now in his second year with the program, Watson was a major reason why Iton has ended up with the Big Ten program.
Schiano has seen Iton assimilate into the defense this fall. There is n doubt that he is making an impact.
“He came from Ole Miss. They play a little different style. You know, they are more of a two-gap, 3-4 team most of the time, at least on early downs,” Schiano said last week.
“So it’s been a transition for Isaiah for sure. He keeps getting better, slowly, but he’s progressing. We play a lot of people in the front, as you know, and rotate. But playing single-gap control defense is a lot different than playing two-gap. He’s learning and getting better at it every week.”
Perhaps an unexpected part of this whole process for Iton has been that his leap into the unknown has helped round him out. He says that his growth has happened on the football field but also away from it.
“I’ve grown better as a man and player ‘cus I’m learning a lot of life lessons, you know, and just learning a lot. Like I said, just lessons all around. So I like it a lot. Here they teach me a lot off the field,” Iton said.
“Off the field is…the way you do everything is how you do everything. I think it’s easy to say but I’m just learning to be more consistent and even more focused on the moment than on the future or the past.”
Another part of the off-the-field for Iton is Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), although it doesn’t really qualify as a focus right now. He has an NIL deal with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), something that certainly raises an eyebrow or two.
But wrestling is not what Iton has cooking right now, despite the developmental deal being an enticing option. His focus is on football but if that doesn’t work out, then he could pursue the possibilities of being a professional wrestler someday.
But his focus has and will continue to be on football and whatever comes next.
“Growing up. I watched Randy Orton, John Cena. So, I liked Orton a lot – you know RKO – I used to do that as my cousins all the time,” Iton says with a laugh and a bit of a mischievous smile.
“Growing up, I just liked to hit, I liked football. I liked it. I was playing a lot of sports, basketball and football. That’s what I wanted to be.”