Catching Up With ‘Cuse Football

Aug 29, 2020

Trill Williams returns the ball for a 94-yard score on the final play of last season against Wake Forest. The Orange finished the season 5-7.
Credit Courtesy Cuse.com

… And we’re back.

It has been a long break, but WAER Sports has returned. When we last talked to you, Syracuse men’s basketball defeated North Carolina 81-53 in the ACC tournament, the men’s lacrosse team was #1 in the country, and spring football was just beginning.

 

As we all know, a lot has happened since then, both inside and outside the world of sports. In the Catching up with ‘Cuse three-part article series, we will provide you with all you need to know about the last five months of Syracuse football, men’s basketball, and men’s lacrosse.

We start on the gridiron. Despite the added barriers of the pandemic, Syracuse football has had an incredibly busy summer. From NFL draft picks and signings to future commitments, there has been a lot to talk about.

Professional Departures:

After a month of silence, the first Syracuse football news came courtesy of the 2020 NFL Draft in late April. The first two days of the draft went by without an Orange player selected, but two SU players went off the board on day three. With the second pick of the fifth round, the Seattle Seahawks selected defensive end Alton Robinson. At 148th overall, the Converse, Texas native is the highest-selected Orange player since Jay Bromley was picked in the 3rd round (74th overall) by the Giants in 2014.

Robinson departs SU as one of the most accomplished pass rushers in Syracuse history. The defensive end ranks seventh in sacks all-time in program history with 19. In 2018, Robinson recorded 10 sacks and helped lead the Orange to a 10-3 record.

So far, the fifth-round pick has impressed his coaches at practice and seems to have a very good chance of making the roster – provided there is a season. Several Seattle publications have expressed confidence in Robinson’s ability to make the team.

Two rounds after Robinson was taken, the Atlanta Falcons dipped into the punter pool and grabbed Syracuse’s Sterling Hofrichter. The four-year special teamer is the second SU punter in a row selected in the NFL draft, joining Riley Dixon from 2016. Coincidentally, both men were selected 228th overall (Dixon went to Denver, however, not Atlanta).

Hofrichter capped off his strong Syracuse career with a remarkable final season. The punter was named a first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus and Bleacher Report, and a third-team All-American by the Associated Press. Hofrichter averaged a career-best 43.9 yards per punt this past year.

As for his NFL aspirations, it looks like the SU punter has all but guaranteed a spot on the Falcons this year. It was expected that Hofrichter would compete with veteran Ryan Allen during camp, but Atlanta let go of the seven-year pro in early August and seemingly gave the job to the rookie. The Falcons could still bring in competition before camp ends, however.

Outside of the draft, Syracuse has had multiple players reach agreements with pro clubs. After foregoing his senior year, wide receiver Trishton Jackson found a spot with the Los Angeles Rams.

Jackson has survived early-camp cuts thus far and is listed as the sixth wide receiver on the Rams’ depth chart by ESPN. After recording 20 catches through his first three seasons with Michigan State and Syracuse, Jackson erupted for 66 receptions, 1023 yards, and 11 touchdowns last year.

Formerly alongside Jackson, Syracuse slot receiver Sean Riley got a taste of pro football as well. Shortly after the draft, the 5’8” speedster reached a deal with the New England Patriots.

However, the Patriots let go of Riley a few weeks ago. The pass-catcher suffered from a lack of in-person training with the club due to COVID-19. Riley was a prominent weapon in the SU offense and return game during his four-year career. The wideout recorded 756 receiving yards in 2018. Riley has yet to find a new team.

Sticking with the offense, guard Evan Adams met a similar fate to Riley in late July when he was cut by the Baltimore Ravens. Adams started all 49 games over the last four seasons for Syracuse. He, too, has yet to find another destination to latch onto.

On the defensive side of the ball, Syracuse has had some better luck. Just this week, longtime SU defensive back Evan Foster inked a three-year contract with 49ers, a significant investment for an undrafted free agent. The defensive back had his draft hopes diminished when he underwent sports hernia surgery in September 2019.

On the downside, though, Kendall Coleman was recently cut from the Colts after signing with the team in April. The defensive end formed a dynamic duo with Alton Robinson over his four-year career in the Salt City and recorded 15.5 career sacks.

New Arrivals:

As important players left for the professional world, Dino Babers and his staff recruited hard to bring in new talent for the upcoming seasons.

In a late addition to the 2020 class, Syracuse brought in 6'4" pass catcher Isaiah Jones from Cocoa, Florida (40 minutes southeast of Orlando) in July. The Orange are still waiting to see if former Florida Gator offensive linemen Chris Bleich will get his transfer waiver approved to join the team for the upcoming season.

The 2021 class is where Dino Babers did his best work this summer. "This may be one of our best recruiting periods ever, and it was done on Zoom," Babers said via Adam Hillman of Daily Orange Sports. After securing a commitment from Massachusetts defensive tackle Terry Lockett on March 22, SU landed 17 more commitments in five months from 13 different states.

The biggest splash came in the last month. On August 2, Syracuse finally nailed its first four-star recruit with the commitment of cornerback Darian "Duce" Chestnut. The Camden, New Jersey native is the highest-ranked defensive back in the Garden state according to 247Sports.com. Syracuse has not recruited a four-star player (per 247Sports) since Trill Williams in 2018.

The Orange made another big splash in the quarterback market. In early July, northern California signal-caller Justin Lamson announced his commitment to Syracuse. The high school state champion turned down offers from local schools like San Jose State and Sacramento State, as well as ACC rival Louisville. Lamson is 247Sports’ 25th best quarterback of the 2021 class.

Another big story of the 2021 class was the Hawaiian commitments. First, Honolulu native Austyn Kauhi committed to the Orange in mid-June. The offensive tackle stands at 6’5”, 260 pounds, and has been dubbed as a future All-American candidate by Sports Illustrated. One month later, SU added Kalan Ellis, another Honolulu native. The guard is listed at a thundering 6’5”, 350 pounds. Offensive-line coach Mike Cavanaugh’s roots in Hawaii were crucial in grabbing the pair.

Locally, the Orange received three 2021 commitments from within New York State. In late August, Syracuse grabbed defensive tackle Elijah Fuentes from the Bronx. He is joined by linebacker, and fellow Bronx native, Malik Matthew. Next, there is Jaelin Moss – 247Sports’ third-highest rated New Yorker in the class. All three fall within 247Sports’ top eight recruits in the state.

Here is how the 18-player class shapes out regionally right now:

 

(Northeast = Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Midwest = Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin. Southeast = Georgia, South Carolina. Southwest = California, Hawaii)

The class is composed of eight offensive players and 13 defensive players. The defensive line was the focus of the class with Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman departing before this year, and Josh Black, Kingsley Jonathan, and McKinley Williams all entering their final seasons. 247Sports ranks the class 54th nationally and last in the conference. The Orange briefly climbed out of the basement of the ACC after Chestnut’s commitment, but they have since been passed by Wake Forest and Duke.

We Want to Play?

In recent weeks, the topic of playing college football amidst the pandemic has been thrust into the spotlight. Major conferences like the Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big East have cancelled fall football as well as smaller conferences and independent programs. Currently, the ACC and SEC appear ready to play the season, with the Big 12 left as the remaining Power 5 school on the fence.

On August 6, the ACC released its amended 2020 schedule including 10 conference games and one non-conference. The modification of the schedule also brought in a familiar newcomer. The Notre Dame football team will join the rest of its athletic program and play in the ACC this season rather than independently. The Orange face off with the Fighting Irish in their final game of the regular season on December 5. Notre Dame beat Syracuse 36-3 on neutral turf in 2018.

While the ACC is proceeding as usual, Syracuse players have not. The Orange have made their voices heard several times already during training camp, which began on August 6. At first, the players asked for more testing.

 

Since, they have demanded more from the ACC schools around them as well as expressing concern with their out-of-conference opponent Liberty University. Not to mention, redshirt freshman Cooper Dawson has already opted out of the season. Playing games this year is no guarantee.

On the Field:

If games do take place, the Orange have a number of interesting storylines this season. After an up-and-down first season, quarterback Tommy DeVito must take another step forward if Syracuse is going to be competitive. The offensive line, which ranked among the worst in the nation in sacks (4th worst, 50) and sack yards allowed (4th worst, 297) is also expected to improve. They should benefit from another year under their belt.

 

In the backfield, Syracuse has to get used to life without Moe Neal. Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams enters his second season with Syracuse and will likely take the bulk of the carries. Inside the red zone, however, Jarveon Howard is still the man for Dino Babers’ offense.

Out wide, a gap is left behind by the loss of Trishton Jackson to the NFL. SU’s wide receiver room includes Taj Harris, Nykeim Johnson and a whole lot of question marks. Expect opportunities for the freshmen to get involved if they perform well in practice. The departure of Sean Riley leaves a hole in the return game as well.

On defense, Josh Black and Kingsley Jonathan will get an opportunity to take many of the snaps that Coleman and Robinson had last year. Even in the best-case scenario, it will be tough to replace the production of the two-headed monster. Linebacker is where the defense might be most exposed, however. Canadian linebacker Tyrell Richards is the only upperclassmen at the position and sophomore Mikel Jones is the only returning starter.

The Syracuse secondary could be the anchor of the team this year. Starters Trill Williams, Ifeatu Melifonwu, and Andre Cisco all head into their junior seasons. Cisco is likely to enter the NFL draft after this season. The safety has 12 interceptions through his first two seasons at SU.

It has been an eventful summer and likely will be an eventful fall – whether the season is played or not. Former Syracuse stars are stepping onto NFL fields for the first time, future impact players are joining the program, and current players are battling through training camp with an unprecedented season on the horizon. Whatever happens, we will have it all on WAER Sports.