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2021 Syracuse Football Positional Preview: Defensive Backs

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Garrett Williams returns an interception against Clemson on October 24, 2020.

Be prepared to see a different-looking SU secondary in 2021. The leaders are gone: Andre Cisco, Ifeatu Melinfonwu and Trill Williams all departed for the NFL. Now, a talented group of youngsters looks to take the baton and continue one of SU’s strongest units from a season ago.

Garrett Williams, Redshirt Freshman

Williams is coming off a tremendous Freshman season in 2020. Named a Freshman All-American by The Athletic, the Harrisburg, North Carolina native finished tied for the ACC lead with 10 pass breakups to go with 5.8 tackles per game, the most among cornerbacks in the conference. Orange fans most remember Williams for his interception and return for a touchdown off Trevor Lawrence in October. After emerging as a lockdown corner in his first season, Williams brings an element of excitement to the Syracuse secondary as the face of it in year two.

Ja’Had Carter, Redshirt Freshman

Carter is another player that shined immediately once getting his opportunity. As a true freshman in 2020, the Richmond, Virginia native played in all 11 games, leading the DB group with 67 tackles. Carter ended the 2020 season on a high note against Notre Dame, recording just the second interception all season off thrown by Ian Book to go with five tackles.

Jason Simmons, Sophomore

Simmons is a new face in the Orange secondary but brings lots of experience. The Lancaster, Texas native made eight starts with New Mexico State as a true freshman in 2019 and recorded 62 tackles. As an independent, the Aggies had no college football season in 2020 and Simmond entered his name in the transfer portal, choosing Syracuse on February 27. The second-year player has shutdown defense in his blood too, as his father Jason is the defensive pass game coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.

Neil Nunn, Redshirt Freshman

Rated as a top-30 player out of Florida according to 247Sports.com in the 2018 class, Nunn began to see action in 2020 before suffering an injury. The redshirt freshman spent time at both safety and corner as well as special teams. Nunn brought that versatile role from Miami Palmetto senior high school, where he broke out as a defensive back, wide receiver, and punt returner.

Rob Hanna, Freshman

A high school teammate of Nunn at Miami Palmetto, Hanna played a pivotal role in the SU defense in 2020. His number was called after Andre Cisco went down with an injury. Hanna stepped in as a true freshman and started the last nine games. The Miami native wasted no time making an impact, recording an interception in his collegiate debut against Georgia Tech, recording nine tackles and a tackle for loss in an Orange victory.

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Darian Chestnut - Freshman

“Duce” Chestnut joins Syracuse after an impressive high school career at Camden High School in New Jersey, where was ranked as a top-25 cornerback in the nation and a top-10 recruit from the state. Chestnut is a speedster, with 13 career special teams touchdowns and a track competitor in high school.

Malcolm Folk - Freshman

Folk adds another element of speed to the Orange secondary. The freshman exploded onto the scene at Episcopal Academy as both a cornerback and a running back. The Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania native earned a top-30 ranking in Pennsylvania in the 2021 class per 247Sports.com, as well as a three-star rating.

Justin Barron - Freshman

Barron was the epitome of a utility man with the Orange in 2020. With a big 6-4 215 build, Barron was converted from a wide receiver to a defensive back eight games intop the season. The final three, the Rocky Hill, Connecticut native saw from the defensive side of the football. It’s nothing new to Barron, who was a wide receiver and safety at Suffield Academy and ranked as a top 10 player across Connecticut (Rivals.com).

Aman Greenwood - Redshirt Freshman

Greenwood is another underclassmen who -- you guessed it -- was thrown into the mix a lot in 2020. The talented safety from Washington D.C. started the final seven games of the season in his first full season of playing time, recording 18 tackles and four pass breakups. Greenwood was praised as the eighth best prospect from Washington D.C. by ESPN, 247Sports, and Rivals.com.

Ben Labrosse - Freshman

Labrosse saw time in nine games as both a defensive back off the bench and on special teams in the 2020 season. The freshman played his high school ball north of the border, and was stellar. Labrosse was the No. 2 ranked prospect in Quebec in the 2020 Class, according to 247Sports.

John Sweetwood - Redshirt Sophomore

Sweetwood joins the Orange for a third season this fall. The son of a Syracuse grad, he spent time on both sides of the football as a Quarterback and linebacker in high school. He has yet to play for the Orange since arriving in 2018.

Eric Coley - Redshirt Junior

Coley was set for a starting job in 2020 -- before suffering a season-ending injury in the very first game. The corner is a Manilus, New York native and was the star of the show at nearby Fayetteville-Manilus high school, ranked as the top overall prospect out of New York (Scouts.com). Once arriving to play down the road at Syracuse, he has played in 19 games across three seasons, including all 12 games in 2019, where he was fifth on the team in tackles (48) with at least one in every game.

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2018-09-08 Syracuse vs Wagner Football

Chase Atkinson - Freshman

While he did not appear in any games in 2020 in his first season, Atkinson impressed at Blythewood High School in South Carolina. The Columbia, SC native was a top-40 player in the 2020 class (ESPN), and offers speed as a track competitor in high school himself.

Cam Reirden - Freshman

Reirden became a part of the Orange secondary as a preferred walk-on. The first-year Belmont Hill, Massachusetts native spent time at defensive back and wide receiver in high school and could add the final of the three options to his resume this season as a special teams utility man.

AJ Calabro - Freshman

Calabro has spent time as a reserve for the Orange, playing in one game in 2020. But before arriving, he played both safety and linebacker as the senior captain at Saint John Vianney, and dominated with a 31-3 four-season record.

Clay Masters - Freshman 

Masters hails all the way from West Linn, Oregon to play for Dino Babers. The 5-11 175-pound Freshman showed tons of upside as a Oregon 6A all-state selection at both wide receiver and cornerback.

Tommy Porter - Freshman

Porter has an incredible story as a defensive back who beat the odds and joined Syracuse as a walk-on despite tearing his ACL twice in high school. He’s like Masters in two ways: an all-purpose back, who traveled from one coast to another as a La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. native.