Football

Syracuse adds 24 on National Signing Day in Babers’ 1st recruiting class

Isabelle Marmur | Contributing Photographer

Dino Babers appeared in front of the media to talk about his incoming class of players.

A little after 7 a.m. on Wednesday, class of 2017 Elite 11 quarterback Tommy DeVito inked with Syracuse, kickstarting SU’s National Signing Day. Over the next several hours, 24 players total signed with the Orange. SU head coach Dino Babers addressed the media Wednesday afternoon, celebrating his first recruiting class and confirming SU will continue to recruit in Florida and Canada and explaining that the class’ No. 11 rating among conference schools doesn’t say much.

Here are five takeaways from the day.

DeVito channels Denzel Washington

When DeVito committed to SU, he ranked with two stars by most major recruiting services. Now, the four-star signal-caller is SU’s top-rated signee. He declined offers from Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Wake Forest, among others, and ranks among the country’s top high school players. Despite teams’ efforts to recruit him, the New Jersey native stayed pledged to Syracuse since verbally committing last April.

“He was kind of like Denzel Washington in the movie ‘Glory’ when he was holding that flag at the end,” Babers said. “Everybody was taking bullets, but he just handled that flag, held onto that ‘S’ and kept waving. He’s a lot better than what everyone else evaluated him out to be.”

Earlier in the day, DeVito appeared on ESPN2 at the network’s headquarters in Connecticut. He said he doesn’t plan on redshirting, even with junior quarterback Eric Dungey and senior quarterback Zack Mahoney likely in the depth chart.

The cornerstone

Babers’ first recruiting class includes four defensive linemen, four linebackers, four wide receivers, a pair each of defensive backs, offensive linemen, running backs and tight ends, and one fullback and one quarterback. The four spring-semester enrollees were products of the Babers coaching change that he hopes will pay off in 2018 and 2019.

“The 2017 class we feel is going to be the cornerstone of this program,” Babers said. “We’re really close. We’re not totally there … This really gives us a base. It really gives us a foundation.”

North of the border

Two of Syracuse’s newcomers hail from Canada: Tyrell Richards, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker from Ontario, and Patrick Davis, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman from Quebec. Richards is one of the highest-touted Canadian players and could see the field right away. The Orange has not had a player from Canada on its roster since 2012.

The additions remind Babers of Jim Mills, his first roommate at Hawaii who stood 6-foot-7 and weighed 265 pounds. Until his freshman year, Babers hadn’t seen a Canadian kid before. He roomed with one in college and, on Wednesday, added two to his roster.

Syracuse’s proximity to Canada could mean more recruits are to come. A major factor in Richards’ decision to chose Syracuse was that it’s only a three-hour drive from his home, he said.

“I think it’s an untapped area,” Babers said. “I think its an area that’s obviously very close to Syracuse University. I think it’s something that we’re going to try to take advantage of as long as I have a term here at Syracuse University.”

 The Florida five

Members of the incoming class hail from as far north as Canada, as far west as Michigan and as far south as Florida. Five Syracuse signees call the Sunshine State home, three more than any other state.

Markenzy Pierce, a two-star running back who chose SU over Memphis, Purdue and Western Kentucky, joins tight ends Aaron Hackett and four-star tight end Ravian Pierce. Sharod Johnson, a Miami native, is one of four new receivers. On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Nadarius Fagan comes to SU after declining offers from defending national runner-up Alabama, Louisville, Louisiana State, Nebraska and Southern California.

Babers said he and his staff intend to continue recruiting heavily in Florida, partly because most high schools hold spring games, giving coaches more chances to see players in game action.

 No. 11 is just a number

Since taking the helm in December 2015, Babers has repeatedly likened the program to a cake. SU is in its elementary stages — not yet a complete “cake.” ESPN ranks Syracuse’s incoming class No. 11 out of 14 ACC schools, reminding Babers of his first head coaching job at Eastern Illinois in 2012. He recalled a memory of the team’s first practice, when he saw a zero-star quarterback tossing the ball around.

“I just thought there’s no way in heck that this guy should be at this level,” Babers said.

That quarterback was Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and New England Patriots backup. Babers’ point: The rankings hardly matter.

“We’d like to take these young men and put them in the underbelly of our football program,” Babers said. “If they can rise to the top and can make a name for themselves, so be it. If not, we’ll put them in the oven, we’ll bake them for a while and well see them next year.”

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