My 2019 SU Football Preview Part III: The Players QB & Receivers | Syracusefan.com

My 2019 SU Football Preview Part III: The Players QB & Receivers

SWC75

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THE PLAYERS

Quarterbacks
Seniors: Clayton Welch 6-5 243
Juniors: Rex Culpepper 6-3 222
Sophomores: Tommy DeVito 6-2 212
Freshmen: Drew Gunther 6-2 203; David Summers 6-2 223

From last year’s preview about DeVito: “Tommy DeVito does have an NFL arm and accuracy, as testified by anyone who has seen him in practice. I think he’s much more the type of quarterback Dino loves: a guy who will stay in the pocket and pick apart the defense. Coming out of high school, ESPN ranked him 8th among the nation’s pocket passer prospects. He was very impressive in the post-season all-star games: Under Armour, Nike Elite and 7 on 7. He’s considered out best QB recruit since Donovan McNabb…He could also be the “inspirational” type, as shown by this anecdote from his high school career: “Once, when he was about 16, DeVito stayed at practice to do extra conditioning with a teammate who had fumbled twice that day. DeVito was a backup, but he performed the extra length-of-field sprints on a hot day so his teammate didn’t have to do it alone.” He’s also been working toward this for a long time: “DeVito might not be at Syracuse if not for his mentor and trainer, Leon Clarke. Since he turned 6, DeVito went through rigorous circuits several times per week, including 60 minutes of drop backs and hundreds of throws into hula hoops laid out on a field to target. After a year with Clarke, he knew how to three-step drop and look off safeties. “Much of my 20s was spent with him,” Clarke said. “… He put a lot of his childhood to the side to prepare for what he has today.”

Last year he had mixed results. He started the second half against Western Michigan after Dungey had forged a 34-7 halftime lead. The result was a disaster as the Broncos scored three unanswered touchdowns to get back in the game. Tommy’s four possessions produced a fumble and three punts. Dungey had to return to the game to rescue it. Dungey was injured against Florida State and DeVito had to come through with a strong performance and he did leading three touchdown drives in a 30-7 win and competing 11 of 16 passes for 144 yards and a score. Against North Carolina, Dungey had been ineffective and the Tar Heels had turned a 20-7 deficit into a 20-27 lead when Babers went to DeVito, who rallied the team to victory in overtime with three touchdown passes, including a 42 yarder to Nykeim Johnson that was probably the most beautiful pass ever thrown in the Carrier Dome, (and I’ve been there since it opened in 1980). Tommy lofted a perfect spiral over Nykeim’s shoulder and into his out-stretched arms. But it wasn’t a perfect performance: Tommy also misread a defense and threw the ball right into the arms of a defender, giving the Heels the ball at the SU 39 with 1:07 left. Fortunately the defense held firm and the game went into overtime. Then he replaced the injured Dungey in the Notre Dame disaster and completed 14 of 31 for just 105 yards and two interceptions. In Tommy’s defense both the Western Michigan and Notre Dame games involved the whole team playing poorly when he was in there. But he was unable to elevate them.

Now he’s “the man” and everything will be up to him. He has to be consistently good, not occasionally great, (where did I get that from?) He’s still floating those passes into the outstretched arms of his receivers in practice: Until I see otherwise, I’ll continue to believe that he will be the guy to really make Dino’s offense sing. But Ol’ Jake Gaither used to say “All potential means is that you haven’t done a damn thing yet.”

Clayton Welch will be his back-up. Who? Here’s what I said about him last year: “Clayton Welch is a junior college transfer who passed for 63 yards and a score in the spring game. He is a walk on but a big one at 6-5 235. He was on the roster last year but didn’t play in any games. He put up some good numbers at Butte College in California: “Welch completed 54.4 percent of his passes for 1,325 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions in 12 games played last season. He also ran for 821 yards and 11 scores.”
Actually he looks pretty darn good in the highlight film in this article:
Syracuse football recruiting: 2017 JUCO QB Clayton Welch signs with SU as walk-on
If Tommy flops or gets hurt, people will react as if the season is over. I think Mr. Welch could surprise them in that situation. He’s a big dude and Dino might dust off the Dungey playbook for Welch.

Then there’s Rex Culppper, a Shafer recruit who was supposed to be the “next guy” after Dungey. His career was sidetracked both by the coaching change and by testicular cancer. He adjusted to the new schemes and is now cancer free and he gives us excellent depth at this position.

David Summers was going to go to Maryland, (our second opponent), but flipped to SU after their coaching scandal and Chance Amie transferred out. Per Syracuse.com, “is rated three stars and the No. 37 pro-style quarterback this cycle by 247Sports.com's composite rankings. As a senior at St. Joseph, Summers completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 2,631 yards, 39 touchdowns and 10 interceptions en route to being named Connecticut High School Coaches Association Player of the Year. He racked up 3,227 yards and 49 touchdowns during his junior year, completing 65.1 percent of his passes while throwing just five interceptions. Summers also logged five rushing touchdowns in each campaign. "I think one of the biggest things is he’s a competitor," St. Joseph head coach Joe Della Vecchia said. "That was one of the things that I found out about him early. He’s going out there to compete. He wants to win, he wants to be good. We talk about being great all the time at practice. He’s certainly one of those guys who wants to be the best on the field all the time."

His highlights: David Summers SR. Year QB Highlights
I love his ability to throw deep, even flicking the ball forward when off balance. He can throw fly balls or line drives equally well. His running highlights come at the end. He’s no Lamar Jackson or even an Eric Dungey but he does Ok on the quarterback draw.

Drew Gunther is a preferred walk-on from Ryan Nassib’s old school, Malvern Prep. “Threw for 2,136 yards and 24 TDs as a senior to lead the Friars to the second 11-0 season in Inter-Ac League history.” (Cuse.com). Per Syracuse.com: “described the quarterback as a smart decision-maker, able to call out protections, check the team out of unfavorable plays and use his savvy in the run-pass-option game. He led a hurry-up offense each of the last two years …A lack of elite arm talent is likely what kept the Power-Five offers away, Gueriera said, but Gunther has added 15 pounds since the end of his senior year and gets up at 5:30 a.m. daily to work out. Going into a college strength and conditioning program starting this summer, it’s likely he will only continue to grow into his frame.” He was going to go Virginia Tech but flipped when they got some transfers.

Highlights: Drew Gunther Varsity
He looks OK but this almost all short passes.

Summers and Gunther will probably both redshirt. I think we’ve got plenty of talent and depth here but most agree that the “next guy” after DeVito is not on the roster yet and that that’s a job for the next recruiting class. We’ll see…


Receivers
Seniors: Sean Riley 5-8 170
Juniors: Jesse Conners 6-2 231; Chris Elmore 6-0 295, Aaron Hackett 6-3 234; Tristan Jackson 6-1 191; Nykeim Johnson 5-8 172; Zach Lesko 6-2 226
Sophomores: Taj Harris 6-2 175; Sharod Johnson 5-11 179; Cameron Jordan 6-3 216; Russell Thompson-Bishop 6-1 223
Freshmen: Luke Benson 6-3 210; James Cherry 5-9 172; Ethan Fischer 6-0 187; Ed Hendrix 6-3 208; Courtney Jackson 6-1 191, Kevin Johnson, Jr. 5-11 201; Cooper Lutz 6-0 205; Kevin Mital 6-2 210, Anthony Queeley 6-2 197; Sam Warren 5-11 180; Nate Wellington 5-10 177

When Sean Riley came here, I was not impressed. He was a water-sprite type with some moves but without much size or great speed. He was replacing one of my favorite players, Brisley Estime, “The Salt Badger”, who was short but strong with exceptional moves and speed who had just led the country in punt returns. In his first couple of years, Riley did little to change my impression. He returned 101 kicks but never broke one and caught 19 passes at 12 yards a catch, not scoring by that route, either. But last year, he seemed like a different player. He averaged 16.4 yards a punt return and scored on one. He caught 64 passes for 756 yards and three scores. He had speed to go with his moves and was physically stronger so he could break tackles or even block people. He also was a gunner on the punt unit. He was all football player and now he’s another one of my favorite players.

Nykeim Johnson was another small guy but with plenty of speed. He caught that big pass from DeVito to get us going against UNC. He had 41 catches for 565 yards and 4 scores. The unrelated Sharod Johnson caught 7 passes for 97 yards, including a 34 yarder vs. BC.

I was thrilled last year with all the talent coming into the program at wide receiver and also at defensive back. Dino Babers was getting Dino Babers players to make his team go. Here is my write-up from last year about our outstanding receiver prospects:

“As with the quarterback and running back units, there’s some interesting young talent coming up behind the experienced players, although with the receivers their openings for getting playing time are going to be more numerous. One guy who isn’t going to get a shot is Trishton Jackson, who like Abdul Adams, is a highly recruited, (4 stars) transfer from a school whose success we envy, (Michigan State). He had 8 catches for 168 yards in their 2017 spring game but only 12 for 143 in their regular season as he lost his job to Cody White. He had 5 catches for 89 and a score as a freshman. He will have two years of eligibility left. He was considered as high as the 25th best wide receiver in his high school class, (by Scout), although, like Butler, he played quarterback. He is a talented athlete who wants to play with Jim Boeheim’s basketball team a as walk-on. Here’s his high school highlight film:
He’s #1: the quarterback. Looks like he could get plenty of YAC – next year.

A lot of people are excited about Russell Thompson-Bishop (RTB) who at 6-1 215 had good size and a lot of strength to fight his way open. He also has excellent speed, as reflected in his averages per catch in high school: overall: 133 receptions for 2,768 yards (20.8 avg.) and 35 touchdowns. As a senior: 41 passes for 728 yards (17.8 avg.) and 11 TDs. He also played basketball and led the state of Connecticut in blocked shots with 4.6. Did I say he was 6-1? Let’s take a look at him playing football in high school:
He looks like the sort of guy quarterbacks love to throw to- a guy who can go up and get it in a crowd and make the QB look good. He’s also the ideal guy to target over the middle.

Kevin Johnson, Jr. played for “The Hun” school in New Jersey, (do they teach them to conquer and pillage?) and caught 32 passes for 795 yards (24.8!) and seven touchdowns. He then transferred to IMG in Miami, (the sort of place that collects top prospects) “and helped the Ascenders to an 8-0 record and the No. 2 final ranking in the USA Today Super 25 poll” (Cuse.com), where he “mostly played on special teams” per Nunesmagician.com. They have some film of him as a junior:
It looks like he runs routes really well and has the strength to fight off defenders. With so many Johnson’s, he’s considered a “redshirt” candidate but that new redshirt rule, (they can play up to 4 games), we may see him this year anyway, probably, as at IMG, on special teams. But with his pedigree, he may be a key receiver for us in the future.

Cameron Jordan made the two deep behind Devin Butler as a redshirt freshman. He’s from Long Island and is another big target at 6-3 202. He got three starts from most of the services. “As a senior captain, tallied 22 receptions for 614 yards (27.9!) and 11 touchdowns to lead Half Hollow Hills West to a 9-3 record and the Suffolk Country Division II title … As a junior, had 29 catches for 854 yards (29.4!)” (Cuse.com). Here is his highlight film:
So many of these guys wore #1. That may be a good sign. Cam seems like the guy you’d like to throw the deep bomb to several times a game.

Taj Harris is a three star wide receiver prospect out of New Jersey, another good area, (usually way better than New York). He started out as a wide receiver in high school but switched to quarterback and has now switched back. “As a sophomore, caught 51 passes for 1,101 yards and 13 touchdowns … Recorded 990 yards from scrimmage (600 rushing, 390 receiving) and nine touchdowns as a junior, in addition to throwing for 441 yards and seven scores…As a senior quarterback in 2017, Harris accounted for 29 touchdowns and more than 2,300 yards of offense … Passed for 1,550 and 19 touchdowns, while rushing for 979 yards and 10 TDs” (Cuse.com). Quite a versatile football player. Here’s his highlight film:
We’ll have plenty of guys who can throw the pass off the end around: Harris, Butler and (next year) Jackson).

Ed Hendrix is another newcomer people are excited about. He’s another tall receiver at 6-3. He’s another DC kid who is rated 3 stars and the #77 receiver in his high school class by 247sports. “Caught 68 passes for 1,535 yards (22.6 avg.) and 24 touchdowns in three seasons for the Warriors, including 27 receptions for 585 yards (21.7 avg.) and 14 touchdowns as a senior captain.” (Cuse.com). His highlights, (the senior highlights come on after the junior highlights):
He looks like a tall target that a quarterback would look for when he needs a completion.

Anthony Queeley is a three star recruit from Florida. “ Caught 73 passes for 1,063 yards (14.6 avg.) and seven touchdowns as a junior … As a senior captain in 2017, made 77 receptions for 1,197 yards (15.5 avg.) and 13 TDs” Nunes: “Put up exactly the type of numbers we’d like to see more of at SU.” Highlights:

Cooper Lutz was a running back in high school but is listed as a wide receiver here. “Rushed for 3,141 yards and 55 touchdowns in his scholastic career … Caught 27 passes for 410 yards (15.2 avg.) and six touchdowns in his four seasons … Totaled 164 career tackles and seven interceptions on defense … As a senior, ran for 1,525 yards and 31 touchdowns.” 247 and ESPN gave him three stars as an “athlete”. Highlights:
Nunes sees him in the “slot” – but not this year.“


The guy who emerged from this group was Harris, who by the end of the year was arguably our best receiver. He had great hands and could run with the ball after the catch. He just seemed to have good instincts for the position. He would up with 40 catches for 565 yards and 3TDs and left people believing he could do a lot more. Jackson, like Abdul Adams, sat out the regular season as a transfer but under the strange new rules, played in the bowl game and scored, one of three receptions for 27 yards.

The highest rated of these guys going into last season was Hendrix who had the size and speed Babers is looking for. But he can’t stay away from injuries. He didn’t play at all last year due to a knee injury. He got hurt again in the spring and it’s just been announced he’s had another “lower body injury” and “will be out indefinitely”. Some guys just can’t buy a break – or buy too many of them. But he’s still a freshman and could still come back to have a fine career. Cam Jordan played in all 12 games on the kickoff team but never caught a pass. Anthony Queeley played in the BC game but had no stats. Thompson-Bishop redshirted and didn’t play at all. So did Kevin Johnson Jr. and Cooper Lutz.

Courtney Jackson was rated the #67 wide receiver prospect in the country. Nunesmagician: “Jackson’s an impressive athlete, playing both on both offense and defense in football, while also playing basketball. That sort of experience will be put to the test soon on the field, as he seems an heir apparent to the slot receiver position. The fact that he’s already getting an “OR” with Nykeim Johnson means he’s definitely going to see the field a bit this year.”
His highlights: Syracuse football recruiting: 3-star Pennsylvania WR Courtney Jackson signs
If he’s even, he’s leavin’. And he can see the whole field and knows what seams to hit.

Kevin Mital is a late enrollee from Canada who will add to our depth in the way of the Devin Butler transfer and the Ed Hendrix injury. He’s got size at 6-2, 210 and was “Division I Offensive Player of the Year, logging a division-record 17 touchdowns and 1,058 yards”. These are his highlights:
he seems like a very physical player, one who could grow into a tight end, a linebacker or defensive end. Yet he clearly has good speed and pass catching skills.

James Cherry, Ethan Fischler, Sam Warren and Nate Wellington are walk-ons who are more likely to see action on special teams.

I think this wide receiver unit is going to bloom like a garden flower.
There’s just so much talent here and with the inconsistent Jamal Custis and Devin Butler gone, there will be great completion for positions and big chances for stars to emerge.

Ravian Pierce is gone and Gabe Horan had his career abruptly end due to a severe concussion. That leaves the tight end position mostly to three juniors, Aaron Hackett, Jesse Connors and Zach Lesko. There’s also a freshman, Luke Benson. Dino doesn’t throw much to his tight ends. The highly rated Pierce caught only 16 passes last year. Hackett caught 4. Lesko is a transfer from Chattanooga and Connors a transfer from Holy Cross. Neither has ever played a down for us. Benson has potential but is smaller than some of our wide-outs. Babers likes to use his tight end as a blocker so I’m listing Elmore here, (he’s also listed as a fullback). He’s no pass-catching threat but is a big body as a lead blocker, especially for short yardage and goal line plays. I wasn’t too impressed with the results but posters who re-watch games and look for such things tell me he was much more effective than I gave him credit for so I’ll bow to their opinion. But Elmore is coming off a leg injury sustained in the spring. I don't think Dino will be passing too much to the tight ends, even though I wish he would. With all the passing to wide-outs, the middle of the field should be wide open.
 
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