My 2020 SU Football Preview Pt 8: Defensive Backs


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
Defensive Backs
Seniors: Devon Clarke 6-2 197, Kyle Strickland 6-0 186
Juniors: Andre Cisco 6-0 209, Eric Coley 6-2 206 (up from 192), Ifeatu Melifonwu 6-3 213, (up from 203), Kevin Nusdeo 6-1 205, Trill Williams 6-2 198
Sophomores: A. J. Calabro 5-10 197, Adrian Cole 5-10 171; Aman Greenwood 5-10 180; Cam Jonas 6-1 210; Corneilius (Neil) Nunn 6-0 183, (up from 170), John Sweetwood 6-0 176, Garrett Williams 5-11 184; Jake Wright 6-1 202
Freshmen: Chase Atkinson 5-11 180, Ja’Had Carter 6-2 191, Nate Erickson 5-0 190, Rob Hanna 6-0 168, Ben Labrosse 6-2 200
Gone: Scoop Bradshaw, Antwan Cordy, Evan Foster, Christopher Fredrick, DuWayne Johnson, Carl Jones, Allen Stritzinger. Stritzinger transferred. The rest all graduated.

This is our pride and joy. Dino and his staff out-did themselves two years ago bringing in Andre Cisco, Eric Coley, Iffy Melifonwu and Trill Williams. All four guys were clearly a cut above the types of players we’d been recruiting for our defensive backfield for years. These guys didn’t just look like potential starters or even potential all-Americans. They looked like guys who would playing on Sundays. But first they were going to play for us!

The most important unit on a football team is the offensive line. If they are dominating, everything works for the offense and the defense and kicking teams will only be used in circumstances most favorable to them. The second most important unit is the defensive backfield because if that is defective, you will never stop the other team and never be able to keep up with them. The presence of talented players in the backfield is not enough- they’ve got to work hard to maximize their skills and coordinate their efforts. But when it all comes together for them, it can be a thing of beauty. I recall the Markus Paul Group in the mid 1980’s- Paul, (the leader), Jeff Mangrum, Chris Ingram Cooper Gardiner and later David Holmes. They had a difficult baptism of fire but by their junior years they became football’s equivalent of a spider’s web. We got an incredible amount of coverage sacks as quarterbacks searched in vain for someone to throw to. I remember many times smiling as I saw the QB’s frustration. The maturing of this group and the arrival of the Cherry Bowl group in the offensive line were the two big developments that got us the 11-0 breakthrough. We had star players in other areas but their efforts would have shown in another 5-6 year without the Cherry Bowl Group and Markus Paul Group.

I could see Cisco, Coley, Melifonwu and Williams becoming a new group on that level for us in this era. And Dino and his men didn’t stop there. They’ve brought in some other excellent D-back prospects like Cam Jonas and Neil Nunn as well as Duce Chestnut, our highest rated recruit in a decade, who we will see next year. Dino and his staff obviously prize good defensive backs the way Doug Marrone prized offensive linemen and we should be strong in this department as long as Babers is our coach. His ideal is an offense the other team can’t keep up with and thus he wants a defense that keeps a lid on it. We didn’t keep a lid on it last year but maybe this is the year everything will come together for this group.

Andre Cisco is already one of the greatest and most honored defensive backs we’ve ever had. He was an All-American as a freshman. Not a ‘freshman All-American’- a team of the best freshmen in America. He was a full-fledged All American, tied for the national lead the country in interceptions with 7 and had 11 pass break-ups. He had 60 tackles from his safety positon. There were some opinions that he really didn’t enjoy hitting people as much as ball hawking but nobody said that after last year. Babers: “The thing that’s different, I want to talk about what’s different about Cisco, what’s different is he’s changed his body. He went down to Walmart, got him some bis, some tris, and some pecs now, he must have got the pecs off the shelf, around aisle five, he has an upper body that is no joke.” That’s Dino talking! Despite missing three games due to injury he upped his tackles to 68 and developed a reputation as a hard hitter. He also got 5 more interceptions giving him 12 in two years, the most of any retuning player in the country.

Eric Coley is the son of SU defensive tackle coach Vinson Reynolds. When Reynolds got the job here, Eric enrolled at Fayetteville-Manlius High School and immediately became the best football player this area had seen in years. He ran through defenses and kick return units like they didn’t exist and no one could keep up with him. The “Friday Night Lights” highlight films were mostly about him. He’s struggled to make it to the top of the depth chart but in this 3-3-5 set up, he’s now #1 as the “rover”, or nickel back, with Williams now graduating to a cornerback positon. He saw enough action last year to accumulate 48 tackles. This could be Coley’s year to show he belongs in the same sentence with his classmates. I’d love to see him on the kickoff return unit.

Iffy Melifonwu has been held back by injuries. (His career has thus been …iffy so far- sorry) He’s the brother of NFL d-back Obi Melifonwu and has similar athleticism. He’s played in 18 games in the last two years and made 33 tackles, 16 pass break-ups and two interceptions. “Elite-level athlete with a nose for the football” (

Trill Williams’ first name is ‘Atrilleion’, which sounds like his parents were already to begin negotiating his contract when he was born. His amazing play against Wake Forest to end the season was an indication of both his élan and his athletic ability: .
He’s played in 23 games and made 69 tackles with 3 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles. From The Atlantic: “Williams is a big, rangy dude at 6-2, 215 pounds. He vertically jumped 40 inches and has been clocked at a laser-timed 4.34 in the 40. Williams, up about 20 pounds since last year, also has benched pressed 225 pounds 17 times.” He’s actually slimmed down to 198 since that quote and must be even faster. Nunes: “If it wasn’t for Andre Cisco, we’d be talking more about Williams as one of, if not the star of the Syracuse Orange defense. His influence in the secondary granted him a promotion to the number one cornerback on the depth chart, which is well warranted. Most fans should be very excited to watch Williams go up against the best receivers in the ACC.”

Aman Greenwood shockingly beat out lauded fellow redshirt freshman Neil Nunn for the free safety spot in the spring. He’s a 3 star in his own right. Hopefully this is a comment on Greenwood’s development, not Nunn’s. He’s a bit small at 5-10 180. His nickname is ““Smurph”. He played a bit in the Holy Cross game but had no stats. Neil Nunn was a 4 star from Florida and “Rated one of the top safety prospects in the country”. Getting him was major recurring coup. Nunes: “Nunn is the backup Free Safety behind fellow Redshirt Freshman Aman Greenwood. This is probably going to be one of the more interesting position battles to follow, and both will see action this season to see if either can hold down the starting spot consistently.”

Adrian Cole is also kind of smallish at 5-10 171 but the 3 star from Florida made his way into the spring two deep behind Melifonwu. Garrett Williams was Trill Williams back-up on the spring chart. He’s a 3 star in his own right. You know you’ve got depth when you can replace Williams with Williams. Cam Jonas was a high 3 star from Florida who tore his ACL and has yet to play in any games. I’m anxious to see what he can do because a lot of people are high on him. Nunes: “Jonas was listed as the backup for Andre Cisco in the spring football depth chart. With the transfer of Allen Stritzinger we could see Jonas playing the Rover position or serving as an extra defensive back on passing downs.”

Devon Clarke is a veteran back-up strong safety and special teams stalwart. He’s played in 11 games and has 6 tackles. Nunes: “Clarke didn’t appear on the two-deep depth chart back in March, which likely means a special teams role. That’s not a bad thing, by any means.” Kyle Strickland has been a mainstay on the kickoff coverage team and that’s likely to continue to be his role.

Kevin Nusdeo was an unrated walk-on who has played in three games and recorded 1 tackle. How many tackles you got? A. J. Calabro is a walk-on who redshirted last year and will be looking for that first tackle- probably on special teams- this year. John Sweetwood is another walk-on who has been at it for a couple years now and has yet to see any action except on the scout team. So has Jake Wright, a walk-on form Jamesville-DeWitt. Nate Erickson is so obscure that even seems never to have heard of him.

Here’s the new freshman class: Chase Atkinson has the perfect name for a defensive back. He’s a 3 star from South Carolina. Nunes: “Atkinson could earn time in passing situations or on special teams.” Ja’Had Carter was rated the #48 ‘athlete’ in the country, which means he could play a number of positons. Nunes: “He’s a redshirt candidate for the time being given the combination of experienced depth and rising players with a year under their respective belts already.” Rob Hanna is another 3 star Florida prospect. Nunes: “Hanna won’t be an early enrollee, but there’s a chance he impresses early and gets special teams work, which leads to snaps in early games. 2021 and beyond? He should be another athletic defensive back that can step up and get a starting role as early as ‘21.” Ben Labrosse is from Canada, where we’ve gotten a lot of good players. Interestingly he was unrated until Syracuse landed him. Then he became a 3 star. Apparently we’re a 3 star school. “He comes in with a decent frame and athletic ability, so we’re likely looking at a redshirt year or special teams for Labrosse this season. There isn’t a ton of secondary depth past the starters though, so without any major ability to scout our folks up north, he may end up with a crazy burst of early playing time, a la Matthew Bergeron.”

This defense has some young veterans but overall it’s so young that it’s likely to peak next year rather than this year, (depending on who leaves early and who stays). The new defensive set up makes that schedule even more likely. But watching them grow up will be fun and if they can just be decent, it will be an improvement over last year.


All American
Dec 15, 2012
I don't think it's crazy to believe we might have 4 future NFL picks (2021 and 2022) playing big minutes in the secondary this season. That's absolutely nuts for a program like ours has been the last 20 years


Cali Award Magistrate
Apr 16, 2013
I don't think it's crazy to believe we might have 4 future NFL picks (2021 and 2022) playing big minutes in the secondary this season. That's absolutely nuts for a program like ours has been the last 20 years

What Trill did to close 2019 was not a college level play. You can’t just do that.

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