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Syracuse Football: First One To Class Wins Starting Spot

That's not technically true, but when it comes to Syracuse's linebacking corp, coach Dan Conley uses anything and everything to help him make decisions. When you've got one senior, one sophomore and six freshmen to choose from, and only one of them has any starting experience, everything they do matters. Like making sure they're the first one to team meetings...

Conley looks at the youth and sees an advantage in some ways. The youthfulness of his linebacking group as a whole spurs maximum effort on the field. Combined with the fact that each of the eight is fighting for playing time in an open position, practice can get intense.

It's the same thing with the classroom where linebacker meetings are held. Conley said he talks to the players who are consistently the last guys in the room, the last guys in line for linebacking drills.

"Coach Conley, he's always so excited, and he makes everything a competition," Davis said. "Like every single thing. … So I just try to be as competitive as I can, just to keep my spot."

Conley says nothing's set in stone at the spot, so don't expect Spruill and Vaughn to be handed starting gigs just because they have experience. "Best three will play."

In the defensive backfield, Jeremi Wilkes might technically be a corner, but don't be surprised if you see him getting significant time at safety as well. In the style of Mike Holmes, the sophomore is learning both positions and should see time at both as well.

"I just want to do whatever to help the team," Wilkes said after practice Tuesday. "If my number’s called to play safety, I’ll do that. If my number’s called to play corner, I’ll do that."

"Jeremi Wilkes plays corner, but he’s a good football player. He’s got great instincts," Shafer said.

Philip Thomas will almost certainly start at free safety for the Orange this year. He might not have the first name recognition of his Thomas counterpart, but this Thomas has an opportunity to make good on a childhood that nearly stopped him before he got started:

She had to pull her adopted baby from high school for getting into fights. And once, he went to a juvenile detention center for being in the company of a friend who stole a watch. But Cooper saw the true Thomas. He would become happy. And she would continue to help him there.

"He had a lot of anger in him because he didn't know what was going on in his life," Cooper said. "He didn't know. Everything was just turned upside down."

Consider things right-side up now for Philip and the SU secondary.