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An open letter to Syracuse’s incoming 2017 recruiting class

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Advice from someone who’s been there before.

NCAA Football: Syracuse-Dino Babers Press Conference Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday your life changed. National Signing Day is nothing short of a blessing. It’s the crowning ceremony on a successful high school career. Every reason you play the game surrounded you: your family, friends, and a host of supporters all gathered to celebrate your achievement and fulfillment. That’s what success feels like. You’ve realized a dream.

As athletes, we often publicize proving doubters wrong, and overcoming what thought were shortcomings. But in truth, our greatest moments thrive when we prove those who believe in us right. Signing Day is a moment where you’ve done just that. Hopefully you lived in it, savored it, and now let it drive you to new heights. Never become complacent. Instill that motivation right now, because you have bigger dreams. Keep chasing. The sooner you realize establishment is an illusion the easier it’ll be to overcome complacency.

When you get onto campus at Syracuse, everyone is going to give you all kinds of advice. But it’s usually so cliché and overused, when you hear it, their words won’t have any meaning. I wanted to write this for you because in some ways, it’s a guide I wish I’d gotten. Plenty of people from coaches, academic counselors, to even tutors passed along tidbits of guidance, but it didn’t translate for me. I couldn’t establish and apply principles that I could rely on and could translate from the field to everyday settings.

Syracuse v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When I was freshman, I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on during a play. I barely knew what was going on in class. I even had a hard time figuring out the bus schedule. Everything moved fast. I didn’t look up to many guys on the team, but in time I found my own way navigating the rigors of being a Division I athlete. But understand that it is hard.

In 2012, I came in with 21 other guys. Of us, one was arrested, three transferred (two were asked to leave), one quit, two didn’t qualify, and one was dismissed for drugs. Some weren’t even asked back for their fifth year. As for the rest of us, only nine ever started a game. Out of that group, just two signed with an NFL team.

These sort of numbers are littered throughout every recruiting class. I’m telling you because I want you to understand that it isn’t easy. Some guys can’t handle it. They get on campus and immediate satisfaction takes over. They forget their own goals and lose themselves. Alcohol, weed, romantic interests. It’s usually one of the three and they don’t even realize it.

Listen, Syracuse is lit (for those readers who are a bit older, lit means wild or exciting). South Campus parties will change your life. You’ll get to see all of your favorite artists for less than $10 for four years. You’ll fall in love at a Schine party more than once & you’ll find out Marshall Street tastes way better after 2 a.m.

What I’m trying to say is, enjoy yourself. The college experience is one of a kind. When I hosted recruits, I showed them everything. The ones who make it to the next level -- or successfully move into the next phase of their life — understand the value of moderation. I want you to succeed; I want you to turn this program around. But you need someone to tell you what you need to understand, rather than what most people think you need to hear.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Leaders need Leaders

I get it. You just came from a place of success. You were all-county, all-state, maybe even All-American. But this isn’t high school. Most of the guys ahead of you actually are better than you.

Check your ego. A couple years ago we had a QB come in with supreme confidence, he told the media he intended to start and he made his presence felt. Unfortunately, he alienated himself in the locker room. His personality didn’t resonate well with the rest of the team because he hadn’t earned that respect. I empathized with him and felt his ambition. But in your youth, ambition is better kept internalized. Chase it. Demonstrate your talent first. Respect and admiration isn’t demanded, it’s earned.

Learn how to lead and be an example at this level. True leaders will demonstrate the positive and necessary traits. Take note and emulate those characteristics. They will aid your success.

Understand That Fans & Media Will Love You, Until They Don’t

This is more football related, but I think it’s worth mentioning. I made this mistake, and this is personal to me. Do not take pride in your own hype or public affirmation and don’t wallow public blame or reprimand.

I played corner. Aside from quarterback, this position arguably faces the most exposure. To them, you’re either an asset or a liability. The game of football is a “what have you done for me lately?” business. You know your own ability, but obviously no game is perfect. Still, the media in Syracuse can be brutal.

Praise and scrutiny are one in the same. Ignore the outside and focus on the internal. The internal relates to the team and the goals you have as a group. Focus on your job and dedicate yourself to be being the best at it. When you get older, younger guys will want to understand what it takes to be successful. At that point you’ll want to be able to lead them in the right direction. My career was far from a “how to” manual, but yours can be.

NCAA Football: ACC Football Kickoff Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Do Less, Say No

This is a complicated, but over time I’ve found this to be a priority. Successful people are excellent at saying “no.” The goal of this is to eliminate mediocrity from your life and focus on the few and simple things that matter to you. Less is more. When you understand this, you’ll be able to make progressive realizations towards your goal because you’ve minimized the low-quality factors that may hold you back from your long-term success. See the vision clearly, and get after it.

Your Reputation is Everything

Character is what you are. Reputation is what people think you are. Both are important. Coaches give up on and dismiss players because of what they think they know about a guy.

First impressions are everything. Coaches, staff, & administration will challenge their thoughts of you based on first impressions. So I highly encourage you to make it a good one. Demonstrate work ethic and ambition. It’ll jumpstart your reputation. Make the most out of summer workouts and classes.

This equally applies to your social life. People will judge you based on first impressions and the reputation you carry publicly. Maintain yourself with dignity. This includes social media. Guys get in trouble here all the time. I did multiple times and that coaches meeting the next day wasn’t fun. Prioritize traits that resonate well within you and the communities you’re currently apart of.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Draft Party Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Believe In Your Come Up

Being slept on builds character. One of the best feelings you will ever experience is knowing exactly what you want because you won’t allow yourself to settle for anything less. All good things take time. Put the work in.

Syracuse will surround you with almost every resource you need to be successful. Come in with a plan. Don’t let others influence you. A lot of major college programs cluster athletes into majors they don’t enjoy. Don’t let that be you. Pursue your goals and believe in yourself. It’s sad but no one ever told me that.

A college degree is the most valuable asset you’ll have upon graduating. Make that degree meaningful, and understand that there’s life beyond football and with the platform Syracuse University and the game of football gives you, you can influence lives. Use it. It’ll tie into that reputation thing we talked about.

***

I hope these points helped, I’m only 22 -- far from having life figured out. But I’ve been in your shoes, and I understand how hard it is and I want to see you succeed. I want this program to win more than six games a year. I want to see guys leave the program better than they found it, and go on to do great things.

You are already an exceptional individual. Continue that excellence -- learn, perform and achieve. I want you to make the most out of your time at Syracuse. It’s a one-of-a-kind, life changing experience. I hope this guide helps aid you, and in time I expect you to leave your own legacy within the program. We’re counting on you.