In 2016, graduate transfer wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo shocked the college football world. In his lone season for the Syracuse Orange, Etta-Tawo carried the SU receiving corps, leading the ACC in many receiving categories while also setting school records.
A year later, Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips shared the throne atop the receiver depth chart, with both also continuing to dominate en route to All-ACC honors.
In 2018, no single receiver is standing above the others. Instead, they have all coalesced and pushed each other to new heights.
“We’ve seen a lot of young guys step up,” senior running back Dontae Strickland said, highlighting junior Sean Riley and freshman Taj Harris as examples.
The receivers are all close off the field, but the mentality changes once the pads go on and they step foot on the turf.
“We just work hard day in and day out,” sophomore Nykeim Johnson said. “We all push each other so we continue to get better on a day-to-day basis.”
The offense that the receiving corps plays a major part in has already led the Orange to its first bowl berth since 2013. In the bowl-clinching matchup last week against North Carolina State, SU picked up 411 yards through the air. Riley and Johnson each had more than 100 receiving yards on the day, while senior Jamal Custis and Harris both had at least 80 on their stat line.
Harris has made a strong impression around the program in his first season on the hill, tallying over 300 yards receiving through the first eight games and taking two catches to the house as well.
“He always just wants to make a play,” senior quarterback Eric Dungey said. “No matter what, he just wants to win.”
Custis, on the other hand, took a long time to find his stride in the Syracuse football. Between injuries and the emergence of other targets, Custis did not see the spotlight between 2015 and 2017. This season has marked his coming out party, with 672 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
He’s also become a leading presence in the position group, being the team’s most tenured receiver as well as one of the most talented. In talking about the position group, Johnson commented that Custis is “a very easy going guy.” When the team hits the field, however, a switch flips.
“It makes everybody want to go,” Johnson said. “If you see one guy catching balls in practice, when it comes your way you to do the same.”
The receiving corps has carried the team throughout the season and looks to continue throughout the rest of the 2018 campaign. Next up, they look to light up the turf against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C. on Saturday.