This offseason, Syracuse Orange football has made its coaches available to fans through Huddles, with the last one featuring the coordinators. This week, Dino Babers sat down with Matt Park to chat all about the program, and as you’d except with Coach Babers, they covered a lot of ground.
The conversation started with a frank discussion on last year’s results, which were subpar in a season racked with COVID-19 precautions and regulations. Dino made sure to point out the Orange handled the pandemic incredibly well thanks to support from the wider University community off the field, minimizing player exposure at a level not matched by many.
The other key factor into last year’s team? Inexperience. “You can check the numbers on this, but I bet you that we are the youngest team in the ACC,” said Dino. “Every freshman you start is a L, and I think we did a tremendous job considering how many freshman we played.”
Some of the highlights from last year included the two drafted defensive players, Andre Cisco and Ifeatu Melifonwu. “Cisco acted like the big brother from the day he walked in,” Babers explained. “This guy did not act and he never acted like a freshman.” When asked about why Andre was going to successful, Dino had this anecdote.
Only two guys play in the NFL. One starts with F; Freak. It’s not that the others are not athletic, but they are just so locked into football. He saw tape like a coach, and that’s what Cisco is like.
Focusing in on Iffy, Coach explained that he was promised a redshirt season even though the youngster walked in ready to play. “I though he [Iffy] was the 3rd best corner on the team.”
Turning towards the 2021 season, Dino didn’t hold back about Spring Ball. The head coach said that his “super seniors” have called this the most physical and most competitive Spring they’ve had at Syracuse and for good reason. The group of returning seniors “don’t want [1-10] on their resume.”
But don’t count out the youngsters. Behind an expected to solidified offensive line, two young running backs Sean Tucker and Cooper Lutz are expected to carry the load with support from older returners Jarveon Howard and Abdul Adams. Dino heaped praise on both after a little dig at Lutz “Cooper don’t get mad at me, but your hands are ok,” a not so joking Babers chuckled. “He sees something that normally guys don’t see. Sean has it, but I don’t think people knew Cooper had it.”
Naturally, the quarterback position is the center of focus. I’ve already written why I think Tommy DeVito will start over Garret Shrader, and Dino confirmed a lot of things speculated in his description of the group. “I think we have a really good top 5,” stated Babers. “Garrett had a spring where he’s got to learn the offense and get better, but he’s gobbling it up. People are seeing what Tommy can do when he’s got time and his feet are quiet.”
But the highlight of the evening came in a longer conversation about establishing a leadership culture at Syracuse.
“There’s quiet leaders, there’s focal leaders, there’s leaders on the field, there’s leaders in the locker room. Sometimes starters aren’t the leaders! We’re looking for a lot of leaders so that if some do stumble and fall, we’ve got a room full of leaders.
Babers then put those leaders to the test. “We had our leaders draft the team like in the NFL,” in front of the whole team added the head coach. Dino elaborated that when his friends played sports all year round, he may have been a first round football player but a third round baseball player, and while you know you can’t be the best at everything, the perception you give off to your peers is incredibly important. Many players who were picked in the 7th round were not happy with “choice words” when walking up to accept the selection.
“We put a light on it,” said Babers. “Now go out and show us what you are,” was the charge issued to the entire team.
The conversation naturally broke out into how important fans are to the program. “This is not about revenue. This is about Ohana.” Babers mentioned that the team would not have had an undefeated home season, upset Clemson, Virginia Tech, or had big wins over FSU or NC State without fans rocking the Dome.
Overall, it was good to hear from coach Dino in a less scripted format, and it will be even more exciting to hear from him again in a couple months as practices pick back up in preparation of the 2021 season.