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Seeing Stars: Re-Evaluating the 2009 Syracuse Football Recruiting Class

The Texas Bowl marks the final game played by members of Syracuse's 2009 recruiting class, a small group pieced together by Doug Marrone during his first few months on the job. The recruiting sites weren't very kind to this group, but many of these players far exceeded expectations.


Recruiting rankings have to be one of the more perverse phenomena in sports.  They're driven by multiple factors on and off the field, they seem to vary wildly from site to site, and half of the sports fan world swears by them, while the other half swears them off as meaningless.  You can probably guess which fanbases fall on either side of that line.

Doug Marrone was hired as Syracuse head coach very late in the 2009 recruiting cycle, and inherited a pitifully small group of commits from Greg Robinson, about half of whom he pulled scholarship offers from after doing his own evaluations.  After putting together a staff and flipping over every rock on the eastern seaboard, he was able to piece together a 16 player class that...didn't exact set anyone's hair on fire based on the ever important star rankings.  Scout rated Syracuse's 2009 class 102nd in the country,  and dead last among power conference programs.  Yahoo! ranked the class 118th in the country.

Ten of those 16 players started games for Syracuse.  Three were drafted by NFL teams - one in the first round.

Syracuse's 2009 recruiting class wasn't the best in the world by any means, but it was vital in the rebuild that has resulted in three bowl wins in four seasons for the Orange.

Ri'Shard Anderson and Charley Loeb played their last games for SU in Houston this weekend, and wrap up the careers of each member of the 2009 class.  Today, we can fully evaluate how this class turned out, compared to the projections by the recruiting gurus.

For our purposes, let's define each post-graduation star rating as such:

5-star: Top NFL draft pick/player; elite college player
4-star: Top college player, NFL contributor
3-star: Productive college starter
2-star: College role player
N/R: No impact in college

OL Andrew Tiller Scout: 3* Rivals: 3* 247: N/R ESPN: N/R

Tiller took a while to get into shape and develop while at Syracuse, but was a solid starter at guard for Syracuse by his senior year, and was eventually drafted in the 6th round by the New Orleans Saints.  He has bounced around a few teams' practice squads since being cut from New Orleans.

Final rating: 3-stars

DE Brandon Sharpe Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: N/R

Sharpe spent a few seasons as a rotational defensive lineman and pass rush specialist before becoming an every-down player as an upper classman.  He was perhaps Syracuse's best pure pass rusher in 2012 as a senior, recording 39 total tackles including 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Final rating: 3-stars

DE Torrey Ball Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: N/R

Torrey was a decent rotational lineman for three years, totaling 58 tackles in three years at Syracuse, including 1.5 sacks as a senior in 2011.

Final rating: 2-stars

LB EJ Carter Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: 2*

Following his freshman year, many expected EJ Carter to have the type of career that Marquis Spruill just finished.  Carter won a starting job as a freshman, playing alongside Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith, and racked up 25 tackles and two sacks, both coming in an upset of Rutgers.  Carter missed a few games that year for a violation of team rules, and eventually transferred to NC State.

Final rating: 2-stars

DB Dale Peterman Scout: 2* Rivals: 3* 247: N/R ESPN: 2*

Peterman never made it to Syracuse.  He bounced around a few junior colleges before surfacing at Youngstown State.

Final rating: N/R

QB Charley Loeb Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: 2*

Charley was a respected member of his the team for five years, winning the hearts and minds of Syracuse's fanbase and female populace, but he could never quite wrap up the starting gig, as Greg Paulus, Ryan Nassib, Drew Allen, and Terrel Hunt would go on to start games for the Orange during his SU career.

Final rating: 2-stars

DB Ri'Shard Anderson Scout: 2* Rivals: 3* 247: N/R ESPN: 2*

Anderson has logged a lot of playing time for Syracuse over the last four years, but he has always seemed to be one of the secondary's weaker links to me.  My eye tells me two stars, but the fact that Scott Shafer sent him out there in 43 games throughout his career, including 32 starts, he had to be doing something right, so he gets a bump up. In Shafer I trust.  Ri'Shard ends his SU career with 98 total tackles and two interceptions.

Final rating: 3-stars

DB Philip Thomas Scout: 2* Rivals: 3* 247: N/R ESPN: N/R

Phil is definitely one of the more mercurial members of this class, and his Syracuse career ended prematurely, but he was one of the better talents to play in the Orange secondary over the last few years.  He finished his Syracuse career with 23 starts, 68 tackles, nine interceptions, and two fumble recoveries.

Final rating: 3-stars

DB Shamarko Thomas Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: 2* ESPN: 2*

The Shamarko Thomas-Brandon Sharpe package deal that Marrone was able to flip from Louisville as signing day approached turned out very well for Syracuse.  The hard hitting strong safety recorded 263 tackles in 48 games, including 16.5 for loss.  He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of this Spring's draft, one pick after Ryan Nassib was selected by the New York Giants.  Shamarko played in 14 games for the Steelers this year, starting two, and amassed 29 tackles as a rookie.

Final rating: 4-stars

OL Zack Chibane Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: 2*

Chibane was a pretty unheralded recruit back in 2009, switching from a grey shirt offer from South Florida for the chance to enroll at Syracuse in the fall.  He went on to start for three seasons alongside Justin Pugh.  After a solid sophomore year, he struggled a bit as a junior before having a resurgent senior year as a member of Nate Hackett's powerful 2012 offense.  Zack got a cup of coffee with the Buffalo Bills in the preseason.

Final rating: 3-stars

DB Torian Phillips Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: 2*

Torian recorded one special teams tackle for Syracuse before transferring to hometown Wagner.

Final rating: N/R

OL Andy Phillips Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: N/R

A local talent from Phoenix, NY by way of Christian Brothers Academy, Phillips played well at times in spot duty, but never broke onto the starting offensive line during four years at Syracuse.

Final rating: 2-stars

OL Justin Pugh Scout: 2* Rivals: 2* 247: 2* ESPN: N/R

After redshirting as a freshman, Pugh put together one of the best three-year stints in recent memory for Syracuse.  He was dominant after returning from injury four games into his senior season, and his entrance into the starting lineup was simultaneous with the 7-2 record that Syracuse compiled in the last nine games of the season.  Pugh was drafted in the first round by the Giants and has been one of the bright spots in what has been a very shaky unit for Tom Coughlin's 7-9 team.  He has been considered one of the best rookie linemen in the NFL this season.

Final rating: 5-stars

WR Alec Lemon Scout: 3* Rivals: 2* 247: N/R ESPN: 2*

Lemon fought through injuries his entire Syracuse career, but played in all but two three games while at SU.  He is the owner of SU's career and single-season receptions records for catches in a season (72) and career catches (201), and finished second in career receiving yards (2,596) and third in career touchdowns (18).  His senior season (72 catches, 1,081 yards, 7 TDs) is among the best in Syracuse receiver history.  He spent his first year in the NFL on injured reserve after making the Houston Texans roster.

Final rating: 4-stars

DB John Mark Henderson Scout: N/R Rivals: N/R 247: N/R ESPN: N/R

Henderson was brought in during Marrone's first spring, but left the team in October during the 2009 season without playing for SU.

Final rating: N/R

LB Derek Hines Scout: N/R Rivals: 3* 247: N/R ESPN: N/R

Hines came to Syracuse out of junior college expected to start at linebacker, but quit football during preseason.

Final rating: N/R


Out of these first 16 Marrone players, five fell through the cracks, six ended up just about meeting the expectation that was laid out for them on signing day, and five absolutely exceeded those expectations, with three (Pugh, Shamarko Thomas, Lemon) being among the best players that Syracuse has produced in the last decade.  Marrone was known for coaching up his players and doing a lot with what is regarded as limited talent, and this first class definitely backs up that notion.