Servais, Benson are 'Full Steam Ahead' Despite Risks
The 2020 season, if there is one, will be need to be a bounce back year for the Orange. Last year’s 5-7 campaign saw QB Tommy DeVito sacked a whopping 50 times, the most by any Power Five signal-caller. In order for DeVito to return to form, he’ll depend on blindside protector OT Airon Servais and speedster TE Luke Benson to help get him out of tough jams. Servais and Benson met with the media during a virtual press conference Wednesday to discuss their expectations for the upcoming season.
Universal puzzle piece Airon Servais split time at center (eight starts) and left tackle (four starts) in 2019. Servais will need to be flexible once again as the Orange work to implement a refreshed offense crafted by new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. Servais said there were some challenges getting up to speed given the bizarre off-season.
“Not having spring ball has been really tough,” Servais admitted. "We’re not the only university experiencing this kind of stuff. Team’s across the country didn’t have spring ball. We’re using camp to dial-in on some of the stuff we didn’t have a chance to work on, whether it be technique or whether it be schematics. It’s really important that we’re able to use our time and use it wisely so that we can get as much growth and be as prepared as possible going into the season.”
Syracuse entered 2019 needing to replace three starters on the offensive line and the results were not good. The youth and inexperience upfront was a predominant factor in the team’s disappointing 5-7 record. With a new season (possibly) and a new offense, how will the line best mend its woes from a year ago?
“I think a lot of it is technique and communication,” Servais said. "All five guys up front are on the same page and we’re executing our assignments with perfect technique. Obviously you’re not going to be perfect, but that’s what we’re striving for.”
Entering his red-shirt senior season, Servais has his sights set on the NFL. The long-term effects of COVID-19 are all but a mystery. Contracting the disease could derail the most ironclad of plans and preparations. Even so, Servais believes it’s a risk he’s willing to take.
“We’re playing a game where every time you step on the field, you’re always going to be at risk,” Servais reasoned. "It’s another one of those things. ‘Are you willing to accept the risks of stepping onto the field?’ COVID is an added risk to the risks we’re already dealing with.”
Luke Benson’s eight receptions for 176 yards and three touchdown catches earned him Pro Football Focus third-team freshman All-America honors in 2019. Appearing in all 12 games, Benson had the unique opportunity as a first-year player to develop a rapport with gunslinger Tommy DeVito. That’s something he says he’s been able to continue despite the abbreviated off-season.
“It’s definitely been different,” Benson said. "I haven’t gone through a full spring ball yet. But the whole time we were home, we were meeting together. As an offense, we were getting all the kinks worked out, getting the offense put in. And now, going into camp, we’re just working hard to get that chemistry down as a full offense and I think we’re coming together very well.”
Unlike with DeVito, this is the Orange’s first encounter with OC Sterlin Gilbert. Benson says the team has already formed a connection with the new play-caller. “Coach Gilbert’s awesome,” Benson said. "He’s been doing a great job of helping us understand what he wants and we’ve done a good job of just working hard and getting it done."
With the Big Ten and PAC-12 conferences poised for postponement, the Power Five has been whittled down to a Power Three. Less teams means more eyes on Syracuse and Benson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s definitely interesting and a cool aspect of an unfortunate situation,” Benson said. It’ll be an interesting opportunity for us to have a bigger spotlight."
Just like Servais, Benson is aware of what’s at stake when it comes to playing football during a pandemic. Benson finds assurance in that fact that, even if football were to stop, it doesn’t mean that coronavirus would.
“With the virus, when you’re out in the world, it doesn’t stop. It doesn’t get any worse for anybody on a football field. It doesn’t pick or choose or have any bias. Right now, I’m full steam ahead and ready to play.”
Full steam ahead puts Syracuse on a collision course with North Carolina in Chapel Hill on September 12, just 24 short days away.