SYRACUSE, NY — As bad as 2020 has been, nothing has left behind a more loathsome taste than the Orange’s 2019 season. Last year’s 5-7 campaign, marred by injury and woeful offensive line play, fell well short of expectations. So what can Syracuse football fans expect now? The odds are stacked against redemption.
Consider the following:
- An abbreviated and waffling off-season.
- Two new coordinators on offense and defense, attempting to implement scheme over Zoom.
- Ghosted by the NCAA on transfer waivers.
- Blind faith in opponents’ COVID-19 testing protocol.
- Locker room indecisiveness regarding opt outs.
Any one of the above issues or inconsistencies alone would be enough to stifle one’s confidence. Having to overcome all five simultaneously is almost unimaginable. How could anyone possibly hope to conquer all of these obstacles? The answer is simple. "Trust."
Syracuse players Tommy DeVito, Taj Harris, and Andre Cisco met virtually with the media on Tuesday after practice. Their thoughts on 2020 were optimistic, and based on the trust they have for one another.
Where QB Tommy DeVito goes, the Orange will follow. In 2019, DeVito went to the turf more than any other quarterback in a Power 5 conference. The fourth-year slinger needs to be able to stay on his feet in order to take a step forward in 2020.
“There’s a lot of different variables that could take place,” DeVito said, acknowledging the many factors that go into getting sacked. “As far as getting the ball out of my hands quicker: just seeing the defense faster, being able to be on the same page as my receivers, just trusting the whole process and play calls.”
Charged with calling those plays is new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. A new face and a new system can be daunting, but DeVito believes his teammates were able to rise to the challenge.
“Sometimes, when there’s a new coach coming in, you can get some cold feet, you know, if there's new things flying around,” DeVito said. "But I think that as an offense, we embraced it and we know where we want to be in the end. He’s going to help us get there.”
When asked how confidence in the new offense was built, DeVito responded “Trust.”
“Trusting that the coaches are giving you the right information to have you in the right place at the right time, and that goes across the board. Quarterback's trust the receivers and the receiver coach. They trust us. We trust the running backs, o-line. That's how the offense works together.”
For the offense to work at its best, DeVito will need to work WR Taj Harris into the stat sheet. Harris made a case for being the Orange’s new WR1 in 2019, collecting 37 catches for 559 yards and two scores. Harris says the connection between him and DeVito has only gotten stronger since last season.
"Oh yeah, me and Tommy been gettin' after it since last Wake Forrest game,” Harris said. "Week after that, we straight back at it. Me and him, I feel like we have a pretty good thing. I got a feel for him. He's been having a feel for me. It's nothing new.”
Harris snagged seven receptions for 70 yards last year against the Demon Deacons. With Sept. 12 a little more than two weeks away, it appears the Orange are all but guaranteed at least a season opener in 2020. But what about the rest of the year? How would Harris do if ‘Cuse is able to play a full schedule?
“If we have a season, Taj Harris is going to have a great season.” - Taj Harris
Another Syracuse player projected to have a great season is DB Andre Cisco. On Tuesday, Cisco was named a Preseason First-Team All-American by the Associated Press. This accolade comes as the cherry on top of a plethora of preseason honors, including All-American nods by Lindy's, Sporting News, Phil Steele and Street & Smith’s. Cisco, the FBS active leader in interceptions, says the recognition is nice, but it’s not what he plays for.
"It's an honor, and honors are what they are,” Cisco said. Media is media. I'm not too motivated by it. I'm honored by them mentioning my name, but I'm just focused on this team and what we've got here…They rely on me and I'm a big part of what we could be as a team this year. That's what motivates me. Having guys being able to look at me as a leader, that's a big part of why I do this every day. And my family as well.”
So long as games are played, Syracuse has a chance to put together a season more closely resembling 2018’s 10-3 effort instead of last year’s disappointing debacle. The Orange trust they can get it done. They trust the University will keep them safe. But trust can only goe so far. According to Cisco, the trust stops where the bleachers begin.
"Honestly, I feel like the only thing I can mess it up at this point is maybe students coming back to campus,” Cisco said. "Everything else seems like a green light."