Syracuse, N.Y. — Spring ball is just about in the books, and a revamped offensive line has had nearly a month to get acquainted with first-year coach Mike Schmidt.
It's a crowded group with all of its members returning from a year ago and SEC transfer guard Chris Bleich finally mixing it up in practice. Syracuse head coach Dino Babers believes the 2021 season could hinge on the production Schmidt gets out of this replenished unit.
"It's good to see that group back up, and it's good to see them working with Coach Schmidt," Babers said earlier this spring. "It's going to be the key to our season, one of the keys to our season. There's no doubt about it."
There are, however, five class of 2021 signees who won't arrive until the fall. Helping drive the competition at tackle is 6-foot-5, 260-pound Tyler Magnuson, who turned a sprained MCL into second-team offense honors this past season.
Magnuson recently spoke with Syracuse on SI about his triumphant return from injury, his reaction to Syracuse coaching changes, and why calm is better than chaos. The interview below has been transcribed and edited slightly for clarity.
Q: Where are you guys in your season? Have you finished up, or did you play in the fall?
A: We played in the fall. We actually had a regular season, and we only had one team cancel because of COVID reasons. We stayed healthy the whole season, which is nice. I would have rather played in the fall than the spring.
Q: You guys won State the year before, right? What was that like?
A: It was awesome. I think about halfway through the season, we really knew we had something special going, and then we just kind of took it game by game. Playing in the Bank (U.S. Bank Stadium - Minneapolis, Minnesota) with the guys you're around for hours on end each day and then winning it all... It's just kind of a surreal feeling. It was a really fun moment. Something I'll never forget.
Q: When you sprained your MCL, did that happen this past season?
A: Yeah. It was actually the first padded practice of the season. It was pretty unfortunate. But, you know, I recovered from that, and it's not really a major injury.
Q: You made the Star Tribune All-Metro second-team offense after coming back from injury. What do you think that says about you as a player?
A: I guess it just reflects the work I like to put in, and I'm never giving up. I actually had a leg injury my freshman year, which could have put me out of football, but I decided to stick with it, stick with the program, and kind of heal. It showed that I'm determined to get on the field, and I just love to play ball. Not much will stop me from getting out there and playing again if I do get hurt.
Q: What coach made the most significant push for you to come to Syracuse during your recruiting process?
A: I'd say Coach Cav (Mike Cavanaugh), Coach Cav for sure, and then Coach Monroe (Nick Monroe) as well. But Coach Cav, he'd call almost every other day. Two, three, four times a week. I felt like we had a really good relationship.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out that Coach Cavanaugh was taking a different job and leaving Syracuse?
A: I was really bummed, but I also understand it's a business. That was something kind of tough for me to process at the start of recruitment. Obviously, I would love to be coached by (Coach Cavanaugh), but I chose Syracuse for more than just the staff there. I think Coach Schmidt's also a really good coach. I haven't met him in person yet, obviously. But just reading up on what he's done at San Diego State, I'm really excited to be coached by him.
Q: Was there ever a moment after you got the news when you weren't sure if Syracuse was the right place for you anymore?
A: No. I've actually never been out there. Committing to Syracuse, I feel like I have a lot of faith in the program, and I trust what they're doing out there. I never really thought, 'Maybe this school is in the right place anymore.'
Q: Was that a difficult decision to make for you and your family without being able to visit?
A: Yeah, it was really hard. With COVID, obviously, we couldn't really afford to fly to all the campuses, or we didn't really see the point in it. Because you couldn't meet the staff, couldn't see the football facilities. In the end, we narrowed it down to the school that had the best academic fit for me and then the best opportunity, playing-wise, for football.
Q: What was your first interaction with Coach Schmidt like?
A: It was cool hearing that it's going to be a whole new experience for him. I've obviously been in Minnesota my whole life, and Syracuse will definitely be a change too. It's a bit reassuring and comforting knowing that it's going to be totally new for him, too.
Q: How do you feel about the competition you'll be walking into on the offensive line?
A: It'll be fun; I love to compete. I'm excited. I'm also excited that Aaron (Servais) is back and some other seniors chose to extend their careers at Syracuse. I feel like that'll be a really good learning experience for me. And also a good chance to compete with everyone. The more people in the room, I guess it just drives everyone to work harder.
Q: What kind of lessons do you hope to learn from guys like Aaron?
A: They have a lot more playing experience than me. So, their technique and how they do things on the line. But also how to balance being a football player in college and also a student and a friend. They've been through a lot, and they obviously have some valuable lessons. I'm excited to learn what they know on the field and off the field.
Q: What about your game do you think helps you stand out from the rest of the crowd?
A: I suppose my footwork and also my aggressiveness. I'm very kind, like a teddy bear off the field, but then also very aggressive on the field. That switch, it's kind of tough to find. I feel like I've definitely implemented that in my game, and I know how to control it.
Q: How do you find that switch, and how do you control it?
A: I used to listen to a lot of pump-up music: rap, hip hop, all that. But I kind of discovered it made me too excited, so I'd always be nervous playing. I found that Frank Sinatra and all of his music really calms me down but also puts me in the zone. I don't know why, but it somehow allows me to play really aggressively. With controlled aggression, you have a mission to protect the guys who are running behind you. I understand it's my job. I also feel like it's a lot of fun to be aggressive on the field.
Q: So, you found it much more helpful if you were sort of calm and stable instead of, like, erratic and chomping at the bit?
A: Definitely. I remember the first game against Blaine my junior year was the first varsity start I ever had. I was almost shaking; I was so nervous. After that game, I realized that my play was just a bit too stiff. And I was so wrapped up in my own head. I knew I had to find a different way to get myself locked in but also calm playing football.
Q: So what's your favorite Sinatra song?
A: The one that dials me in would be "Fly Me To The Moon." It's kind of like the drive-up song. I'm listening to a couple, and then I'd always time it this year where right as I pulled into my spot, you kind of be hitting the high note at the end.