The 44 thing has been talked about since Rob Konrad stepped on
campus in the summer of 1995. Only 10 players had worn number 44
before Konrad, and among them were storied halfbacks Jim Brown,
Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. Konrad heard the talk that he had
to play well to be worthy of the number. He also knew that as a
6'3", 250-pound fullback who would block more than carry the
ball, he could not possibly put up numbers that would even
approach any of those great backs.
"I play a different position, and in our offense I'm not going
to rush for 100 yards every week," says Konrad, now a junior,
who carried the ball 82 times for 322 yards last season. Indeed,
it is Konrad's variety of skills that makes him so valuable to
the Orangemen. He is not only a bruising blocker and a solid
runner but also a surprisingly reliable receiver, having hauled
in nine passes last season, for an average of 15 yards per
catch. The burden of wearing 44 hasn't worn him down. "It
[number 44] is something people will always talk about," says
Konrad, "but when you have a Heisman Trophy candidate like
[quarterback] Donovan McNabb on your team, he tends to take the
pressure off you."
McNabb led Syracuse in total offense last season with 2,234
yards (1,776 passing), and the 6'2", 219-pound junior will again
be the Orangemen's primary weapon as they try to improve on
back-to-back 9-3 seasons and make a long-shot run at the
national championship. A reserve guard on the basketball team,
McNabb is dangerous whenever he touches the football; he has
twice been named Big East offensive player of the year.
McNabb's consistency and durability have allowed coach Paul
Pasqualoni to move five quarterback recruits to other skill
positions over the past three seasons. Among the latest shifts,
redshirt freshman Dee Brown, a high school All-America and
two-time central Florida player of the year, has been converted
to tailback. "Dee is such a tremendous athlete, it would be a
shame if we didn't try to utilize his abilities," says
Pasqualoni. Brown's terrific showing in spring camp was good
news for Syracuse: Tailback is the team's most pressing need
after the departure of Malcolm Thomas, last year's leading
rusher (781 yards, 10 TDs). Most of his workload will be shifted
to Konrad, Brown and junior tailback Kyle McIntosh, who averaged
4.5 yards per carry last season despite nursing a sore right knee.
Seven starters are gone from a defense that ranked 10th
nationally. Senior Antwaune Ponds (four sacks against West
Virginia last season) is a big-play linebacker, but the
secondary was weakened by graduation. Syracuse lost All-America
cornerback Kevin Abrams and strong safety Anthony Walker,
leaving only senior safety Donovin Darius and senior cornerback
Rod Gadson. The starting defense may include two sophomores and
"With so many holes to fill on defense, we can't waste time
waiting for the young guys to mature," says Pasqualoni. "We are
going to need them right away."
7-0-1 Record by Syracuse in its last eight bowl appearances is
the best in the nation.
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
SEPT. 13 at VIRGINIA TECH Battle in Blacksburg. Two of Big
East's top three teams in '96 meet in Syracuse's league opener.
NOV. 29 at MIAMI The last time the Hurricanes lost to the
Orangemen (1979) Jimmy Carter was President. Syracuse hasn't won
in Miami since 1971.
Passing Donovan McNabb Jr. 118 comp., 215 att., 1,776
yds., 19 TDs
Rushing McNabb 458 yds., 3 TDs
Receiving Jim Turner Sr. 20 catches, 383 yds., 2 TDs
Tackles FS Donovin Darius Sr. 93
Interceptions CB Phil Nash Jr. 4