SU bolsters receiving corps, secondary in 2014 recruiting class

Scott Shafer and company welcomed 22 new recruits on National Signing Day, as well as three 2013 signees who joined the team this January.

One week after head coach Scott Shafer concluded National Signing Day in 2013, he immediately looked toward the 2014 recruiting class.

His focus was to find high character young men who fit the SU system as well as balance out each position across the board.

“We really needed to find a balance,” Shafer said during a press conference Wednesday, “and we did that.”

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Syracuse welcomed a relatively large class in 2014: 25 players from 11 states, including five from southern Florida, five from Chicago, and two from the Philadelphia area.

“On paper it’s a good class,” Shafer said. “I’m excited about it.”

Last year, the Orange had the 73rd best recruiting class in the nation. This year: 53rd.

The one thing that stands out most about this class more than others is the attention to the receiving corps and secondary. That was an area of need, Shafer said, after the defense gave up 22 passing touchdowns in 2013 while the offense only passed for 13.

In 2014, SU brings in three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back, who Shafer hopes can also catch passes out of the slot.

“The goal was to go out and find long guys,” he said. “I like tall, long wide receivers that can go up and make plays when they’re covered. Good wide receivers make plays when they’re covered.”

K.J. Williams, a 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pounder from Liberty High School in Bethlehem, P.A., headlines the incoming receivers. He’s a four-star recruit, according to Rivals, who caught a combined 86 passes for 1,442 yards and 15 touchdowns his junior and senior seasons. He’ll join Corey Cooper, a three-star 2013 signee who spent the fall semester at Jireh Prep Junior College before joining the Orange in January. Steve Ishmael (three stars, Miami) and Jamal Custis (three stars, Philadelphia) round out the receiving signees.

“They’re all big wide receivers,” Shafer said. “And they make a ton of plays when they’re covered. I think part of opening up the offense has to do with guys who have the ability to make plays.”

In the secondary, the Orange picked up local talent Naesean Howard of West Genesee High School. Howard, or “Naes” as he likes to be called, was known as a running back in high school, but comes to Syracuse as a three-star defensive back. Shafer first noticed Howard when he was a sophomore, and when he told then-head coach Doug Marrone about Howard, Shafer said Marrone didn’t want to “let this kid get out of our backyard.”

Howard joins six other defensive backs, including Lamar Dowson, Juwan Dowels and Cordell Hudson, all three-star prospects.

Interestingly enough, Syracuse picked up an additional two quarterbacks this recruiting season, increasing its team total to seven. Both signees, A.J. Long and Alin Eduoard, are big quarterbacks with the ability to run, something Shafer emphasized was the reason behind their recruiting. Shafer compared Long and Eduoard’s style of play with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, who he said can make and extend plays single-handedly.

“In my opinion, you can never have enough quarterbacks, especially when they’re athletes,” Shafer said.

Geographically, Shafer did one of the better jobs an SU coach has done in previous years. He successfully secured important players at major football hotspots like southern Florida, Chicago and Philadelphia. However, Syracuse only signed one local player and only two total players from New York State. Clearly disappointed by this statistic, Shafer said his goal is keep the players from the local areas home.

“We haven’t been able to do that to the level that we want to,” he said.

But in Chicago, Shafer experienced incredible success. Syracuse nailed down two big offensive linemen in Denzel Ward and Aaron Roberts, both three-star recruits, over 6-foot-5 and 290 lbs. Ward is an especially intriguing talent, as the Chicagoan stands 6-foot-9 and can play tackle.

The reason SU did so well in Chicago, Shafer said, was thanks to his coaching days at Northern Illinois. Shafer knows many of the inner city coaches, as he and coach Joe Novak opened several football clinics in the city that have experienced incredible growth. Novak and the rest of the assistant coaches took care of the kids up there, Shafer said, making sure they graduated and helping them reach their goals.

“Those coaches remember those days. So it was really easy for me to go back to those neighborhoods,” he said. “Just like South Florida, I’m indebted to Chicago.”

While Shafer admitted one of the worst parts of his job is leaving his wife and kids back in Syracuse, he did say one of the greatest parts is meeting new families on the recruiting trail and pitching Syracuse to them. Shafer credited SU’s nationally-known education, high student-athlete graduation rate and the three bowl victories in four years as great talking points with young recruits.

“It was just great to pass on our message,” he said. “When we put the real numbers down, there’s proof in the pudding. It’s real easy to sell a school like Syracuse.”

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