ACC Recruiting: Syracuse Attempts To Rebuild From The Bottom Up

Syracuse football in many ways embodies the cyclical nature of almost every major college football program. There have been some impressive heights that include a Heisman trophy winner, undefeated seasons, major bowl appearances and even one national championship. In between? Well, the valley’s have been just as extreme as the peak’s for the Orange.

That’s where we find the program currently. Syracuse is adjusting to life in the ACC and trying to dig out from under a terrible 3-9 season (and several feet of snow). Head coach Scott Shafer will enter 2015 with a 10-17 record in two seasons and a fan base that’s more apathetic than restless.

Recruiting in the northeast is a challenge due in part to the general lack of popularity of high school football. Lacrosse and basketball are the sports of choice in New York in particular, especially on the Syracuse campus. All three sports play home games in the Carrier Dome, and often football crowds fall short of the other two. Shafer and his staff clearly have their work cut out for them in returning Orange football to respectability, and that all starts on the recruiting trail.

It’s imperative for Syracuse to dip into the talent-rich surrounding states outside of New York. Northeast Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are the top priorities while also finding what they can in New England which frankly isn’t a ton. Within New York, you can go down to the city for a player or two, but you have to recruit the thruway (Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo) which has become more difficult than it used to be with the increased emphasis on athletics at the University at Buffalo coupled with other programs recruiting nationally and picking off local talent.

So how are the Orange executing the “Cates Empire State Strategy”?

Dontae Strickland, Athlete

  • 4-star recruit
  • 5’11”, 180 pounds
  • Monmouth Junction, NJ (South Brunswick)

247Sports pegs Strickland as the 21st best athlete in the country and the 9th best player in New Jersey. Like so many, Strickland played both offense and defense in high school. He has classic defensive back size, but something tells me he has a future on offense as a dangerous slot receiver. He has excellent speed and the ability to make people miss when he has the ball in his hands. For that reason, I can also envision him making an immediate impact on special teams as a return man. Certain guys just have an “it” factor that makes them a big-time threat to take kicks to the house. Watching a few highlights certainly gives one that impression with Mr. Strickland.

Amir Ealey, Tight End/Defensive End

  • 3-star recruit
  • 6’4″, 236 pounds
  • Coatesville, PA (Coatesville Area)

Ealey is an important recruit for a couple reasons. He’s considered the 38th best tight end in the nation according to 247Sports and he’s one of those Pennsylvania recruits that’s so important. A look at his offer list shows that Syracuse competed with the ACC for Ealey’s services and won. Virginia, Louisville, North Carolina and Pittsburgh all offered and he chose the Orange. Getting ACC caliber talent with consistency is the biggest challenge facing Syracuse, and beating out conference foes for kids is a good sign. He could also play on either side of the ball which gives a rebuilding program that needs help everywhere added value.

Troy Henderson Jr., Linebacker

  • 3-star recruit
  • 6’1″, 215 pounds
  • Lakewood, OH (St. Edward)

And here’s the third state in my plan well represented by Troy Henderson. He’s got an offer list that’s MAC-heavy and then you see Nebraska, realize Syracuse snagged him anyway, and you raise your eyebrows. Henderson has good speed and hits hard for his size (he’ll likely add 20-25 pounds and turn into a monster). The Orange generally have had respectable defenses in recent years and Shafer is the former defensive coordinator under Doug Marrone, making this a recruiting win on several fronts.

Trey Dunkelberger, Linebacker

  • 3-star recruit
  • 6’3″, 240 pounds
  • Reading, PA (Governor Mifflin)

Dunkelberger is an enormous JUCO tight end originally from Pennsylvania who may be a good reason to put Troy Henderson Jr. on defense. He’s fast, blocks well and shows athleticism that’s fairly unique to tight end. He has the potential to be split out in the slot and utilized much like the Saints use Jimmy Graham. He also could see some time in the backfield as either an H-back or as an actual tailback, he’s that strong and quick. Assuming the kids qualify academically, infusing the program with JUCO talent is a good way to get some immediate help that’s already more polished than your average recruit and Dunkelberger is a fine example of that.

Steven Clark, Defensive Lineman

  • 3-star recruit
  • 6’3″, 290 pounds
  • Guntersville, AL (Brindlee Mt Sch)

Clark is another versatile recruit who played on both the offensive and defensive lines in high school. Clark is well regarded as a defensive tackle though, rated the 45th best at the position by 247. They also have him as the 28th best recruit in Alabama. He should end up on defense because of his quickness and impressive change of direction for a lineman. In fact, the Orange recruited him to play on defense which is his preference and likely the main reason he stuck with his ‘Cuse commitment after receiving a late offer from Florida who wanted him as an o-lineman. Going into the southeast and keeping a player over an SEC school is another good sign for Scott Shafer’s crew.


Syracuse has done quite well with its 2015 recruiting class. While most experts will put this group at or near the bottom of the ACC, there are a number of talented players who can come in and make an immediate impact for the Orange. I would like to have seen some more talent at the skill positions on offense, but there are enough kids in the program to make things interesting. I’m not sold yet on Scott Shafer as the man to turn things around — then again I was never particularly impressed with Marrone either — but if his staff reshuffling on offense has a positive impact, there’s enough talent on defense for Syracuse to become bowl eligible and continue the climb back to respectability.

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