Once upon a time, Syracuse Football used to bring in top talent year in and year out. At the turn of the century, SU was the place to be for both football and basketball. Clearly, things have changed twenty-one years later. The Orange struggle to bring in top talent nationally and even in-state.
Perhaps it’s because of the on-field results as Dino Babers and Company have only won a combined six games in the last two seasons including a 1-10 campaign last year. It might also be because more often than not, the blue chip talent has failed to produce. Today, let’s begin to delve into the history of SU Football recruiting to see what happened with ‘Cuse’s top 25 recruits of all-time.
- Cecil Howard, Class of 2001 / 5-star dual-threat quarterback
> To this day, Howard remains the top recruit in program history, but he never even played a down for Syracuse. The blue chip recruit was the 23rd best recruit in the 2001 class and the 2nd best dual threat qb. Howard redshirted in his freshman season in 2001 and was expected to learn the system and take over the following year. That never happened, the Mckeesport native transferred to Youngstown State, then Northeastern, and finally California U (Pennsylvania).
- Johnnie Morant, Class of 2000 / 5-star wide receiver
> Coming out of Morris Plains, New Jersey, Morant had big expectations coming to the Salt City. At 6-5, 225 Morant had the prototypical size on the outside to be a stud. Morant was the 30th ranked recruit, 5th best receiver, and the top player from New Jersey. Morant had a far more productive campaign than Howard, although that isn’t saying much.
> After appearing in just three games as a freshman and making zero catches, Morant made a big leap in his sophomore year. He led the team in receiving yards (502) and touchdowns (3). He also had the longest reception of the year (74 yards vs Tennessee).
> Morant struggled in his junior campaign because, and missing three games due to a violation of team rules didn’t help. He recovered well and salvaged to piece together his best season as a senior. Morant started 8 of the 12 games, and appeared in every contest. Morant tied for seventh in program history for receptions in a single season with 46 catches. He’s also ninth in school history in single-season receiving yards with 799. He also became the first SU wideout since Marvin Harrison in 1995 to have four different 100-yard receiving games in a single season.
> Overall, Morant finished with 1,535 career receiving yards which ranks 10th in SU history. He also caught a pass in his final 29 games which is the second longest streak in program history (Scott Schwedes, 40). We have to remember the play style of football twenty years ago is not the same as it is now. Offenses weren’t looking to spread the ball around and run with four receiver sets. With that in mind, it’s difficult to say if Morant lived up to expectations, but he had a respectable SU career.
> Morant went on to be drafted in the fifth round (134th overall) by the Oakland Raiders. He was a member of the team for four seasons before being released in late August of 2007. He then bounced around in the Canadien Football League for two years before retiring in early 2009.
- Diamond Ferri, Class of 2000 / 4-star running back
> Ferri was a top-100 ranked player out of Massachusetts and was a huge recruiting win for the Orange at the turn of the century. Despite being rated so high nationally, Ferri was dubbed the 13th best tailback in the class, but the top prospect out of MA. He probably had the coolest name in college football for some time.
> After an illustrious prep career, Ferry had big expectations entering his freshman season. Much like Howard and Morant those lofty benchmarks weren’t set early on. Ferri played sparingly in his first two seasons and actually left SU in 2002. Ferri transferred to Bunker Hill Community College and spent the Fall 02’ semester there.
> Ferri re-enrolled at Syracuse for the 2003 season and had a breakout junior year… but not at tailback. The former blue chip running back prospect moved to the secondary to play strong safety. At 5-10, 215 Ferri had the size to play there and he excelled. The Everett, MA native started all 12 games and recorded 75 solo tackles which set a record for the most solo stops in a single season by an SU secondary member. He also ranked first among defensive backs in the Big East with ten tackles for loss.
> So the position change worked out in the best way possible and Ferri emerged as a steady hand in the secondary. He hoped to bring it all together in his senior campaign. Well Ferri built on his 2003 product and then some. He finished second on the team with 99 tackles, led the Orange with four interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and six forced fumbles. Ferri also set a school record with 161 return yards, including a touchdown.
> Ferri also became the first player in school history to earn the BIG EAST Conference player of the week honor for both offense and defense. The former tailback played both ways in a game against Boston College. Ferri stepped in for the injured Damien Rhodes and took 28 carries for 141 yards and two scores, while also posting six tackles, and a pick six.
> Ferri’s efforts earned him an All-BIG EAST first-team selection, ECAC Division 1 All-Star recognition, and an opportunity to play in the 2005 East-West Shrine Bowl although he didn’t play due to injuries.
> Overall, Ferri ended up being a stud for the Orange. It was a wild ride, but the third best recruit in SU history ended up living up to expectations. Many probably thought he would dominate in the SU backfield, instead Ferri spent a season at a lower level and found another position he excelled at and he returned to SU and balled out. It’s a Cinderella story that simply doesn’t happen in this day and age of college football.
> Ferri went undrafted in 2005 and signed with the New York Giants, before being signed by the Atlanta Falcons in December of the same year. Soon after he was allocated to NFL Europa before bouncing around the CFL, returning to the league to play for the Cardinals for three games, and then being sent back to the CFL where he bounced around until 2014.
- Andrey Baskin, Class of 2006 / 4-star wide receiver
> Another high profile recruit from the east coast that Syracuse snagged from several other programs. The blue chip recruit also fielded offers from NC State, Ohio State, and Tennessee. Baskin is originally from Camden, New Jersey. If that sounds familiar it’s because that’s the same hometown that freshman Duce Chestnut is from.
> Although he was a great talent, Baskin struggled with grades and didn’t get into Syracuse out of high school. To improve in the classroom, Baskin attended prep school at Milford Academy. At the conclusion of his time there, Baskin reaffirmed his commitment to SU and was rated the second best wideout prospect from the prep school ranks.
> What happened to Baskin after prep school is unknown. There is little to no information online and he doesn’t appear on any of the SU rosters between 2006 and 2011. All that’s listed on his profile is his recruiting history. If anyone recalls any information feel free to comment below.
- Averin Collier, Class of 2008 / 4-star athlete
> Syracuse nabbed the top player in the state in 2008, something the Orange still haven’t done since. Collier had offers from Clemson, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Virginia, and others. He was originally committed to Clemson and his brother Kevin had accepted a scholarship offer from Pitt. Collier was recruited as an athlete and brought to the Hill to play running back.
> Collier didn’t log any stats as a freshman in ‘08 and reportedly struggled with the adjustment to the academic rigor of SU. Collier did get some action as a sophomore. He played in 12 games and took 12 carries for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also caught eight passes for 74 yards. Additionally, he returned six kickoffs for 118 yards with a long of 44.
> Well the story just about ends there. Collier’s curious case ended with a dismissal from the program and yet another failed experiment. Maybe this is why top talent in the Empire State always hits the turnstiles these days. After graduating high school in 3 ½ years and enrolling early, these problems undoubtedly came with a surprise.