|Posted on September 28, 2018 at 6:15 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
Following the first 4-0 start for the Syracuse Orange football program in 27 years, dating back to 1991, I had the pleasure of taking some time with senior running back Dontae Strickland, who spoke on many different topics surrounding the Orange right now.
"Probably been the most consistent we've been in a very long time, just feeding off of each other's game, and teaching each other things, that one might need work on, sticking together through anything and everything on and off the field," said Strickland about the current environment of this year's Syracuse squad. "We don't care who gets more reps than who, or who does what. We always are supporting each other and that's great, and something you can't teach."
Head coach Dino Babers shared with me that sharing the ball in the backfield has been productive in his eyes from a group sense, stating that no one has truly become the absolute go-to in the run game as of yet.
Going into the road game against the Clemson Tigers, Strickland has 38 carries for 170 yards (4.5 yards per carry), junior Moe Neal has 70 carries for 346 yards (4.9 yards per carry), and true freshman Jarveon Howard has 23 carries for 184 yards (8.0 yards per carry).
Thinking back to last season's victory over then reigning National Champion Clemson, Strickland expressed that that win showed "that we can play with anyone in the country and if we all go out there with the right mindset, we can be one of those teams on the schedule that teams are afraid of."
Stepping into "Death Valley" with a three-headed stable of running backs, Strickland offered positive words on the other two players he shares the backfield with.
"Moe is such an impact player, having a guy on your team with the moves and big-time player mindset, is always a plus."
"Jarveon might be a freshman but he's built like he's been here for years, a confident young player, and loves to take coaching, and learns from mistakes and always wants to find ways to better his game."
The message from Babers to Strickland, Neal, Howard, and the rest of the team this season? "To stay the course and trust the process and you will see a change in the team and the outcome in games, and we're proving that this year as the season goes by," said Strickland in reference to how Babers has kept his word to this team.
Strickland stated that Babers is making this Syracuse team as a whole better "by teaching us ways to becomes better men off the field which carries over to when we get on the field."
To be a better man, Babers has taught Strickland "to treat football like a job," he offered. "With the early practices we sometimes have, [they] will get you ready for the real world, being able to go to class with practice at the end of the day, will also get us ready for the real world because you're always on schedule and can do things when you're very fatigued and just push through things you never thought you'd be able to push through."
Few from the outside gave the notion that they believed the Orange would be 4-0 to start this season, after the team has had back-to-back-to-back 4-8 seasons, the last two coming in Babers' first two seasons at the helm of the team.
But, Syracuse has found a way to push forward. To go off of their typical course of almost but not quite and instead onto a course of finishing contests above their opponents when the clock strikes zero.
Speaking of going off course, Strickland looked back to his touchdown that made it 14-0 in the first quarter at home versus the Wagner Seahawks, where senior quarterback Eric Dungey was trying to push forward into the end zone on a quarterback keeper but the play was not working. Strickland, who was standing in the backfield, went up to Dungey and Dungey handed him the ball as he was still pushing to get in and Strickland took the ball to the outside left and scored.
"It wasn't a planned play, he just looked at me and was telling me to take the ball, so that's exactly what I did, and took the ball into the end zone and scored."
Both Dungey and backup redshirt-freshman quarterback Tommy DeVito have seen time on the field this season in their 4-0 start, with DeVito leading the charge on a 30-7 victory at home over the Florida State Seminoles, Syracuse's first win against Florida State in 52 years, dating back to 1966.
Thinking of the talents of both Dungey and DeVito, Strickland believes "that they are capable of big-time plays at any given time they're on the field, and that there is no drop off whether whoever is in the game."
Setting his sights forward on Clemson, Strickland shared that "Death Valley" is the toughest place he has played as a collegiate athlete. "Just the loudness and their crowd being so locked into the game, plays a big part on making it a tough place to play in."
The Tigers have won 10 straight games at home leading into this match-up, with their last loss in "Death Valley" coming against the Pittsburgh Panthers back in the 2016 season, by a score of 43-42 on Saturday, November 12, 2016.
But the Orange are looking to end that streak and defeat the Tigers for back-to-back seasons, and have seen the Orange fan base begin to get louder and prouder. "I feel like the fans have been with us, might not have been as confident as we are going into every game that we play, but now with us winning you really are starting to see the Syracuse games and fan base growing more and more every time out."
Syracuse is on the road for a two-game stint against Clemson on Saturday, September 29th, and then Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 6th, and will return home to face the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday, October 20.
"It feels great to get them back out to the game," Strickland offered, speaking on the Syracuse fans. "But regardless if they're there or not we're going to go out there and leave it all on the line and put on a show no matter what, but it helps out a lot when we have the Dome rocking and loud," Strickland expressed about the current excitement in the Orange fan base.
"It's an advantage."