It’s important to Doug Marrone. That much is clear.
When Marrone accepted the head-coaching job at Syracuse University four years ago, it was one of the first things he brought up during his inaugural press conference. On Wednesday night during the SU football national letter of intent signing day press conference the topic came up again.
“We are not changing our stance on how we feel about the state of New York,” Marrone said. “We have to be able to get the best players out of this state before we can go to another state and try to get one of their best players.”
Since he was hired on Dec. 11, 2008, Marrone has made it evident that he wants to reclaim the dominant recruiting presence that SU used to hold over New York – specifically in the metropolitan area.
On Wednesday Marrone received 22 national letters of intent from players all across the country. Seven of those letters were from the Empire State. That gives the coach 28 recruits from New York in the past three years, or three more than Greg Robinson had during his four-year tenure.
Jim Munson, the football coach at Tottenville High School on Staten Island, is sending his wide receiver, Alvin Cornelius, to SU next fall and said Marrone has made it clear that he wants players from New York.
“It’s important to him to keep the best New York football players in the state because this is our Division I program in the state of New York,” Munson said. “It’s important to keep the best talent that we have to offer in the state at Syracuse. It’s important to him and he talks about that everyday and he succeeds in doing that.”
While Marrone has been able to pile up a number of commitments, he has struggled when it comes to reeling in some of the big-time athletes in the state. Every year recruiting websites like Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN identify the top-ranked players, who usually choose to go to other BCS conference schools outside of New York.
Two years ago Dominique Easley, a defensive tackle from Staten Island, chose to play football at the University of Florida. Easley was a five-star prospect according to both Scout and Rivals. Last year it was Ishaq Williams, another five-star prospect from Brooklyn, who left for a program with more national exposure. Williams chose Notre Dame over an offer from the Orange.
This year the two of the more publicized recruits in the state followed a similar path. Quarterback Chad Kelly, a four-star prospect from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, chose Clemson over Syracuse, while defensive tackle Jarron Jones, another four-star prospect from the Aquinas Institute in Rochester, will head to Notre Dame next fall after initially committing to Penn State.
“I can tell you that Jarron and his parents really liked Syracuse,” said Chris Battaglia, Jones’s high school coach. “At the start, that’s where I thought he would end up. I thought that’s where he was going to end up, but he just got to see some other places and felt more comfortable in other places.”
Bob Lichtenfels, a regional manager for Scout.com, said he thinks Syracuse can try to combat their problem with big-time recruits by indentifying the talent they want to pursue earlier. Lichtenfels admitted that he isn’t familiar with Marrone’s recruiting system, but he pointed out that there are some players in the state for next year’s class who have already received offers from some of the Orange’s rivals.
One example is Christopher Laviano, a quarterback from Long Island. Laviano won’t graduate until next year, but Rutgers has already offered him a scholarship.
“But from all that I know of, he doesn’t have one from Syracuse,” Lichtenfels said. “It’s not hard to watch the kid know who he is and know that the kid can play.
“Casey Cullen, he is another one who is a defensive tackle in Rochester at McQuaid Jesuit, 6-foot-4, 275 pound kid. Hasn’t even heard from Syracuse. That’s a kid that’s right in your backyard that is a difference maker, who in my estimation will have BCS offers.”
Even if Marrone has missed some of the state’s top players, there has undoubtedly been a change in the downstate recruiting landscape. During Greg Robinsons four years he only signed four recruits from the greater metropolitan area (Long Island, Staten Island and New York City), according to Scout.com.
In Marrone’s four years, he has signed 22 such players, including five this year.
Cornelius, a wide receiver from Staten Island, said he started receiving interest from SU coaches during his freshman year of high school. Four years later and Cornelius was named the best player on Staten Island by winning the Al Fabbri Award and can’t wait to put his hometown back on the map.
“That made me like them even more,” Cornelius said. “Now all of the players that I played against that were good, I get to play with them and help bring the name of the city back up.”
Devante MacFarlane, a three-star running back from Long Island wasn’t recruited during his freshman season, but said that he thinks the younger kids in downstate New York know more about SU football then he did when he was younger.
“I see the name getting thrown around way more than it used to be,” MacFarlane said. “Back when I was a freshman I really didn’t know much about Syracuse football.”
Morgan chose SU over UConn on Wednesday after previously committing to the University of Michigan and helped solidify this year’s class, which is ranked No. 53 in the country by Scout.com.
Marrone pointed to the signing of Morgan as one of the signs that his team was making progress, but had a different view about the rest of the state.
When asked if his team had made sizeable progress in Buffalo and Rochester, Marrone responded without mentioning any names, as per NCAA rules.
“Not as good as we look have liked to have,” he said. “Obviously – without mentioning anything – it’s very difficult. The teams that come in here to New York and take some kids have a lot to offer also. It’s difficult.”