SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Syracuse head coach Dino Babers and his staff announced on Wednesday, Feb. 1 that 23 student-athletes have signed National Letters of Intent to join the Orange football program.
The class includes four defensive linemen, four linebackers, four wide receivers, three defensive backs, two offensive linemen, two running backs, two tight ends, one fullback and one quarterback. Twelve different states, Washington, D.C. and Canada are represented, including five signees from Florida. The Orange also had multiple signees from Canada (2), Georgia (2), Maryland (2), Michigan (2) and New York (2).
“The 2017 class is going to be the cornerstone of this program,” Babers said. “Bridged with the 2016 class, that will give us the foundation of what we want to build upon here at Syracuse University. We’re excited about what we’ve done from a GPA standpoint. In 2016, the average of our class was a 2.93 GPA and our 2017 class is a 3.11, showing that we’re getting better not only on the football field, but also in the classroom.”
Four members of this year’s class enrolled at the University in January. Offensive lineman Patrick Davis (Gatineau, Quebec, Canada), linebackers Nadarius Fagan (Goulds, Fla.) and Ryan Guthrie (Cumming, Ga.), and tight end Ravian Pierce (Plantation, Fla.) are on campus and participating in winter workouts. Davis is the No. 3 overall prospect in Canada according to ESPN. Fagan ranked among the top 50 linebackers in this year’s class by ESPN (No. 38), 247Sports.com (No. 47) and Scout.com (No. 49). Guthrie comes to Syracuse from Ellsworth Community College in Iowa after twice earning National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-America honors. Pierce also joins the Orange after playing two years at the junior-college level for Southwest Mississippi Community College, where he caught 77 passes for 733 yards and five touchdowns.
The defensive front seven was a focus, as the Orange added four defensive linemen and four linebackers Wednesday. Brandon Berry (Griffin, Ga.), Curtis Harper (McKeesport, Pa.), Kingsley Jonathan (Baltimore, Md.) and Zach Morton (Detroit, Mich.) add depth along the front line. Berry spent two seasons at Highland Community College (Kan.) and is rated the No. 11 weak-side defensive end in 247Sports.com’s junior-college rankings. Harper is the No. 3 defensive tackle from Pennsylvania and tallied 36 tackles, including nine for a loss, as a senior at McKeesport High School. Jonathan had 65 tackles and 16 sacks in his senior season at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore and is ranked 24th among defensive ends in the Class of 2017. Morton comes to Syracuse after helping lead Michigan powerhouse Cass Technical to the 2016 MHSAA Division I state championship.
‘Cuse brings in Tyrell Richards (Brampton, Ontario, Canada) and Kadeem Trotter (Canton, Ohio) to join Fagan and Guthrie in the linebacker corps. Richards is the No. 4 Canadian prospect in this year’s class according to ESPN. He recorded 72 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and two returned fumbles for touchdowns as a senior. Trotter finished his senior campaign with 32 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and three sacks. He is the seventh-ranked safety in the state of Ohio.
On the offensive side of the ball, Babers brought in a balanced group of receivers. Nykeim Johnson (Washington, D.C.) and Sharod Johnson (Miami, Fla.) are expected to play the inside position, with Cameron Jordan (Wheatley Heights, N.Y.) and Russell Thompson-Bishop (Bloomfield, Conn.) lining up outside. Nykeim Johnson is the No. 3 receiver in Washington, D.C. according to Scout.com and captured MVP honors for his position at the 2016 Nike Football The Opening Regional held in the nation’s capital. Sharod Johnson led Florida powerhouse Booker T. Washington High School with 50 catches for 764 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Jordan is the second-ranked receiver in New York state according to Scout.com and a two-time NYSSWA All-State selection. Thompson-Bishop comes to Syracuse from Bloomfield High School in Connecticut, the same school that produced Orange All-American and NFL All-Pro Dwight Freeney. Thompson-Bishop is the No. 7 overall prospect in the state according to ESPN, and he caught 46 passes for 1,165 and 16 touchdowns as a senior.
Joining Patrick Davis as the only offensive linemen in the class, is Dakota Davis (Mount Airy, Md.). Dakota Davis was named the No. 2 offensive tackle in Maryland by Scout.com after blocking for a pair of 2,000-yard rushers at Glenlg High School. They’ll be leading the way for running backs Markenzy Pierre (Kissimmee, Fla.), Allen Stritzinger (Clinton Township, Mich.) and fullback Chris Elmore (Chicago, Ill.). Pierre rushed for over 5,000 yards in his high school career and is the No. 52 running back in the country according to ESPN. Stritzinger had more than 3,000 all-purpose yards during his prep career and was rated the No. 41 athlete nationally by Rivals.com. Elmore played fullback and defensive tackle at Phillips Academy in Chicago. He logged 80 tackles as a senior, including 14 sacks, to help Phillips become the first Chicago public high school to win an Illinois state championship.
Quarterback Tommy DeVito (Cedar Grove, N.J.) is the highest-rated member of the class. DeVito is a four-star prospect according to 247Sports.com and ESPN, and ranks 136th in the ESPN 300. He guided Don Bosco Prep to a state championship as a junior and passed for 2,005 yards with 16 TDs in his senior season.
Rounding out the offensive signees is tight end Aaron Hackett (Venice, Fla.), who made 53 receptions for 674 yards and eight touchdowns in his prep career. A protégé of former Orange tight end Beckett Wales at Venice High School, Hackett is listed as the No. 58 tight end in the country by Scout.com.
Eric Coley (Manlius, N.Y.), Ifeatu Melifonwu (South Grafton, Mass.) and Mykelti Williams (Indianapolis, Ind.) make up this year’s crop of defensive back signees. The stepson of Orange defensive line coach Vinson Reynolds, Coley comes from nearby Fayetteville-Manlius High School and is ranked the No. 1 athlete in New York by Scout.com. He averaged 215.8 rushing yards a game for the Hornets and earned NYSSWA All-State Second Team honors at cornerback. Melifonwu is rated the fourth-best athlete in Massachusetts by 247Sports.com. As a senior, he was named to USA Today’s American Family Insurance All-USA Massachusetts Football Team at running back. He was also the Central Massachusetts Division 3 Player of the Year. Williams originally signed with Notre Dame out of Warren Central High School in 2015. He attended Iowa Western Community College in 2016 and earned NJCAA First Team All-America honors at strong safety after making 93 tackles with nine passes defended.
Heading into Babers’ second season, Syracuse returns 19 of 22 starters. The Orange set or tied more than 40 offensive school records in his first year at the helm and defeated No. 17 Virginia Tech for the program’s first win against a ranked opponent since 2012.