A Peek Behind the Curtain

Zach Allen

Covering the world of recruiting can be chaotic at times. Especially as national signing day approaches. CuseNation.com takes you behind the scenes to get a glimpse of how dramatic it can be.

The world of recruiting is full of information. Those that cover it are privy to insider details, many of which are not reportable. With national signing day over, CuseNation.com is giving you a peek at what it's like to work through that on a daily basis.

What really happened with the NYC trio?

-By John Garcia Jr.

Before everything happened closer to national signing day with Syracuse's class of 2013, should someone had predicted that the Orange would sign 19 prospects without any of the top trio in the Empire State – surely it would have produced either a laugh or created a sense of worry for even the most positive of fans.

But low and behold, with the letters of intent all faxed and processed, "New York's College Team" missed out on not only the big three targets from down state that happened to top the rankings, but each of the top five players in New York all together.

The initial targets were Brooklyn (N.Y.) Thomas Jefferson defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko, the top player in the state for most of the 2013 cycle, as well as the No. 2 in-stater, Staten Island (N.Y.) Tottenville running back Augustus Edwards. The two, who often referred to each other during the recruiting process because of their familiarity and friendship with one another, began as a possible package deal.

I remember covering the Nike SPARQ combine in New York City in April, after each prospect had reeled in some considerable offers – and each told me off camera that they were indeed going to play at the same school in the fall of 2013. So, naturally, I asked each on camera soon after. Each owned up to it and referred to Syracuse as the school to beat in the race for each.

Ogundeko picked up more and more, and then even more big-time offers from SEC and ACC schools while Edwards began to hear from the big boys in the ACC like Miami and Florida State during the summer. While each had planned to make a decision during that time, only Edwards went through with it. Considering the ‘Canes and ‘Noles only had weeks to recruit him with an offer on the table, Edwards announced for Syracuse in July and effectively ended his recruitment.

The then top player, Ogundeko, was quickly considered a Syracuse lean. – and he was there when Edwards announced his commitment. Edwards shared with me soon after pledging that he would recruit "Ebo" as often as possible to make sure they would honor the package deal they hinted about months before "Gus" committed to the Orange. Each took visits to SU together, both officially an unofficially. But Ogundeko was curious about his other offers as well, he'd barely been out of the city and wanted to explore. Official visits to Arizona State, Florida and Clemson would become big in the race for him – especially because each place was so different. After seeing the other parts of the country, each school remained in his top group along with the Orange and Notre Dame, a school he visited unofficially.

Though not reportable at the time, Ogundeko tried to commit to the Irish on that initial trip, but Brian Kelly did not want to take him at that time. He asked the raw talent to wait it out, if possible. He agreed, and continued with his scheduled visits. Syracuse was right there…but never seemed to emerge as a leader. When Ebo went down to Florida, on November 16, it changed everything about his recruitment. He loved it, and knew instantly that Gainesville is where he wanted to spend his college years. Ogundeko committed to Will Muschamp on the spot, silently, as the Gators continued to explore elite options to bring in with him in the class of 2013.

All seemed well with Ebo and UF, as he was a silent verbal for months, until the Gators picked up momentum for defensive end prospects higher on their board, and he became a fallback option. With new freedom to truly explore other schools, Ogundeko fell in love with Clemson on an official visit. The Gators eventually moved on from him just weeks before the early enrollee was set to make his final decision in December, so he had a dilemma on his hands.

Again, Syracuse was still there as the familiar school, the in-state school that produced his favorite all-time player in Dwight Freeney and his new buddy Chandler Jones, who he spent plenty of time with during one visit. Clemson remained as well…and it proved too much. While admittedly going back and forth, Ogundeko was unsure of which school it would be until the very end. He was announcing his commitment at the January 4 Under Armour All-America game, and planned to enroll at his school of choice the following week.

I was at each practice that week in Orlando, speaking to the player I had come to know best throughout the 2013 cycle, and it was apparent that he enjoyed the ACC-SEC attention. But in the end, as he practiced and held his own with the best players in the country, it was apparent that Syracuse ended the way it began. It was the school that was always, well, there. But being there is only half the battle in recruiting. Ebo picked Clemson early in the week and announced at the game Friday. While speculation of the Syracuse coaching change began to become the fallback of Syracuse fans as to why he spurned ‘Cuse, the three-star had informed me of the decision days before the news broke, and the story was ready to publish the moment he put on the Clemson hat in St. Petersburg.

Perhaps as ironic as Doug Marrone and company leaving didn't factor into Ogundeko's final choice, it rocked the recruitments of longtime commit Gus Edwards and speedy Brooklyn (N.Y.) Xaverian running back Laray Smith, who was a heavy SU lean at the time. Both were confused, misled, and lied to by certain parties within the team about the coaching rumors, only to have their area-recruiter, head coach, offensive coordinator and position coach all bolt for the Buffalo Bills. It is a business, but that end of the spectrum turned away the top two offensive players in the state.

Edwards took a major step back, wondering what the next step was. Would he start looking at other offers like Miami and FSU, or would he stick it out no matter what? Gus was leaning towards the latter initially before going on a bit of a media blackout and separating himself from recruiting for about two weeks.

Smith, on the other hand, was open to me about how confused he was. I recall one phone call where he sounded like he was on the verge of tears regarding recruiting. Prior to that, he admitted to me that John Anselmo was the key to his interest in ‘Cuse. Remember, he was on the verge of committing to SU while on his official visit, which he took with Ogundeko and Edwards on December 8. The initial departure of the SU staff to Buffalo didn't include Anselmo, but he ended up being a part of the final group that took their talent to the league. Less than 48 hours later, Smith spoke to me on the phone and sounded emotionally drained. He was stressed with his leader, Syracuse, and how they'd handled a coaching exodus on the offensive side of the ball. The running back went from on the verge, to wondering about his other football offers and interest from school like Oregon and West Virginia – to thinking about the sport he was best at, track and field. Smith went from a clear football-first mentality to "I'm open to anything" in a matter of a week or so. Not without plenty of confusion and often frustration.

Edwards continued to think about his options while Smith was ready to dive into his. Track became a 50-50 priority with football and schools that were in on him earlier in the process became more attractive. While he held SEC offers in track, Smith never seemed to be open to the South, so Connecticut and Indiana became more clear-cut options along with the Orange. He'd still consider his "home" school as he often called it. And he admitted that they still had somewhat of an edge because of that familiarity.

Even until the final week of the cycle, Smith seemed like Syracuse would be his destination. Then, just as the dead period was set to begin, he got on the phone with UConn and IU. He told both staffs he would take an official visit to the school on the final weekend (February 1) before pen met paper. It was apparent that he wouldn't show up in Storrs as the weekend drew near, and he gave the Hoosiers a chance once he showed up on campus.

With track as a strong possibility in addition to early football playing time, Smith was sold. He'd found the one thing that sounded better than getting to know a mostly new offensive staff at SU, despite Rob Moore's efforts to take over his recruitment, and it was a fresh new start. Smith left as a heavy IU lean, and he followed through by inking with the Big Ten school on Wednesday.

Rewind to mid-January, and Edwards was ready to make some moves. As he, too, dodged and wondered about the new Syracuse coaching staff, he began to look much into the two ACC schools in the Sunshine State. Perhaps coincidentally, at the same point, each former national power was in the market for a running back late in the cycle after missing out on some of the high-end national prospects at the position. Tottenville became Florida-north as Edwards hosted Jimbo Fisher and Al Golden's coaching staff seemingly twice a week in January, and the top running back in town enjoyed the presentation's he'd heard over and over again. Like Smith's late wonder with Indiana, and a fresh start, Edwards also had the chance to get away. But not without considering Rutgers, the school that was actually closer to home than any other. He actually set up an official visit to RU at one point, but it quickly got cancelled after the school determined it was set at the position.

Florida State and Miami got official visits from Edwards during two of the last three weekends of the cycle, but he still considered himself a Syracuse commitment. However, Edwards elected to specifically tell me as well as colleagues at Scout.com to leave out anything about Syracuse. After all the dust settled, I asked why.

"…I just don't want to hear anything from the fans," he said.

Edwards claimed FSU as a leader after that visit and was set to make a three-team decision, with Syracuse somehow clinging to life despite Edwards' obvious feeling towards the school. Then, while two SU assistants visited him at Tottenville on January 31, the day before he was set to travel down to Miami, Edwards reported on the Orange's last pitch to him.

"They did all the talking…"

With the apparent writing on the wall, despite rumors of him only looking at two schools for weeks and refuting said stories with me as well as publicly, it finally happened. He was ready to take on the fans.

"I decommitted," he said in a text later that night.

Edwards didn't want to talk much more until after his Miami official, and it turns out he got a gut feeling there that he didn't at FSU or anywhere else. Couple that with the fact that he may actually play down there sooner than at any other school he was looking at, including Syracuse, and Gus became a Cane.

Syracuse indeed missed out on its three top targets in-state in the 2013 cycle, and the coaching change had plenty to do with the loss of Edwards and Smith. Ogundeko was as good as gone for some time, but SU hung around just enough to make many believe he would stay home. Smith was genuinely confused about the situation and he removed himself from the area looking to find something fresh, and he got it in Bloomington. Edwards wanted a fresh start after the move, never gelling with the new staff, and he followed his de-commitment with a signature faxed to Coral Gables.

Was Syracuse in good shape to land all three at one point? Sure, but closing the deal, given the circumstances, was too much to overcome against more stable situations elsewhere.

The JUCO Safeties

-By Mike McAllister

Back in early December, Syracuse was hot on the trail of JUCO safety Duron Singleton. The Orange seemed to be in good position even after the coaching change. After a few visits, including one to Missouri, he was set to take an official to Syracuse.

Throughout the entire process, we kept in contact with the 6-foot-1 prospect. He maintained Syracuse was among his favorites, if not his top choice, despite visits to other schools. His official visit to the hill solidified Syracuse's position as a logical destination.

After his visit to Syracuse, he informed us that Missouri and Syracuse were his two favorites. However, he seemed to be favoring the Orange.

A few days after the visit, we were given information that Singleton was not alone on his official visit. Teammate Donnell Vercher was emerging as a name that Syracuse was also recruiting hard. Attempts to contact Vercher were unsuccessful, but Singleton confirmed his presence during the visit. Singleton also let us know Syracuse had offered and was very interested in Vercher's services.

A couple of days after that, we were given information that both Singleton and Vercher were going to select the Orange on signing day. On February 1st, we followed up with Singleton who stated he had an idea as to where he was going. The package deal was all but solidified. Vercher was the key to this, however.

Vercher was a Fresno State commit who was receiving major interest. Syracuse was in on him for some time, albeit somewhat silently. Vercher officially visited Syracuse with Singleton on January 25th.

With the information we were given combined with his statement, Singleton and Vercher seemed to be all but a sure thing to Syracuse. The Orange certainly thought that as well, cancelling safety Simeon Thomas' official visit.

The only thing standing in the way was Vercher's official visit to Wisconsin on February 1st. The day after Vercher returned from the visit (February 4th). Singleton was suddenly confused about where he would attend. He tweeted that he didn't know where he would go and the decision was very hard.

He reiterated those same sentiments via text message communication with us the night of February 4th. Syracuse's hopes to land Singleton had taken a bit of a hit. Singleton's waivering had been the result of Vercher's affinity for the Badgers after his trip to Madison.

The morning of February 5th, Singleton texted us that he had chosen Missouri over Syracuse. However, he requested that information be kept quiet until he made his announcement on signing day. Other members of the media chose to ignore Singleton's wishes, and his choice to play for the Tigers leaked out.

Irritated with those developments, Singleton informed those members of the media that he had not committed to Missouri as a way of attempting to gain his commitment moment back. This gave some Syracuse fans hope leading into signing day. We followed up with him of course, but he had not in fact waivered. His Missouri choice was final, and he signed with them as planned.

Zach Allen's Flip

-By Mike McAllister

When Doug Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills, one of the first commits we contacted was Allen. Despite the shock, Allen assured us he was solid to Syracuse. He continued to try to rally the recruiting class to help the Orange keep as much talent as possible. As late as January 9th he told us he was all set to arrive on campus and start his career on the hill.

However, we were tipped off late Friday night that something may be going on with Allen. We spent the night attempting to gather information on whether Allen was still solid to S.U. or whether he was looking elsewhere. Unfortunately, there was nothing solid to report.

Early on the morning of Saturday January 12th, we were notified that Allen was not taking his scheduled flight to Central New York. The information we received was that he took a last minute trip to TCU, decommitted from Syracuse, and was set to be a part of the TCU program.

Scrambling at the last minute huge news, we contacted as many sources as we possibly could. We received word that he had committed to TCU and spurned the Orange. However, it was not reportable information as of yet. Finally, we received official word from Allen himself that he had committed to the Horned Frogs.

Final Thoughts

Recruiting is always a scramble. Not just for the prospects and schools involved, but also for those covering it. The above is just a glimpse as to the craziness that happens on a seemingly regular basis in this profession.

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