Transcript: Syracuse at the 2019 ACC Kickoff

syracuseSyracuse coach Dino Babers and players Tommy DeVito and Kendall Coleman talk with reporters at the 2019 ACC Kickoff.

THE MODERATOR: It is time to welcome in Syracuse.

We’ll spend a little bit of time with Tommy DeVito, the quarterback for Syracuse. Questions, please.

Q. What can you say about taking over the leadership role at quarterback. You had experience getting out there, what that experience has taught you at Syracuse being on the field, now being the leader of the team on offense.
TOMMY DeVITO: Being the quarterback of the team, the leadership role comes with it. That’s something I’ve always embraced since I was younger, something that I always look forward to having the team look up to me as that leader.

From the past experiences I’ve had playing in games, I like to use that as a steppingstone moving forward and become the best possible leader I can for this offense and for this team.

Q. Syracuse hadn’t won yet when you committed. Can you talk about what attracted you to Coach Babers?
TOMMY DeVITO: The offense, when I was getting recruited, offense was definitely a big selling point for my family and I. We’re Italian, so we’re all about trust. When we had a conversation with Coach Babers and the rest of the coaching staff, we had a lot of trust and belief with them. My gut told me to go with it, I went with it. That’s why I’m with Syracuse.

Q. Syracuse was second in the league last year in total offense. A big part of that was 200 yards rushing, an improvement from the previous season. About 60 of those yards came from Eric Dungey, who liked to run. We think of you as more of a pocket passer. Will you run them?
TOMMY DeVITO: I like to think of myself as a pocket passer. At the same time when the time comes, if I need to run, I will. That is not my first thought.

Q. Jawhar Jordan, Moe Neal, so many different talented backs that are going to be there this season. What can you say about that balance between pass and rush, that you have a stable of running backs that can back you up?
TOMMY DeVITO: Right, our running back room is huge. They’re awesome. They’re all a great bunch of guys. That makes my job easier. When the run game it working really well, the pass game works, vice versa. Without them I couldn’t be able to throw the ball. I can’t speak enough of them. They’re a great group of guys. It’s going to be really exciting to watch them play this year.

Q. Having a senior running back the like of Moe Neal, how much are you leaning on him for expertise, of course blocking him?
TOMMY DeVITO: Right, for sure. Our running backs help a lot in the pass protection. Moe Neal is very smart, intelligent like all the other running backs. They know where their eyes have to be, pick up a block. His leadership ability is going to help us a lot.

Q. Talk about the receivers, there’s a lot of guys that can potentially be that No. 1 target. What has it been like in spring and in the off-season?
TOMMY DeVITO: Right, the off-season between quarterbacks and receivers is huge. That’s when we get our timing down, routes, new routes, old routes, anything. You get your timing down with your guys. That’s really the time for trial and error, figure out who is who, what speeds, where they like to catch different balls. That’s really what we worked on a lot. That’s what we’re working on right now with our player-led practices.

Q. Building off the success from last season, what can you say about the expectations? A lot more season tickets sold, a lot of fans getting more around this team. What can you say about feeling that, building off the success from last year?
TOMMY DeVITO: It’s exciting. Coming up off a 10-win season last year, a lot of people think there’s a lot of pressure on us to do the same thing. In reality, the team is more locked in, more focused, more determined to know what we want to do. We know what it takes to get there now, so we know we have to do it even more.

Q. Talk about your focal point during the off-season, what was it you were working on, trying to get better at. Also if you could touch base on the influence that Coach Cavanaugh has had on the team.
TOMMY DeVITO: In the off-season, I’ve been practicing my tan (laughter). Just kidding.

A lot of timing with the receivers. I’ve been trying to put on a lot of weight, trying to be able make sure I can take these hits in the weight room.

Coach Cavanaugh is awesome, offensive line coach. He’s done a great job. We had a couple linemen that just came in, he’s been working with. The older guys, as well. They work with the younger guys to make sure they’re all on the same page. By the time camp comes, everybody is ready.

Q. Officially the media guide lists your offense as the spread. Is that really an adequate name? With the frenzy with which you play, how would you describe your offense?
TOMMY DeVITO: Exhilarating. Honestly, our offense, we played a bunch of different styles, a bunch of different ways. That’s why I believe it’s so hard for defenses to be able to get a lock on us. We can do the same play a hundred different ways, a hundred different formations, different motions. That’s what makes our offense unique.

Q. Describe your teammate Kendall Coleman.
TOMMY DeVITO: Serious. Kendall is a very serious dude. He means business. He’s a great guy off the field, on the field. He laughs a lot. But you could tell when he gets those sacks, he has a serious look on his face. He means business, I couldn’t respect him any more.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Tommy.

Kendall Coleman. We’ll take questions, please.

Q. Tell us about your teammate Tommy DeVito.
KENDALL COLEMAN: Yeah, Tommy is not quite as serious as I am at times. He’s a quality guy, great person to be around, really influential, really knows how to take control of the room, captivate the audience he has at hand.

Nobody that I’d rather work side-by-side with than him. Definitely a great person. Glad to be teammates with him and have him on my side.

Q. What can you say about the threat this defense brings not only to the ACC but to the country? Obviously when Dino came in, there’s an emphasis on building towards that positive culture, creating a better environment. What have you taken away from the elevation of this defense?
KENDALL COLEMAN: This defense has come a long way. Defense starts with mentality. I think we finally got the right mentality and plays to go out there, attack other teams, do what we need to do to make sure overall our team is successful.

A big part of our defense that people have talked about to this point has been our D-line. Although we’ve been really successful, I’d be wrong if I didn’t suggest that there’s a lot of competition between the best position group on defense between the DBs and the D-line.

Overall basically there’s a lot of talented guys, a lot of depth on defense right now. I’m excited to be a part of it. Excited to see what we can do this season.

Q. When Coach Babers was here for the first time three years ago, he talked about those early practices, a lot of guys throwing up, filling up the trash cans. He said he can judge the conditions of his team, progress for the future. How much less are you guys throwing up now?
KENDALL COLEMAN: Lots of freshmen spending time in the trash cans right now. Other than that, everybody is getting where they need to go, making their times.

This off-season conditioning really hasn’t been work, per se. More so the opportunity to compete with each other, push each other, get better in anticipation of knowing what’s coming forth in the season.

Q. You beat Clemson a couple years ago, last year was a good game. What do you have to do to beat them, and how important is that week three game in terms of down the road, getting to where you want to go?
KENDALL COLEMAN: That week three game is extremely important. The first thing we got to do in order to beat that team is bear the two teams we face before them. If we sleep on either of those two opponents between Liberty and Maryland, those can easily throw us off track, throw a curve ball to the rest of the season. The best way to handle Clemson is handle the first step with week one and week two.

Q. I think you’d agree the challenge of playing defense at Syracuse when your offense is on the field such a short time is a little different than some other schools. What have been the biggest hurdles to overcome as you moved up in the stats?
KENDALL COLEMAN: What makes it really opportune for our defense to be in position to score or cause turnovers, put our offense back on the field is hustle and effort. That comes from mentality. We got ourselves to a mental standpoint where it wasn’t about being tired, needing a sub, it’s I’m going to go as hard as I can, every play that I can, until they decide they’re going to put the next fresh guy in. While I’m in there, I’m after that.

So putting hands in quarterbacks’ faces. Not every play has to result in a sack in order to be effective. Getting a hand in the quarterback’s face or putting his O-linemen in his face, running back, that creates a skewed perspective for him to be able to pass, puts our DBs and our safeties in great positions to go up and make plays on the ball.

Q. What can you say about locking down the Loud House? Undefeated at home last season, the importance of taking care of business, a tall task coming in to start off.
KENDALL COLEMAN: Yeah, one, going undefeated at home last season was a major feat in itself. Something I’m extremely grateful to have been a part of. Hopefully we can make that happen again this year.

Clemson is going to be a tough battle at home. I’m excited. There’s nothing more than I want. I wouldn’t rather face anybody else to start off the season than the defending national champs. Starting off with them at home is going to be a sensational atmosphere. Like I said, it starts on the road with those first two games, make sure we handle our business, so when we come home we’re in our comfort zone ready to go.

THE MODERATOR: Kendall, thank you.

We’ll bring head coach up. Questions, please.

Q. The representation you chose for this year’s ACC Kickoff, why choosing these two gentlemen, just how they adequately represent what Syracuse is becoming?
DINO BABERS: Kendall, there’s a great story about Kendall. He came in as a true freshman a while back. The very first scrimmage we had on campus, his position coach came back and said he had given 100% effort. I told the position coach, I’ve been in a long time, I’ve never seen a high school freshman come to his first college scrimmage and get a 100% effort grade on a scrimmage.

To make a long story short. I said, If he did that, I want to see it. If I want to see it, I know you guys want to see it, as well. I brought the staff back at 11:00 that night, and we rewatched the scrimmage. We graded Kendall to see if he graded 100% in effort.

Now, he didn’t. He came out at 91 or 93%, which is still the highest grade we’ve ever given a freshman. Like Tommy DeVito said, Kendall has a seriousness about him. He’s always displayed that from the very first time we saw him. There’s no doubt the way he goes about things is the way we would love our defense to go about things.

When you talk about Tommy and his representation here, Tommy is one of our leaders. He’s one of the highest ranked players ever recruited. Obviously an Elite 11 candidate, finished fourth in that competition. Now he has an opportunity to be the starting quarterback and the leader of our offense.

We think very highly of him. We expect big things out of him. This might be a little bit early for him to be here, but if the shoes are too big, too bad. You need to grow up and fill ’em. Hopefully you guys will get an opportunity to see him for two or three more years up here.

Q. One of the biggest games, most anticipated in program history, is week three against Clemson. Those first two games, as a coach, how do you make your team focus on the first opponents?
DINO BABERS: We don’t even speak about it. The way you guys go straight to the third game, I don’t even think that way. Our opening opponent is Liberty University. Coach Hugh Freeze does a fantastic job on offense. Transfers coming back in there. We don’t have any tape to watch, to be able to watch how they play. It’s going to be a very, very difficult game for us at their place.

Then we turn around and play a very fine Maryland team with very good personnel. It will be the first year there with Coach Locksley. He’s been in big games before, being the offensive coordinator at Alabama. We’re going to have our hands filled with that, as well.

If we’re lucky enough to get through those two games, then we’ll get to our third game, which will be our season opener in the ACC Atlantic. They all count at one, whether you win or lose. Therefore, every one of those games are a big game to us, regardless of who we’re playing.

Q. Could you follow up on the question about the trash cans, how you measure the progress. Also, I remember about your first year, there were four new head coaches, but you were the only one in the Atlantic. Talk about the progress your program has made.
DINO BABERS: First of all, the trash cans, they were a lot in the beginning, there are not a lot in the end. I can’t remember the last time I saw — well, freshmen don’t count. Freshmen throwing up, that doesn’t count. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an upperclassman do something like that in practice.

The young men are in a lot much better shape. They’re really embracing the conditioning program, which is helping them. The first time they never had an opportunity to do that.

You’re going to have to help me with the second part of the question again.

Q. Atlantic.
DINO BABERS: The ACC Atlantic is no joke. It’s an unbelievable division. I was speaking to someone earlier, they’re like, How do you compare — everybody in the ACC Atlantic from the bottom up has gotten better. Then when you play, I can’t stand when I pop my Ps, really tees me off.

When you play Clemson and people like that, Florida State, with Jameson Winston, Louisville when they had Lamar Jackson, when you’re playing teams that have those type of athletes, you’re playing some of the better football teams in the country.

So when you go outside the conference and you start playing other teams, I mean, what is there to be fearful of? When you’re in the ACC and you’re in the ACC Atlantic, your big brother is as big as anybody on the street, okay? If you can handle him, you’re going to have an opportunity to handle anybody else.

Q. I know you don’t want to talk about Clemson, but I’m going to ask you about Clemson: You have been able to compete with them, unlike most teams in the country, I think they’re 34-2 in the ACC over the last 36 games. They’ve won by an average of 20 points. You beat them. You played them tough last year, almost had them again. Why has Syracuse been able to compete with Clemson and be right there?
DINO BABERS: I think back — I just think back that our young men compete very well. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to win a game two years ago. When you win a game, you always feel like you have the belief that you can win another. You’ve seen the mountaintop, okay? You’ve seen what it looks like. You know how difficult it is.

I think that gives us a little bit of an edge that we know we can. That doesn’t mean you will. I mean, the last time that those young men at Clemson lost, the year was 2017. It’s 2019 now. They’re very good at what they do. They have fantastic personnel, and they’re always getting better.

Q. We’ve seen the fan base respond to last season’s efforts by showing you by the thousands the season tickets they’ve bought. What can you say about how this fan base has responded, how the community is responding? As you step into this next year, what have you taken away from the first few seasons?
DINO BABERS: We told them we wanted to give them something they deserve, something on the football field that they can be proud of. That’s the stuff we talked about when we first arrived. We asked them to have faith, belief without evidence, that we can put something on the football field that would be worthy of not only their time but of their dollars and cents.

They’ve waited and seen and now they believe. Faith is one thing, but having belief is something else. I think they have a strong belief that with their backing, when we’re in the Dome, that we have an opportunity to play with anyone when they’re behind us.

I know that our football team and our football family absolutely feels that way, that if you’re coming into our place, I don’t know, I guess it’s like that movie Dumb and Dumber, if you’re coming to play us at home, we just really think like we have a chance.

Q. Eye-popping 18 punts returned for touchdowns last year. Syracuse got two of those. As much difficulty as your offense poses for opposing defenses, how important is it to add yet another weapon with the special teams?
DINO BABERS: I’m going to answer your question in a different way. I really think the strength of our football team is our defense this year. I think we have an outstanding defense. Not only do I believe they’re outstanding, they need to play that way.

I think the second strength of our football team is our special teams. Our field-goal kicker is a Lou Groza Award winner as a freshman. Our punter is an NFL punter, write it down, he will kick in the National Football League. That’s how good he is. I think our special teams coordinator, Justin, does a fantastic job. When you have good defense and you have good special teams, good things should happen.

We have high expectation, but we got to go out there and prove ourselves. We don’t want to be a team that was occasional. Last year was a fantastic season. We hadn’t won 10 games since 2001. But we want to be consistently good, not occasionally great.

We get an opportunity to go out there, show we could be consistent. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It just means we have an opportunity.

Q. Your safety, Andre Cisco, a lot has been made about his work ethic. Can you talk about his skill set, what makes him unique, what you’re expecting?
DINO BABERS: I think you got them both together. When Kendall Coleman came in, we said we’ll never see other freshman like Kendall Coleman. I don’t think we have. The closest thing we’ve seen is Andrew Cisco. Andre came in in January, went through spring, beat out one safety, beat out the other safety during two-a-days, lined up and played as a freshman. Then he played so extremely well he got named on some All-American teams.

That doesn’t happen with young men, especially young men in the millennial area. That doesn’t normally happen. They’re not average. They’re not the same. They’re unique in what they do. His skill set is exceptional.

The thing that’s different, I want to talk about what’s different about Cisco, what’s different is he’s changed his body. He went down to Wal-Mart, got him some bi’s, some tri’s, and some pecs now, he must have got the pecs off the shelf, around aisle five, he has an upper body that is no joke. I want to see now if he can physically do some of the things from a skill said that we saw him do from an athletic ability as far as getting interceptions and doing other things on the back end.

That is the thing that excites me most about him this year, along with a lot of players that have changed their body physically to be able to survive in the ACC, especially the ACC Atlantic.

Q. Not asking you about Clemson. Going to talk about your season opener. You already touched on it. Liberty, a team that already had some success at FBS, last year adding new recruits, Hugh Freeze coming aboard. What intrigues you about this matchup? Talk about going against Coach Freeze and his debut.
DINO BABERS: I don’t know about the word “intrigue.” We have to make sure we cross our T’s and dot our I’s. This is a very, very dangerous game coming out of camp, especially when you don’t have the amount of homework you can have on your opponent with that type of personnel. As they move down the road five and six games in, the teams that they play are going to have a heck of a greater advantage than what we have coming out of the gate.

I took a team like this, when I was at Eastern Illinois, I had a team like this, we went out there and played a very good San Diego State team at their place in the opener. We were 21-point underdogs to the San Diego State team that won the conference that year, and we beat them by 21 points because they did not have great tape on us, they did not know the young men transferring back into our program because we were at the FCS level.

This is a very, very dangerous game. I’m not comfortable speaking about it at all. I think we’re going to have our hands full.

Q. We’ve seen the passion that you’ve had, a lot of these postgame locker room opportunities. Speak on the balance of fun as well as discipline. This team respects you, at the same time you allow them to have some fun. There’s that inspiration that we can sense from you inside the locker room as well as on the field.
DINO BABERS: I think football should be fun. I think football is all about winning. Oh, yeah, it’s all about winning. But for us it’s about winning the right way. We want to win the right way, then we want to have fun. We want to lead the league in picnics, barbecues and softball games. We want to lead the league on that.

Now, all that being said, I’m a military kid. My dad was in the military. I was raised military. He’s passed away and buried at the national cemetery in Houston. There’s a lot of military in me. If we’re having fun and we’re not doing things exactly right, then that military will come out in me.

I think the young men know that. I haven’t been a head coach very long. I want to say I’ve conditioned my football team three times, three times. After practice we’ve conditioned three different teams, all for the same offense. It had nothing to do with what they were doing on the football field. It had something to do with what they were doing off the football field.

If you have faith, belief without evidence, that these things will lead to winning, I think that they will buy in. But one thing that I try to do is always tell them the truth. I think sometimes men, especially men to men, don’t tell each other the truth enough.

We will be deadly honest with each other in trying to get the right results for our family.

Q. We celebrate the 50th year of the moon landing this Saturday. The day after your eighth birthday a man landed on the moon. You have a birthday this Friday, happy birthday. What memory do you have, what impact did that have on you?
DINO BABERS: Sitting in the living room — not sitting in the living room, standing. Black-and-white TV, three channels: Channels 6, 8, 10 — four channels: 6, 8, 10, and UHF channel that’s kind of like 39, if one of the kids would hold the rabbit ears, it would come in. I believe Speed Racer and Space Ghost was on that channel. That was really important (laughter).

But watching that first walk on the moon as a young man, then hearing my mom and my dad talk about what this was going to be. Of course, you had the whole Rocky IV, USSR-USA thing, that battle with Sputnik, if my history is correct. It was a big thing for our country. I’m not going to get political up here, but it was amazing how uniting that was for our country at that time. It will be really great and fantastic to get back to some of those times when all of us are so united once again on a common topic.

THE MODERATOR: Syracuse, good luck this year.

DINO BABERS: Thank you very much.


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