Pair of programs eye recruiting advantage, market numbers in media stronghold under developing coaches
Scott Vallone grew up along New York’s 118-mile Long Island expanse rooting for Syracuse. The Rutgers football team’s senior defensive tackle joked as a kid about playing for the Orange, who once ruled among allegiances in the Northeast.
But as Vallone prepares to face Syracuse tomorrow for the final time as a Scarlet Knight, southeast New York is as fluid a marketing region as ever.
“Rutgers has actually picked up a lot of notoriety,” Vallone said. “Playing on ESPN so many times, winning games, it’s not a joke anymore. … Being where I’m from, people have taken on Rutgers as almost a New York team. It’s almost evenly matched at this point.”
The point remains one in contention for Syracuse, which adopted the slogan “New York’s College Team” around the time head coach Doug Marrone was hired. But even before then, the phrase was a mindset, said Syracuse defensive tackle Rob Welsh.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” he said.
Welsh played two seasons with Vallone at St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) High School in the New York Catholic League. Welsh, a freshman in 2006, met Vallone after a varsity practice, and Vallone took him under his wing when Welsh played varsity the following season.
Vallone remembers playing against future Syracuse commits Michael Hay and David Legree in high school, when former head coach Greg Robinson roamed the Carrier Dome sidelines.
“He wasn’t really trying to lock down New York,” Vallone said of Robinson. “You would think Syracuse being the New York school would be the first school to make sure they offered me. That wasn’t the case.”
Vallone ultimately committed to the Scarlet Knights, thanks in part to a gaudy meeting with former head coach Greg Schiano.
“When Coach Schiano at the time flew the helicopter onto our baseball field,” Welsh said, “I had a feeling he was going to go there.”
But the thinking changed when Marrone took over at Syracuse in 2008.
He restored the program’s vested interest in acquiring top New York talent, which Robinson failed to do over a four-year span and a 10-37 record.
“We were in that period of rebuilding,” Welsh said. “They said, ‘We need a bunch of New York guys, and you’re one of the best kids on Long Island right now. We’d really like you to come here and help us rebuild.’”
But with the resurrection came control over the program.
Marrone, born in the Bronx, closed spring practice to Syracuse media following a 5-7 season in 2011 that featured one Big East win. The Orange won eight games the previous season and appeared in a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
They are 2-3 in Marrone’s crucial fourth season, but a turnaround could rally the area’s hibernating fan base, Vallone said.
“Rutgers is closer to New York City than even Syracuse is,” he said. “It could be described as New York’s team. If Syracuse did get hot, it would pick up a lot of steam, though, because of the tradition and it is in New York.”
But the current makeup of both teams resembles little of the region they covet.
Three projected starters tomorrow hail from New York City. One, junior right guard Andre Civil, considers the city a different state from the culture upstate.
“You look at the rosters, obviously southeastern New York is a big part of the State of Rutgers for us,” said head coach Kyle Flood, who grew up in Bayside, Queens. “For them, they really only have one starter over on offense from New York City, and two starters on defense from New York City. … Three or four of their defensive linemen are from California and Virginia. Those are areas we don’t really target in the recruiting process.”
Schiano once outlined a plan to build a fence around the pseudo-state of Rutgers, which spanned the Mid-Atlantic U.S. Flood, who joined Schiano’s staff in 2005, played a significant role in implementing it.
Marrone has done the same, despite mixed results. But the only result — and final one, with Syracuse’s move to the ACC next year — that matters plays itself out tomorrow at High Point Solutions Stadium.
“The fact that both colleges are going for the same recruits and local areas,” Welsh said, “that really puts it over the edge.”
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