Marquis Spruill knows he had it easy last year.
Sure, Spruill was starting at linebacker as a true freshman for Syracuse. But with veterans Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue beside him, Spruill knew he could just go out and play.
"I was a little goof," he said. "Just playing around here and there, doing what freshmen do. I didn't have to worry about a leadership role as much."
This spring, things have changed for Spruill. Smith and Hogue are gone, and he has moved to the inside linebacker position, which requires more leadership by its very nature as the quarterback of the defense. And Spruill suddenly finds himself as easily the most experienced player in the Orange linebacking depth chart.
"Now I have to give advice about what to do on and off the field, make sure everybody is getting the defense right," he said. "I guess it just comes with the territory."
But Spruill seems prepared for this role. Before coming to Syracuse, the 6-foot-2, 223-pounder had always played inside linebacker. He moved to the strong side last year because Smith had the middle spot locked down. He also had a full year of learning under Smith and Hogue, two of the Orange's top two leaders on last year's squad.
"I don't think I would have been able to do half the stuff I did last year without them to guide me, both on and off the field," he says.
Spruill finished last season with 51 tackles, including nine for loss. Only two Big East freshmen -- Louisville's Hakeem Smith and South Florida's DeDe Lattimore -- had more stops, and both those guys were redshirt freshmen (though Spruill got an extra year of development by going to prep school).
In some ways, Spruill says he feels like a freshman again this spring while learning the new position. At the same time, he already knows most of the techniques a middle linebacker needs, and he spent a year in the meeting room with Smith.
He's much farther along than some of the guys who'll be vying to replace Smith and Hogue in the starting lineup. So far, and it's early, Spruill said junior-college transfer Siriki Diabate and early enrollee Dyshawn Davis have been impressive at the two outside spots.
Linebacker is an important position in defensive coordinator Scott Shafer's scheme, as Hogue and Smith combined for 209 tackles last season. But Spruill thinks it can remain a strong suit.
"Yeah, because Doug and Derrell only played linebacker for like two years," he said. "So it's going to be the same thing now. We'll be ready -- you can definitely count on that."
And now Spruill will be counted on to provide more leadership.