Marrone turning Syracuse around

When Doug Marrone came back to his alma mater to become the coach at Syracuse, he knew that changes were needed to get the Orange back on the right track. The former Syracuse offensive lineman came back with the hope of one day restoring the roar of Syracuse football.

A lot of things need to happen for Marrone and his Syracuse staff to succeed, but they are well on their way a year and a half later.

"Oh, you can tell the difference between now and last year," said Marrone about the team that finished 4-8 last season. "There is a huge difference within this program."

From a purely recruiting standpoint, Marrone wanted to take a grass roots approach. First, he wanted to take back the state of New York. Second, he wanted to penetrate all the old, fertile recruiting grounds that made Syracuse successful in the past.

"I went back and looked at where the players were from when Syracuse had all those successful years," he said. "Where were we getting all of those athletes? So I looked at a lot of demographics and wanted to see if those areas were still producing. They were, but we were not getting any [recruits]."

Marrone's goal became obvious -- hire the right coaching staff to rebuild relationships in the state of New York as well as New Jersey, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, Detroit and parts of Florida.

"It is very important for us as a program to get back the state of New York. We have got to make sure we keep the kids close to home," Marrone said. "I also wanted to find places where there were direct flights like Chicago, D.C. and Detroit, and we are making up some ground in all those places. Syracuse always recruited Florida. We are back down there and doing well. We are also recruiting California with Greg Adkins, who has recruited out west for about 15 years."

Syracuse's 2010 class featured nine signees from the state of New York, five from Florida and three from California. So far, the 2011 class has six commitments -- four from New York, one from Florida and one from Virginia. Two of Syracuse's commitments are big-time players from New York: quarterback Terrell Hunt (Middle Village, N.Y./ Christ the King) and defensive end Donnie Simmons (White Plains, N.Y./ Archbishop Stepinac). Hunt is a terrific athlete who also stars on the basketball team, and Simmons is a good pass-rushing end.

"We are gaining back our foundation and making progress," Marrone said.

This will be Marrone's third recruiting class, and he is looking to sign 22 to 24 prospects in February. The Orange will be focusing a little more on the defense with this haul, hunting for the right defensive linemen and defensive backs. Syracuse also has needs on the offensive front, and it would like to land a big running back and a playmaking wide receiver.

When it comes to the numbers, Marrone does things a little differently.

"I have 40 [scholarships] for offense and 40 for defense. I use one for a kicker, punter and a snapper," he said. "That leaves me two wild cards. I save those for players who can change a game."

Another big change for this program was that Marrone wanted to transform the culture within the program itself. He wanted Syracuse football to be more than just football and wants to have an impact on his players' lives in every aspect.

"You have to develop the person first before you develop the athlete," he said. "It's about life and leadership skills, building trust and good communication. When you have that going on, there is trust and we are now building a foundation. We will get 100 percent of the football player when that happens. We have everyone involved in developing the student-athlete as a person first. You can tell the difference."

Marrone has a wide variety of off the field things his players go through, from etiquette training to life skills.

"It's not all about X's and O's," he said. "I graduated here and played in the NFL. I remember feeling uncomfortable in certain situations, like at a dinner at a country club. I promise every prospect one thing, that I will do everything in my power that you will never feel like you don't belong. That's my responsibility as a head coach. I am judging myself with how the quality of people I am putting back out. My players will be successful in the community in whatever they decide to do."

Going back to its successful recruiting areas, creating a certain culture and building an atmosphere of trust, Syracuse is once again building a foundation of winning. Marrone knows things are coming along.

"I want a concrete foundation so we are successful for a long time," he said. "Today, the team truly understands. Recruits and parents see our plan and talk with our players, coaches and their parents and they understand."

Marrone has a formula to get his alma mater back to its winning ways. It won't be a quick fix, rather steps in the right direction, to winning both on and off the field.

National notes

Steward tying to narrow things down



Five-star linebacker Tony Steward (St. Augustine, Fla./Pedro Menendez) is close to narrowing down his list of schools. According to his high school coach, Keith Cromwell, Steward is "realistically considering all offers at this point." He wants to name eight to 10 favorites by the end of this month.

Right now, Clemson is his front runner. That's somewhat of a surprise, but Steward had a sensational time there on his June visit. He loved the people, coaches, players and small town feel of Clemson. Steward said he sensed a genuine family atmosphere between the Tigers' coaches and players.

Expect Florida State, Florida, Miami and Alabama to also make the cut for the No. 10-ranked player in the ESPNU 150. Steward will visit Georgia, Auburn and Alabama next week with his coaches. He will likely also visit FSU this month with his mother. Steward camped this summer at Rutgers, Clemson and Florida.

The acceleration of the recruiting process

It seems as though each year more and more teams evaluate and offer prospects earlier and earlier. On the flip side, more players are making their commitments earlier.

And the numbers back it up.

As of July 4, 20 schools had a dozen or more commitments. By comparison, on July 4, 2006, only two schools (Texas and Mississippi State) had 12 or more commitments. Leading the way this year is Texas with 22 commitments, followed by Stanford (20 commitments), Indiana (19), Virginia (19), Ohio State (17), Oklahoma (17), Utah (16), Alabama (14), Clemson (14), Florida State (14), Kentucky (14), Texas Tech (14), Washington (14), Duke (13), Georgia (13), Louisville (13), Maryland (13), Nebraska (13), Oklahoma State (13) and Notre Dame (12).

The two BCS teams with the fewest commitments are Penn State and Arizona State, both with two.

What's next for Seantrel?



After being released Tuesday from his letter of intent with USC, rumors are flying all over the Internet on Seantrel Henderson's (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall) next move. Don't be surprised if it's with the Miami Hurricanes because many believe they were his second choice back in February.

Henderson, who was the No. 1-ranked offensive tackle in the Class of 2010, also considered Ohio State and Minnesota. He was one of Lane Kiffin's most prized recruits for Southern Cal. The Trojans are still recruiting him, holding out hope he will reconsider and play at USC this fall.

Huggins hanging 10

Four-star running back prospect Savon Huggins (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's) has narrowed his school favorites to 10 schools -- Florida, Georgia, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Stanford and Wisconsin. The Under Armour All-American is the No. 4-ranked running back in the 2011 class.

USC lands Florida linebacker



Much has been made about USC in the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions on June 10. How badly would it hurt the Trojans recruiting?

The common theme was that while USC's recruiting would take a step back, it wouldn't be that big of a step. If the Trojans would be hurt, it would be by the kids they want from across the country.

That proved false with the recent commitment of four-star linebacker Kent Turene (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla./Boyd Anderson), who recorded 120 tackles last season and has loved Southern Cal from the very beginning.

"USC has always been my dream school," Turene said. "I believe in blessings, and this is a great blessing. The coaches there are people with a lot of NFL experience. They have a great attitude about winning and winning a national title."

Arkansas lands big time OL

Perhaps the biggest commitment of the past week was that of Brey Cook (Springdale, Ark./Har-Ber) to Arkansas. The four-star offensive tackle prospect was a must get for Arkansas and Bobby Petrino, especially with the Razorbacks' needs across the offensive front. The 6-6, 295-pounder is the No. 7-ranked offensive tackle in the class.

Other notable commitments of the week were quarterback Justin Worley (Rock Hill, S.C./Northwestern) to Tennessee, defensive end Connor Wujciak (West Orange, N.J./Seton Hall Preparatory) to Boston College and defensive end Shaun Ward (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla./Boyd Anderson) to Texas A&M. Ole Miss picked up commitments from three Sunshine State prospects in linebacker Serderius Bryant (Sanford, Fla./Seminole) and defensive backs Andrew Johnson (Miami/Miami Southridge) and Gerrod Holliman (Miami/Miami Southridge).

Another Weatherford quarterback



First it was Drew Weatherford (Florida State) and then Joe Weatherford (UCF). Now, the youngest brother, Stephen Weatherford (Land O Lakes, Fla./Land O. Lakes), just committed to South Florida and new Bulls coach Skip Holtz. The three-star quarterback threw for 2,052 yards, 27 touchdowns and only five interceptions last season. He may have the most upside of the all the Weatherford boys. He is USF's sixth verbal commitment.

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.