SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Anyone who has seen junior quarterback Eric Dungey of the Syracuse Orange play knows he has a good set of wheels, able to leap defenders with a single bound.
Ditto for cousin Ryan, a motocross champion whose two wheels allow him to jump over anything and everything in his way .
Different sports, singular trait — fearlessness.
“Toughness definitely is a shared trait,” Eric’s mother, Cindy, said. “Ryan has broken so many bones!”
Dubbed “boss of the cross,” Ryan Dungey had won every title in his sport by the time he turned 24 — Lites Supercross Championship and titles in both the 250cc and 450cc classes. Only one other rider in history had accomplished the feat at a younger age. He also was the first motocross rider to appear on a box of Wheaties, the first to win the 450cc Supercross and outdoor titles as a rookie (2010), and finished on the podium 69 times in 75 career outdoor starts.
Then there’s this — despite breaking at least 10 bones in his career, Ryan never missed a moto.
“He’s a real tough guy,” Eric said. “When I was younger, he definitely was a role model. I would always look up to him.”
So it should come as little surprise that Eric, who has a history of jumping, diving and flipping off cliffs and bridges, has faced more than his fair share of vicious hits with his daring style of play. He was sidelined for the better part of eight games in his first two seasons at the helm of the Orange offense because of injuries.
As painful as it’s been, Dungey has simply taken the bad in stride. Being the quarterback, he figures it goes with the territory.
“I think it (toughness) is one of the most important attributes you can have to be a leader,” he said. “I just kind of lead by example. I take pride in that. It’s kind of the way I was raised.”
There is a mutual admiration between the cousins.
“Thinking about putting myself in the position of a quarterback and what it would be like, I’ve seen those football players,” Ryan said. “They’re hungry and they’re foaming at the mouth. It can be an intimidating situation.
“You’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to have the courage. Guys are ready not to just tackle you but to make sure they get you good where it hurts.”
Since he became the starter at Syracuse his freshman year at a wiry 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Eric, a dual threat with deceptive speed, has paid dearly. Two players have been ejected for targeting fouls committed against him, the first coming against Central Michigan in just his second start and resulting in a concussion.
Four games later, Dungey was knocked facedown on the Carrier Dome turf against Pittsburgh and lay motionless for a scary split second, his arms limp by his sides, before hopping up. Two weeks later at Louisville, he suffered another hard hit to the head late in the game while trying to scramble and left the field with the help of the training staff.
The injury jinx hit again last season when Dungey suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit after a short gain early in a game at Clemson and missed the final three games of the season.
Despite all of that, Dungey has accumulated some impressive numbers as the Orange (2-1) get set to play at No. 25 LSU on Saturday night. In 20 games he’s thrown for 4,764 yards and 31 TDs and rushed 255 times for 853 yards and 15 scores, the latter figure just four shy of the school record shared by Donovan McNabb and Bill Hurley.
Last year, Dungey produced the best game of his college career in a win at Boston College. He hit 32 of 38 passes for a career-high 434 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 54 yards to finish with 488 yards of total offense, the second highest single-game total in school history. He also displayed that signature toughness after BC defensive back William Harris made an interception, slamming Harris down hard and far out of bounds, sparking a sideline scrum.
“Ever since the first day, I knew that he was something special,” Orange wide receiver Steve Ishmael said of Dungey. “He was confident, wasn’t nervous. He came in there yelling. I was sort of scared myself when he started yelling. I love the kid.”
Although he was victimized by a targeting hit against Middle Tennessee two weeks ago, Dungey says the hits he’s absorbed haven’t been so bad because of the 20 pounds of muscle he added in the offseason. And he’s finally beginning to heed the advice of head coach Dino Babers in an effort to avoid those bone-rattling collisions. In last week’s home win over Central Michigan, he slid three times to avoid unnecessary contact on runs.
“He likes to bring his legs into the game,” Babers said. “We just want him to be smart.”
Dungey, who was lightly recruited coming out of high school in Lake Oswego, Oregon, is on the watch lists for three national awards (Maxwell, Manning and Davey O’Brien). His 27-year-old cousin, who retired in May at the top of his game, is impressed.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Ryan Dungey said. “It’s cool to see the Dungey legacy carrying on and hopefully he can keep that momentum going and bring that into the NFL.”
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