Nothing much seemed to go right for Syracuse last season. If coach Scott Shafer isn't on cloud nine now, he's probably darn close.
Five months removed from an injury-riddled 3-9 season that ended with five straight losses after a 2-0 start, there's a sparkling new indoor training center that's become an instant boon for the football team, most of the players are healthy again, and recruiting is purring.
The opening of Ensley Athletic Center in December — which cost about $17 million — has had a big impact from the get-go. It's named after Cliff Ensley, a walk-on who earned a football scholarship and in the late 1960s became the last three-sport standout at Syracuse, also excelling in lacrosse and wrestling. He was a major donor for the 87,000-square-foot facility, which has the same footprint as the Carrier Dome and enables the football team to have a full 100 yards to practice. It also includes a 7,600 square-foot entry pavilion for meetings, and a video system comparable to those in the NFL that can be operated remotely from nearby Manley Field House.
"They didn't skimp on anything," Shafer said. "It gives us a lot of opportunities that we didn't have in the past."
Such as starting spring ball early, which let the team practice without interfering much with academics. It's also allowed the players a longer time to heal after spring ball and gives them a chance at another 30-day cycle of training. The team's injury list last fall reached 17 players, many of them key performers, including starting quarterback Terrel Hunt.
"That's huge for us," Shafer said. "I've never been a part of that many injuries. Hopefully, they come and go in droves and they're gone. Keeping these kids healthy and getting them back right is going to be huge moving forward."
Like the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, players have access to Ensley Athletic Center all the time, day or night, with the swipe of a card, and that can only help foster an increased sense of camaraderie. The new facility also keeps Syracuse at the forefront of the arms race in the Atlantic Coast Conference, giving Shafer and his staff something special to show to prospective recruits.
Unless there's a change of heart, Syracuse, which finished 1-7 in the ACC last fall, has landed a highly touted recruit in Robert Washington. He's rated a four-star running back by all the major recruiting services and surprisingly chose Syracuse over the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Michigan, and Florida.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder announced last Saturday that he was committing to Syracuse, backing away from previous comments committing to Florida. Washington said he wanted a chance to play right away at a school where he could make an immediate impact.
As a junior at SouthLake Christian Academy in North Carolina, Washington rushed for 2,233 yards and 27 touchdowns and also caught 11 passes for 202 yards and three more scores.
"We're excited where we're at in recruiting. We're ahead of the curve," Shafer said. "In the past, we were trying to catch up a little bit when I first got hired."
Shafer joined Syracuse as defensive coordinator in 2009.
Shafer said among early verbal commitments the past two years in the conference, around 80 percent stayed true to the schools they chose, and Syracuse has fared well of late.
"Last year when it came down to the wire the last week and a half of recruiting, we had a lot of people come in and try to poach some of our kids— Florida, Michigan," he said. "We had longstanding relationships with the recruits and those kids stayed with us."