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Syracuse wraps up spring football practice; QB Terrel Hunt is the Orange's leader now

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SYRACUSE, New York — Syracuse coach Scott Shafer's second spring in charge of the Orange seems a whole lot more relaxing than the first.

A year ago, Shafer was scrambling after Doug Marrone's abrupt departure to take over the NFL's Buffalo Bills. The graduation of record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib only heightened the anxiety for the first-year coach as he searched for a replacement.

A year later, Shafer seems more at ease. Terrel Hunt is his starting quarterback and three others are vying for the backup role, a welcome situation for a coach who revels in competition at every position.

Hunt, Mitch Kimble, Austin Wilson and freshman AJ Long all played in Saturday's spring game at the Carrier Dome, helping the offense beat the defense 34-27. The four combined to go 35 of 46 for 413 yards passing with one interception in the Orange's version of up-tempo football.

"All in all, a pretty good spring effort by both sides of the ball," Shafer said. "It's always nice to have an incumbent that you feel has continued to grow and mature. We feel that way about Terrel. He's got a good feel for the offense and what we're doing, so it'll be a little bit easier going into fall camp."

"Competition is what it's all about," Shafer said. "We want to feed that competition. It'll be interesting to see how that fight continues with the quarterback backup spot."

The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Hunt played the first half of the 72-play scrimmage, which was broadcast by a local cable television station, a first. It was a far cry from last spring when he was beaten out for the starting job by fifth-year transfer Drew Allen. Hunt shook off the disappointment, and became the starter four games into the season.

"It was a rough stretch," said Hunt, who received the Bill Horr Award for most valuable player on Friday night at the team's annual awards banquet. "You didn't know — am I going to play, is he going to play? Now, you know you're playing. Now, you've got to be a leader for this team, make sure you're more vocal, make sure you're taking care of business on and off the field, doing everything perfect. You don't want to slip up and let anybody else think they can do the same as you. That pushes you to be great."

Hunt was 12 of 15 for 95 yards. Kimble finished 7 of 10 for 112 yards and one TD, Wilson was 6 for 6 for 124 yards and two scores, and Long was 10 of 15 for 82 yards and one touchdown with one interception.

"We really were up-tempo like Coach likes," Wilson said. "We were just moving the ball with ease, it felt like. I think they felt really comfortable. Everybody was making plays."

Especially receivers Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime. Broyld had eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns as 15 players caught at least one pass. Estime had four receptions for 104 yards, including a short one over the middle that he turned into a 64-yard gain down the right sideline, setting up a field goal.

"We came out and we ran the system at a high level, at a winning level," offensive coordinator George McDonald said. "We got the ball to the right people, and the right people made plays."

Take away the 11 combined rushing attempts by Kimble and Long that resulted in 36 yards in losses as the defense racked up five sacks, and the run game produced 74 yards on 17 carries, with George Morris II leading the way with 44.

Placekicker Ross Krautman, who missed most of last season with a hip injury that required surgery, was in pads but did not kick. Alex Hodgkinson had field goals of 23 and 28 yards.

The team now turns its focus to summer preseason camp, well aware it faces a daunting schedule in the fall. In a four-week span starting Sept. 20, the Orange face Maryland, Louisville and Florida State at home and Notre Dame at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

The Orange open next season against Villanova on the last Friday night in August. In an effort to boost attendance, for every ticket purchased for the season opener against the Wildcats, Shafer will buy an additional ticket for that fan.

"I really look forward to seeing you guys come out for that home opener," Shafer, holding a wireless microphone, said to a nice round of applause before Saturday's scrimmage began in the Carrier Dome. "I want to see this place shake. When they (visiting teams) come in here, we're going to beat the hell out of them."

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