It may be only February, but the Syracuse football coaching staff is hard at work on the recruiting trail and this weekend is going to be a big one in setting the foundation for the 2017 class. A big group of very talented prospects will be checking out the facilities, so today I thought it’d be a good time to take a look at a few of the names I’ll be keeping a particularly close eye on.

Perhaps the biggest name in terms of both stature and position visiting Syracuse this weekend is Kasim Hill, a 4-star signal caller ranked by as the No. 2 QB in the East. Hill is a 6-foot-2, 195 pound prospect out of Maryland who I’ve talked about before, and who the Orange have a legitimate chance of landing. He’s a big-time prospect at the flashiest position on the field, so it’s essential that the staff makes a strong impression this weekend.

Another potentially key piece of the 2017 recruiting puzzle for Dino Babers and his staff is Ethan Wiederkehr. The two-way lineman is the son of former Syracuse offensive lineman Hans Wiederkehr, and he’s from New York, checking off two big boxes to make him an almost must-get. Syracuse hasn’t had much luck with legacy prospects over the years, but Wiederkehr seems to have strong interest in the Orange, and the 3-star talent would be a nice addition and help the coaching staff make more in-roads in New York.

Staying in New York, there are two Empire State players in particular I’ll be watching in addition to Wiederkehr: Isaiah McDuffie, and Noah Jordan-Williams. McDuffie is already a Syracuse commit and so far has shown no indication of flipping, and all evidence points to the new staff loving the New York State Defensive Player of the Year. But this weekend will be the first real, extended interaction between the staff and McDuffie, and it’ll be crucial for the staff to really solidify his commitment.

Jordan-Williams, meanwhile, enters the weekend without an offer from the new staff. However, wide receiver is a position of extreme importance in this recruiting cycle and, while Jordan-Williams doesn’t have elite speed, he’s a good athlete with good size at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. This will be the first real meeting between the CBA product and Dino Babers, so it’ll be interesting to watch how this particular recruitment plays out. It seems that Jordan-Williams is there for the taking for the new staff, and recruiting New York starts in your own backyard. If Syracuse decides they like the young receiver, he could become an important piece of the class.

Speaking of guys who enter the weekend without an offer, one player in particular I’m going to be keeping a close watch of is Weston Bridges. The 3-star running back was a first team All-State selection in Ohio and boasts both size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and speed (a reported 4.46 time in the 40), and is high on the Orange. He’s also from the same high school that sent Delone Carter to Central New York, and that Copley-to-‘Cuse connection certainly worked out nicely for both parties.

I’m a big fan of Bridges from watching his film, and at this point I’m expecting him to leave Syracuse with an offer. So far he’s got offers from Boston College, Bowling Green, Indiana, Akron, Toledo, Buffalo, and Kent State.

Crossing the border from Ohio to Pennsylvania (and then heading East to Harrisburg), another big name coming to campus is Damion Barber. The Harrisburg High defensive end has an offer from Syracuse in addition to Penn State, Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and Temple, and is one of the more high profile players making the trip to campus this weekend. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds he’s an outstanding athlete whose specialty is using his speed and quickness to get into the backfield and wreak havoc on the quarterback.

Considering Brian Ward’s Tampa 2 defense relies heavily on the defensive line being able to create pressure with a four man rush, enabling the linebackers to drop back into coverage, it’s essential to find defensive ends who can get off the edge and after the QB. Barber is exactly that kind of player, and would be a huge victory on the recruiting trail.

On top of that, Barber is a teammate of big-time 2018 receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts, who just received a Syracuse offer. Landing Barber certainly couldn’t hurt in the pursuit of the explosive wideout.

These are only a handful of the players visiting this weekend, and I haven’t even mentioned 4-star running back Anthony McFarland, the top ranked RB in Maryland who has offers from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, and so forth. McFarland is rated as the No. 28 player in the entire class by, so for the Orange to get him on campus this weekend is something of a coup. The DeMatha product would be the program’s highest ranked recruit in the Scout/Rivals/247Sports era, if Babers and his staff are able to pull off a little bit of magic and reel him in.

There are plenty of other players making the trip, and the staff is high on each of them. But for now, these are the guys I’ll be watching closest, thanks to the potential impact they could have on the recruiting class from both a local and national standpoint.

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