It’s April 15, the start of the evaluation period – which means that coaches can visit a recruit’s school, but not his home – and we’re only 10 days away from the biggest decision of the 2016 recruiting cycle for Syracuse University. Of course, I’m talking about Robert Washington’s decision on where to play his college ball.
Right now, I think Syracuse fans have to feel like the Orange are in pretty good shape with Washington. The 4-star running back has been high on the Orange for a very long time, and all recent indications are that this is still the case. Frankly, I think Syracuse has to be considered either the favorite, or at least among the top two or three choices on his list. That said, there’s certainly no guarantee that Washington will choose the Orange on April 25, and even if he does, that’s still a long way from actually getting his letter of intent next February.
So who are some of the other options at running back for coach Scott Shafer and his staff during this cycle? We’ve talked a bit about Tyler Thompson, and he’s someone the staff will continue to pursue whether Washington commits or not. To be perfectly honest, I’m kind of expecting a commitment from Thompson at this point, and I couldn’t be more excited about his potential. He’s being recruited to play the H-back role in Tim Lester’s offense, and has the speed and quickness to excel in such a role.
But after Thompson, things get a little more murky. Syracuse has recently hosted a few running back prospects, including Yeedee Thaenrat and Austyn Borre, who both hail from Pennsylvania. Thaenrat is getting the more serious look than Borre at this point, and the 5-foot-9, 180 pounder out of Philadelphia is considered one of the top running back prospects in the Philly area this year. Thaenrat is small, but quick and deceptively powerful as a runner. He’s also been putting up big numbers in his high school career, including one game last season in which he carried 20 times for a staggering 377 yards.
Thaenrat, who was born in Liberia, was separated from his parents when he was just five years old during the Second Liberian War and has since been raised by his grandmother, an uncle, and an aunt. In other words, this is a kid who has learned how to overcome extreme adversity. Right now, he’s got offers from Army, Rutgers, Boston College, Buffalo, Navy, UMass, and Purdue, with an offer from Syracuse a real possibility.
Borre, at this point, looks like more of a backup option for the Orange, though he’s extremely high on Syracuse. The 5-foot-9, 185 pound running back from Pleasant Valley High School raved about his recent visit to Syracuse but like Thaenrat, doesn’t yet hold an offer from any of the schools expressing interest, which includes Penn State along with Syracuse. He’ll be looking to gain some momentum in his recruitment over the course of the summer camp circuit, as well as the fall. He’ll certainly be an option for Syracuse down the road, but probably isn’t really higher than a B-plan, and possibly a C-plan at this point for Shafer. He’s clearly got some real talent, but right now the Orange have other running backs higher on their list.
Another name to keep an eye on – and this is a guy who actually does have an offer from Syracuse – is Tre Bryant. The 5-foot-10, 195 pound running back from St. Louis holds offers from, in addition to the Orange, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Indiana, among a few smaller schools like Ball State and Buffalo. He’s also recently visited Wisconsin, and that’s a development worth keeping an eye on. Wisconsin has a knack for finding outstanding running back talent, so if they wind up offering Bryant it speaks pretty highly of his ability. Right now, Missouri is the heavy favorite to land Bryant but that could obviously change, particularly if Syracuse misses out on Washington and decides to put the full court press on a kid like Bryant.
Moe Neal is another big name that I’ve mentioned before but haven’t touched on yet, in large part because a commitment from the talented 5-foot-10, 170 pounder from North Carolina has always felt contingent on what happens with Robert Washington – whether accurate or not, that’s always been the perception, though obviously Syracuse would happily take Neal, no matter what happens with Washington. But it’s no secret that Washington and Neal are close friends, and have even talked about potentially playing together in college (they go to separate high schools). Neal has been in and out of the ESPN Top 300 rankings, so he’s a serious talent.
Right now, Neal holds offers from Syracuse, along with more than a dozen other programs including NC State, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, Boston College, West Virginia, and Wake Forest. Neal is a speedy back who could provide the lightning to Washington’s thunder, though it feels like Neal is competing directly with Tyler Thompson for a spot in this recruiting class since they’re similar players.
Some other names to keep an eye on include Terius Wheatley, the son of former Syracuse assistant Tyrone Wheatley. Terius plays at Fayetteville-Manlius, though if he winds up with a Syracuse offer it could be as an athlete rather than at running back considering he weighs just 160 pounds right now. One kind of outside the box possibility would be changing the pursuit of a player the Orange have already had on campus multiple times: Phil Campbell. Campbell is a superb athlete who most folks have thought is being recruited to play in the secondary, but let’s not forget he was his high school team’s second leading rusher, behind incoming Syracuse freshman tailback Dontae Strickland. If Syracuse whiffs on Washington, they may change their approach with Campbell and give him a long look in the offensive backfield, rather than defensive.
All of that said, I still believe that Syracuse is in very good position with Robert Washington. Obviously, we won’t know until April 25 rolls around, but Orange fans have every right to feel as confident about landing this stud running back as any of the other schools on his list. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and end this with a bold prediction: when Robert Washington makes his announcement, I believe it’ll be Syracuse University.