It seems every year Syracuse University football has an ominous cloud looming over the start of preseason camp.
This year its the off-field turmoil of two of its players arrested and another stabbed just days before Fridays media day. Last year, top running back Delone Carter was facing potential jail time.
On Friday, coach Doug Marrone announced that starting receiver Marcus Sales and backup quarterback Jonny Miller have each been suspended indefinitely. Running back Prince-Tyson Gulley, expected to be Antwon Baileys backup, will miss 7-10 days as he recovers from multiple stab wounds stemming from an on-campus fight.
When things happen around you with negative situations, you have to turn them into an educational experience for everyone else, Marrone said. Ive tried to do that. We have to learn from situations like this and also have to understand that we need all of our focus and attention on our football team for what we do out here on the football field.
Sales is perhaps the greatest blow to Syracuse this season. He spent most of the 2010 season on the bench with behavioral problems and lack of effort in practice. But he still performed when on the field, finishing with four touchdowns and 414 total yards. He was second only to Van Chew on the team.
Chew and the rest of the team arent focused on whats missing, though, just like last year, and that resulted in its first bowl game in a decade.
I have to have the mind set Ive been having, Chew said. Just go out there and just play. Were looking to compete for the Big East championship and stay as a nationally recognized team.
Adding to the offensive weaponry is Bailey and Gulley in the backfield. Bailey, obscured in the shadow of Carter his entire career, finally emerged as the preseason starter.
Im ready, Bailey said. I just have to take charge and keep everybody focused and let everyone know were here for business.
Gulley was just happy he could wear a uniform on Friday. He spent the week following his July 29 stabbing recovering at home in Wisconsin.
Its not a set back, he said. The coaches have been helping me out through the whole thing. Im just going to get out there as soon as I can play ball.
Gulley added that his injuries, which required stitches in his back, havent hindered his ability to run. He said he just couldnt bench press as well until it is fully healed.
That after a full summer of workouts with teammates that have built up the relatively small squad. Defensive end Chandler Jones added 20 pounds of muscle while dropping his 40-yard dash time from 4.75 to 4.70 seconds.
Im very excited to see how that carries over to the field, Jones said. I feel like I had a great summer.
Finally theres the quiet leader, quarterback Ryan Nassib, who enters his senior season with experience and a bowl win.
I think today I feel more comfortable and more confident and more prepared than I was back then, he said. Ive had a full spring to critique what I did in the season. It was a great time for me to develop physically as well as mentally.
Hell have the task of keeping the offense focused despite the off-field distractions that again plague the Orange. He said hes already moved on and Marrone gave them a stern message prior to camp.
I think the thing that really gets us beyond any distraction is the belief that the team is bigger than any individual, Nassib said. No matter how much we care for that teammate, the team comes first. No individual is going to stop what the team is striving for.
And that is a Big East title, something Syracuse hasnt won outright since 1998. The Orange, tied for first in 2004 and finished fourth last year, is picked to place fourth this season in the conference preseason poll announced earlier this week.