Item: Monday’s announcement from the Associated Press that it had named Syracuse redshirt freshman Andre Szmyt as its First-Team All-American kicker (and let’s not forget that true freshman safety Andre Cisco and his national co-leading seven interceptions was a Third-Team A.P. choice), was the latest in a string of honors for the graceful Illinois native who’s the epitome of the level of talented athlete Dino Babers has brought into the program and university community.
Do you know how to spell his name yet?
S as in SMILING throughout his Lou Groza Award acceptance interview Dec. 6 on ESPN.
Z as in ZERO misses in 57 PAT attempts and in eight of 12 games in field goal tries.
M as in MAJOR coolness booting 50 yard plus field goals against Wagner, Clemson, and Pitt.
Y as in YOUNG in terms of eligibility with three more seasons to kick inside the “Loud House.”
T as in THE consensus First-Team All-American kicker for the 2018 FBS season. Period.
All Szmyt happens to have achieved is the most acclaimed single campaign by a Syracuse football player in the eyes of the national media since Dwight Freeney was named to eight First-Team All-American lists his senior year in 2001, which ironically was the last time the Orange won 10 games by winning a bowl game, a feat Syracuse (9-3) will look to replicate with a win over West Virginia (8-3) in the Camping World Bowl Dec. 28 in Orlando (5:15 p.m. ET / TV-Radio: ESPN).
(Side Note: We’ll never forget following that 2001 win over Kansas State in the Insight.com Bowl in Phoenix, Paul Pasqualoni allowing the media, with literally no place else to turn in the cramped hallway outside of the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse, to listen in on his victorious postgame speech in which he reminded the team how special (rare) it was in Syracuse football history to win double digit (a minimum 10) games in a season. A theme Babers has carried over to 2018 since the win over Boston College in the regular season finale.)
To this 44 year follower of Syracuse football, the stratospheric rise of the program under Babers in just three short seasons in the College Football Playoff and Power 5 era is nothing short of amazing.
Think about it. Until this year with Babers and Szmyt Syracuse had only one previous A.P. First Team All-American kicker, the great Gary Anderson in 1981, and they’ve been naming All-Americans since 1907. The ‘Cuse has also had three A.P. (or U.P.I.) Honorable Mention kickers once Dick MacPherson arrived with Tim Vesling (1987), Kevin J. Greene (1988), and John Biskup (1992).
In addition, going back to George Jackowenko and Bernie Ruoff in the 1970s, Dave Jacobs in the late ‘70s-early 1980s, Anderson for an incredible 22 years from 1982-2004, and more recently Mike Shafer and Olindo Mare right up until 2012, SU produced NFL (or CFL) caliber kickers every couple of seasons.
With Szmyt’s out-of-nowhere breakthrough year building the foundation, and selling the perfect home field conditions inside the soon-to-be renovated new Dome to recruits, it looks like Syracuse’s strong kicking tradition will be re-ignited alongside the Orange’s return to national relevancy.