This college football season is unlike any other, and not in a good way. Between the coronavirus, uncertainty regarding players’ eligibility and an increase in injuries, rough barely begins to describe it. The plight of sports pales comparison to the real world issues facing the country and the world at large. There are times where it almost seems trivial to complain about sports in the midst of a pandemic and a societal push for change regarding systemic racism.
I would still like to take the opportunity to focus on sports though, because Andre Cisco’s career at Syracuse ended much sooner than expected and without any of the recognition it deserved.
Cisco announced on Tuesday he would forgo his final year eligibility to enter the NFL draft. This news came only one day after Cisco’s 2020 season suddenly ended. The star safety suffered a freak injury during pregame warm-ups before Syracuse’s game against Georgia Tech. He collided with a teammate. That was all. And then his season was over.
The result was that, somehow, SU’s best player ended up featuring in just two games. Even in a weird year, this was a bizarre development.
This unexpected turn marks the end of Dino Babers’ greatest success stories in recruiting to date. A former three-star recruit from Valley Stream, New York, Cisco was not a highly recruited prospect. He earned offers from Nebraska, Bowling Green, Illinois, Northwestern, Samford and Vanderbilt. His signing did not move the needle much for the Orange. It was just nice to land an in-state kid.
The conversation changed quickly though. Cisco burst onto the scene his freshman year, leading the nation with seven interceptions. He played a huge part in Syracuse’s most successful season in nearly 20 years.
Cisco racked up five more interceptions as a sophomore, proving he was way more than a one-hit wonder. He cemented his place as the top ball hawking safety in the country as a result. For a lightly-recruited, three-star safety, this was an incredible development. After just two years, Cisco already found himself tied for fifth in Syracuse history for interceptions. His final interception of his career wearing an Orange uniform came in the 2020 season-opener against UNC, tying him for fourth all-time with Walt Slovenski.
While it is unlikely that Cisco would have caught the leader on that career interceptions list—Markus Paul had 19—it would have been fun to see him try. Instead, Cisco joins the many players around the country whose careers ended on an unexpected, unsatisfying note.
This is one of the most talented players, particularly defensive players, to come through Central New York in close to a decade. He played an integral role in winning the program’s first bowl game in five years. He made highlight reels and national headlines as a First-Team AP Preseason All-American. His impact on this team going forward should not be underestimated.
However, there is still a chance Cisco could make some history for the Orange. Justin Pugh was the last Syracuse player selected in the first round of the NFL draft. That was 2013. The last Syracuse player drafted in the first round was Chandler Jones the year before. It is far from a guarantee Cisco goes in round one, but he is the first player in recent memory to even draw consideration.
Say what you will but having a player selected in the top 32 picks goes a long way in recruiting. Under Babers, the highest drafted player the program produced so far is Alton Robinson in the fifth round of this most recent draft. That is not necessarily an indictment on Babers, but a clear sign that first-round selections have not been the norm in Syracuse for quite some time. Showing recruits is possible goes a long way in pitching them to join the program.
Beyond the potential recruiting boost, it is the type of recognition that Cisco deserves. No, he is not a perfect prospect. He needs to improve his angles in pursuit and show he is a more willing open-field tackler, but in today’s NFL, his playmaking ability is close to invaluable. Given how many professional teams are struggling defensively right now, there is a good chance Cisco will draw significant interest. Plenty of mock drafts have him landing in the back end of the first round.
The truth is, Cisco’s story is not much different than plenty of other top players around the country. LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase opted out after picking up every meaningful role he could win as a receiver in 2019. Penn State’s Micah Parsons finished 2019 as a consensus All-American. He decided not to opt back in to the Big Ten season when it was reinstated. The injury aspects adds a unique wrinkle, but Cisco is simply a microcosm of what is happening around college football in 2020.
That still does not make it any easier to accept the outcome.
Here is hoping Cisco finds a ton of success at the next level. He was an excellent player and one of the most entertaining to watch in quite some time.