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College football: SU rookies Johnson, Estime want to make difference

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SYRACUSE — Before getting his first start of the season last Saturday in a 13-0 victory over Wake Forest, Isaiah Johnson was told by Syracuse University football coaches that he “can’t be a freshman all year.”

The same can be said of Brisly Estime, who led the Orange in receiving in that victory, also the first start of his young career.

The two freshmen — who look and sound like polar opposites — will be equally vital to the Orange’s chances of winning two of its last four games to reach bowl eligibility.

SU, at 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, will play Maryland (5-3, 1-3) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. The game will be televised on MSG.

“They say I can’t be a freshman all year,” Johnson said. “So I have to step up with the big guys, and that’s what I did (Saturday)…They told me I had to step up and it was my time. So the time came and I just stepped up.”

Johnson — a 6-foot-4, 270-pound, outgoing and excitable defensive lineman from Delaware — saw the first significant playing time of his career due to injuries to starters Eric Crume and John Raymon.

He finished with two tackles, a half-sack and his first career interception, which set SU up to score and take a 13-0 lead in the third quarter.

Raymon has been ruled out for the season, increasing the need for Johnson to contribute.

“I can’t say enough about John Raymon,” Johnson said. “I had to step up because that’s a big puzzle piece missing.”

“My confidence is always high, that’s not something I’ve ever had to worry about,” he added.

Estime — a 5-foot-9, 176-pound, soft-spoken slot receiver — finished last Saturday’s victory with career highs of nine catches for 62 yards and his first career touchdown.

Estime replaced Ashton Broyld as the starting ‘H-back.’ Broyld moved to one of the outside wide receiver positions.

“I fit in in the offense,” Estime said. “They put me on screen plays because they know I can make plays and make people miss.”

Estime, one of the fastest and shiftiest players on the SU roster, said that it took him time to learn the plays and get comfortable in the offense. But he knows he will be counted on down the stretch for an SU team in desperate need of a playmaker in the receiving corps.

SU’s most productive receiver in terms of yardage, Jarrod West, is averaging just 37.5 yards per game. The Orange has had just one 100-yard receiver this season and ranks 101st nationally in passing offense.

“(Estime) takes a lot off of me, I could throw a bubble (screen) out there and he’ll run an extra 20 yards,” Quarterback Terrel Hunt said. “Just simple things like that. It adds to the playmakers that we have. He’s a young guy, but he’s hungry. So he definitely helps a lot.”

Both Johnson and Estime are expected to start for the second time in their respective careers on Saturday.

HONORING SIDAT-SINGH

SU players will sport No. 19 decals on their helmets Saturday to honor Wilmth Sidat-Singh.

Sidat-Singh, a football and basketball star for the Orange in the mid-late 1930’s, was banned from playing games in some southern states by opposing school officials, including a 1937 game at Maryland.

Maryland will also honor Sidat-Singh in a ceremony between the first and second quarters. Members of his family along with the each university’s athletic director will take part in the ceremony.

SU retired Sidat-Singh’s No. 19 basketball jersey in 2005.

Sidat-Singh later went on to serve in the U.S. Army and was a member of the first graduating class of what would later become known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He died in May 1943 when his plane crashed during a training exercise.

Sidat-Singh’s story was chronicled by Deadspin writer Dave McKenna last week.

EDSALL’S CONNECTIONS

Maryland coach Randy Edsall — a former SU quarterback and assistant coach — was in the Carrier Dome last Saturday to see his wife, Eileen, honored as a Letterwinner of Distinction during a pregame ceremony.

NCAA rules prohibit in-season advance scouting, so Edsall was escorted into the building to watch the ceremony, then escorted out before kickoff.

Randy Edsall lettered for SU in 1979 then became a graduate assistant in 1980 and remained on the staff for 10 years. He coached the offensive backfield, special teams, tight ends, secondary and served as the recruiting coordinator at various points during his decade with SU.

Eileen Edsall starred in basketball and volleyball with the Orange.

Randy and Eileen’s son, Corey, was a walk-on for SU in 2011.

“I root for them every time except when I’ve had to play them,” Randy Edsall said. “I met my wife there, so it’s a very special place for me and my family.”

TRIO HONORED FOR ACADEMICS

Three SU players were named to the Capital One Academic All-District Team, selected by the Coaches Sports Information Directors of America.

Senior center and team captain Macky MacPherson, along with junior long snapper Sam Rodgers and sophomore punter Riley Dixon, were the honorees.

Sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers SU football for the Times. He can be reached at jstcroix@wdt.net.

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