- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Syracuse leading rusher Jerome Smith is a player ACC fans are going to get to know quickly in 2013. He ran for 1,171 yards last year and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. I spoke with Smith recently to get his take on the program’s move to the ACC in 2013, what he is looking forward to and what ACC fans can expect to see from Syracuse football.
Here are the highlights of our conversation:
As a player, do you care what conference you’re playing in?
Jerome Smith: Not really. I just know it’s a little bit more exposure, more of the premier teams you hear about in the ACC. As a player, you just want to play.
What kind of differences are you expecting, going through the ACC schedule this year?
JS: I’m expecting tougher opponents, a little bit faster and bigger. We tried to play a schedule last year with teams from different conferences, so we should be prepared. We played the SEC, we played the Pac-12, we played the Big 12. We’re going to be prepared.
How familiar are you with ACC schools?
JS: I think I’m about an hour away from Maryland [he is from Bear, Del.], and I love college basketball, so I’m pretty familiar with the ACC.
Have you ever been to any ACC schools?
JS: I haven’t been to any ACC schools, so I’m really excited.
Were you recruited to any?
JS: I visited Virginia my senior year, but I didn’t like it. It was too hot. I like Syracuse. I’m cool with this cold weather.
Tell me a little bit about your team and your offense this year. What can ACC fans expect from Syracuse?
JS: A lot of playmakers. We have a lot of playmakers at every position on the offense. As you saw last year, we’re a fast team. We like to get on the ball and go fast. As Coach [Scott] Shafer said, you go to the bathroom, you might miss something big from our offense this year.
Ha, I like that. What about you? As the team’s leading rusher, what are your expectations for yourself as one of the players to watch in the ACC? Does that sound weird?
JS: Yeah, it definitely sounds weird, being in the ACC. But just for me, kind of building off last year and getting better each week and making sure as a unit we’re growing, just make sure we carry everyone else along.
How do you guys handle a coaching change and changing conferences all in the same season?
JS: The coaching change was pretty much easy. We pretty much have the same coach for the most part. And the conference change, we’re going out there to play football. It’s not really a big difference, just moving where we’re traveling this year.
Where are you looking forward to going the most?
JS: I have to be honest: I don’t even know our schedule. I just know we have to get ready for Penn State, but I guess the answer would be Florida State.
Do you even know who’s in the Atlantic Division? It’s OK if you don’t; I won’t make fun of you.
JS: I don’t know who’s in the Atlantic Division.
That’s OK. A lot of ACC fans don’t either.
JS: Atlantic and Coastal, I know that for sure.
Well, Florida State and Clemson, which are both in your division, get a lot of the ink and a lot of the love as the typical preseason favorites. How do you feel you guys match up against those programs that typically bring in top recruiting classes?
JS: It’s about us working. At the end of the day, they can bring in top recruiting classes, but as long as we play our game and do our jobs, we’ll be fine.
Have you guys talked about winning an ACC title?
JS: I think Coach Shafer is talking about taking the ACC by storm. That right there talks about competing for a championship.
Do you feel like you guys have something to prove as the newcomers to the league?
JS: Yeah, I feel like we will have something to prove as the new kids on the block. Everybody tries to pick on the new kid, so we definitely are going to show that we’re not going to be bullied or kicked around.
How do you feel about Pitt joining as well?
JS: That’s good. We’ve got some familiar faces with Pitt joining; that’s good. We’ll be two new kids on the block.
Anything else in particular you’re looking forward to about joining the ACC or competing against any of those teams in particular?
JS: I’m just ready for somebody to come to the Dome. It’s a little bit different in the Dome. I’m excited for the ACC teams to come to the Dome and for fans to get a chance to see some football they don’t usually get to see.
How would you describe Syracuse football to fans who aren’t familiar with it? What should ACC fans know about the style of play or the players or the coaches -- anything you want ACC fans to know about Syracuse.
JS: Offensively, we’re a tough team, physical. Defensively, they’re hard-nosed. They’re going to come every play. All around as a team, we’re a focused team. Hard-nosed as a team, a whole unit. We’re all starting to focus in on getting ready, everyone getting ready for the season, and focusing on spring ball and those types of things. I just want people to know we’re going to be a really focused team, really hard-nosed.
Terrific. And I promise you by the time August rolls around you’ll know your schedule and who is in your division.
JS: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’ll be my deal, to learn the schedule by August.
Have you watched any film of any ACC schools, or is it too soon?
JS: Yeah, I think it’s just too soon for us to look at any ACC teams until we know our schedule order. For me right now, it’s spring ball, summer workouts and then Penn State. I’ll deal with that when it gets here.
4dDavid M. Hale