Marquis Spruill has seen a lot since high school. The linebacker spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy before joining Syracuse in 2010. Now an Orange captain, Spruill has played for two different coaches, in two different conferences, and is making one more run at another bowl game, which would be his third in four seasons.
He is a leader on a defense that, after losing a 56-0 at Georgia Tech a month ago, has played much better lately, shutting out Wake Forest and holding Maryland to just three points. But Syracuse will face its toughest challenge Saturday when it travels to No. 2 Florida State.
ESPN.com caught up with Spruill earlier this week to talk about the home stretch of the season.
You guys have had a massive turnaround the last two weeks after the Georgia Tech game. What could you attribute that to? What do you think has been the biggest difference that has allowed you guys to play as well as you have lately defensively?
Spruill: Just being closer as a defense. Everybody really understands the schemes and knowing their jobs and where they have to fit in coverages and all types of things. So just the defense as a whole is starting to get more of an understanding of what we're doing exactly. It's helped us a lot.
What makes Florida State so difficult to defend? They've scored 40 or more points in every game this season. It's obviously a big challenge this weekend for you guys. What's it going to take to slow them down?
Spruill: Oh man, they're a great team. They have a lot of athletes. Athletes on the offensive line. The fullback is an athlete, the tight end, the wide receivers especially. They have great tailbacks and the quarterback is great, too. So they just have a lot of weapons that they can hit you with.
You've found yourself a lot more in the backfield this year — making tackles for losses, sacks and forcing turnovers. What do you think has allowed you to step up your level of play, especially moving up to the ACC this year?
Spruill: I think that's what it's been, playing in the ACC, a new conference. Better teams, better skill sets of players. The caliber is higher everywhere you go, and that just makes you want to play better and show everybody what you're made of.
What did you think would be the biggest challenge going into the ACC this year? How do you think you guys have lived up to the step up in competition through three quarters of the season?
Spruill: I think the biggest challenge was it being our first year and getting used to the teams that we play, the new types of offenses that we see, the types of players that we see. Just things like that.
What kind of influence has Coach [Clark] Lea been for you guys so far in Year 1 with the linebackers?
Spruill: He's been a big influence to us. He's pushed more of his values more than my previous coaches. And he's a prideful guy; he takes pride in his job and what he does. And his biggest goal is helping us achieve success and everything like that. He really helps us, and I love him for it. He's a great guy, great coach, very smart. You can talk to him about anything — if you've got any problems, you go talk to him. You want to just go shout and talk football? You can do that, too. But he's a very good coach.
Going back a few years now, but how do you think your year at Fork Union helped prepare you for the rigors of college football in the Big East and in the ACC?
Spruill: I think it kind of gave me somewhat of a preview of what you would see in college, the type of players, the size, the speed, athleticism. And I took some things from that and I grew and it helped me a lot my first year. And I continue to improve. And being in the ACC, the athletes are better, bigger, faster and it's just been a growing process the whole way.
You've seen a lot of ups and downs at Syracuse in your career there. What would it mean to get a bowl berth in your first year in the ACC and to make it two straight years with a nice run to a bowl game?
Spruill: It would be great. This is my last year and I really would enjoy to have some more time with my team. I love them; they're like my brothers. And it would just be great to spend more time with them and go out good, go out with a bang.