True grit: Shafer implements ‘hard-nosed’ culture at Syracuse in 1st year as head coach in ACC

first_imgThree yards and a cloud of dust. That’s the way Syracuse starts every practice.The offense tries to move the ball three yards in three downs while the defense vehemently tries to impede its progress. The winner revels in the glory while the loser is punished with up-downs.It’s a drill that first-year head coach Scott Shafer learned from legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes while growing up in Northeast Ohio. When Shafer played quarterback for his father, Ron, at Riverside High School in Painesville, the practice fields were all mud, dirt and dust. Shafer knew that when he became a head coach – a job he’s wanted since before college – he’d make sure his team used three yards and a cloud of dust. “It’s a frickin’ war,” Shafer said.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe drill epitomizes the brand of football Shafer wants his team to play in its first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Orange will rely on “hard-nosed” football – as Shafer has dubbed it – to succeed. It’s a phrase he has uttered frequently in his first eight months as head coach, while mastering his already adept visor toss and assembling a crew of assistant coaches equally fiery and focused. Syracuse doesn’t have the raw talent that teams like No. 8 Clemson and No. 11 Florida State possess, but Shafer hopes intensity, relentlessness and toughness will be enough to compete. He expects passion to emanate from every drill, every workout and every game. “We may not be as big, we may not be as fast,” Shafer said, “but doggonit, we want to play a style of football where we’re knocking the hell out of people and playing a hard-nosed game.”Defensive line coach Tim Daoust knows all about hard-nosed football. He’s known Shafer for 12 years and believes in his relentless approach. That’s why Daoust unremittingly yells at his players – he feels the intensity will prepare them for the regular season. It’s why he lost his voice just three days into training camp. During an Aug. 20 practice, the defense jumped offsides during a live-game simulation of a field goal. Shafer lost it. He threw his trademark white, wide-brimmed visor on the ground in disgust. Those nuances and “controlling the controllables,” as Shafer puts it, are what he believes will determine the team’s success.Daoust said the visor toss isn’t a new element in Shafer’s repertoire. When Shafer was a defensive coordinator at Western Michigan, his players even made a compilation video of his best visor tosses.“The county fair’s this week, right?” Daoust said, completely straight-faced. “We could take him to the fair and he could knock down those little milk pints or whatever they are.”Much like Daoust, offensive line coach Pat Perles rarely lets his players off the hook. If they make a mistake, they’re always held accountable. “F*ck you guys,” he yelled to his linemen moments after completing a Shafer-esque hat chuck. They stopped pushing forward into the cushiony orange mats before Perles deemed the drill finished. Syracuse center Macky MacPherson detailed one drill during which Perles has his players grab 35-pound sand bags, squat and shuffle their feet. Five reps. Twenty seconds per rep. Shafer said games are won in the trenches. Drills like those showcase the hard-nosed mentality he’s tried to infuse into the Orange’s culture.“It’s not just a gimmick,” MacPherson said. “It’s something Coach Shafer really does believe in.”Shafer’s wife, Missy, said she hears the phrase all the time: “Don’t you change.”The Shafers still live in the same house despite Shafer’s promotion. Missy Shafer still shops at Wegmans with a baseball hat, no makeup and a mismatched shirt and shorts. Just because the team lost a crop of stellar seniors – including star quarterback Ryan Nassib –doesn’t mean it has to change its ways. The approach is unwavering. Do what’s gotten you this far and you’ll be fine.So they won’t alter too much. But the question remains whether staying the same and being mentally and physically tough will be enough. The team has bought in. MacPherson described the Orange as an “intense, ground-and-pound, we’re-gonna-impose-our-will-on-you kind of team.”“#Hard-nosed,” MacPherson said. “It’s nose to the grindstone, blue collar, anything you can possibly imagine. Outwork your opponent and beat him down while you do it.”It’s no secret. ACC teams are faster, stronger and certainly more skilled from top to bottom than Big East teams. Shafer knows Syracuse is in for a tall task. Doug Marrone’s departure to the Buffalo Bills in January left unanswered questions, and made the conference switch even more daunting.The Orange is the underdog. But Assistant Athletics Director for Athletic Performance Will Hicks said that’s just fine.“I think Coach Shafe embraces being the underdog a little bit,” Hicks said. “It gets him fired up.”That’s who he is. Praise from his players, assistant coaches and wife is consistent. The 46-year-old Shafer’s fusion of passion and compassion is showcased in everything he does, and that blend seems to have permeated throughout the entire team. One of the staples of Shafer’s approach is that he always holds people accountable and never lets them feel sorry for themselves. When Missy Shafer was diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – while the family lived in Michigan more than four years ago, Shafer told her not to feel sorry for herself. He supported her and helped her, never letting her give up. “This is unfortunate, it’s tough, but it’s life,” Missy Shafer said. “It’s how you handle it and how you get through it.”And she did. After getting surgery at one of the premier melanoma-treating hospitals in the country, the cancer was history.Ups and downs will come in the ACC – just like they did in Missy’s case and in the Big East. It’s a matter of staying resolute and bouncing back. Shafer took training camp as an opportunity to see how players responded to adversity. He said he was most proud of the team last season, when it dug itself out of a 2-4 start to finish 8-5 by not changing its approach and continuing to plow forward with determination.Change is the only constant in Syracuse, but Shafer said his team is up for the challenge. He’s not concerned that SU was picked sixth out of seven in its division. He’s more preoccupied with ensuring the Orange finishes on top, despite the seemingly infinite mountain ahead. “It’s a challenge that we relish,” Shafer said. “We’re not afraid of anybody at Syracuse. Never have been.”Never back down. Put in the effort and control the controllables by playing hard-nosed football. The rest will work itself out. “He wants things to be done the right way,” Hicks said, “but it’s all in a positive approach. He’s not going to accept things not being right. There’s no gray.” Defensive tackle Jay Bromley laughed when asked how many times Shafer says the phrase “hard-nosed” in a typical practice. “Hard-nosed,” Bromley said, scratching his chin. “Hard-nosed. Anywhere between five,” Bromley paused and laughed again, “and 20. It depends on how we’re playing.”Bromley said Shafer has to yell at both the offense and defense now, which means he’s shouting “hard-nosed” twice as much as he did as Syracuse’s defensive coordinator. Even the team meetings are more intense, running back Jerome Smith said, with Shafer at the helm.“His press conference made someone want to go out and play for him right now,” Smith said. “He has everybody fired up.” The team believes in Shafer’s approach. Syracuse is confident it can shock some teams. The Orange opens the season against Penn State and No. 22 Northwestern. It faces national title contender Clemson just three games later.That doesn’t faze Bromley, though. He said confidence is soaring and the players truly believe they can leave a dent in the conference. When asked about his realistic goal for the season, Bromley said he wanted Syracuse to win the ACC championship.It sounds farfetched to an outsider, but those inside the bubble are starting to believe in Shafer’s ways. Maybe they can shock the world.If Syracuse finds itself in a third-and-goal situation with the ball on the three in the game’s waning minutes, Shafer hopes both the offense and defense will know exactly what to do. Finish how they start every practice – three yards and a cloud of dust. Commentslast_img read more

Lightning Strike at PGA Tour Championship Injures Six People

first_imgSix people were injured on Saturday when a bolt of lightning struck a 60-foot pine at the PGA Tour championship in Atlanta, according to police.The third round of the season-ending event had been suspended for about half an hour due to stormy weather, and fans were seeking shelter. The lightning strike hit the top of the tree, which is just off the 16th tee, and shattered the bark to the bottom.Atlanta Police spokesman James H. White III says five men and one female juvenile were injured. All of them were taken to hospitals for treatment, and all were alert, conscious and breathing. The championship includes 30 players who are competing for the FedEx Cup and a $15 million prize.Golfer Justin Thomas, who was enjoying a one-shot lead through five holes when play was suspended, says he and players were eating in the clubhouse when “it felt like the entire clubhouse shook” from the thunder.The PGA Tour canceled play for the remainder of Saturday.last_img read more

Steelers keep up with the Joneses with 17th pick

first_imgFAMOUS FAN–Jarvis Jones, the top 2013 NFL draft prospect from Georgia, is interviewed after the unveiling of a “Smokehouse BBQ Chicken” statue in his likeness, right, to announce his official Subway’s Famous Fan title on April 23, in New York. Jarvis joins a roster of fellow “Famous Fans” that include Robert Griffin III, Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Ndamukong Suh, Blake Griffin and Michael Phelps. More than 10 pounds of chicken were used to create the work of art, made by artist James Victor of Conshohocken, Pa. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) Editor’s Note: To keep up with the latest news, opinion, lifestyles, sports and entertainment go to the Apple Store or Google Play and download the New Pittsburgh Courier App for iPhone, iPad or android devices. It’s free! Check it out and let us know what you think! by Smokin’ Jim FrazierWhen the Pittsburgh Steelers used their first-round pick to select Georgia’s outside linebacker, Jarvis Jones, it became the “shot heard ‘round the Worilds”,Jason Worilds became the starter for the Steelers at right outside linebacker after James Harrison was released.Worilds now must utilize every moment of this offseason to prepare to battle Jones for the job.Jones, (6-2, 245) began his collegiate career at USC in 2009.  He decided to transfer to Georgia in 2010 after not receiving medical clearance to return to football from USC doctors due to spinal stenosis.Jones earned first-team All-America honors in 2011.  He led the nation in sacks in 2012.Jones will compete with Worilds, Chris Carter, Marshall McFadden and Adrian Robinson to determine who starts outside along with LaMarr Woodley.last_img read more

Rejuvenated Liriano leading Pirates

first_imgPittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano answers a question during a press conference before a baseball workout in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Liriano is scheduled to start Game 3 of the National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)PITTSBURGH (AP) – Francisco Liriano started 2013 with his right arm in a cast and his star-crossed career in flux.A freak accident while goofing off with his kids on Christmas Day left Liriano’s verbal agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates in doubt. Suddenly, the fresh start Liriano desperately needed appeared iffy.“I didn’t think I was going to play this year,” Liriano said.Pittsburgh stuck with Liriano, signing him at a discount. They Pirates were assured his right arm would heal and his left arm – the one rebuilt during Tommy John surgery in 2007 – would turn out to be a perfect fit at PNC Park.“If A.J. (Burnett) was going to be our one, he could be our two,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Where that two went, how high it played, I don’t think any of us knew.”Higher, it turns out, than Liriano or his perpetually optimistic manager imagined.Ten months after wondering when – and where – he would pitch again, Liriano can give the resilient Pirates the lead in the NL division series on Monday when they face St. Louis and right-hander Joe Kelly in Game 3.Following a 16-8 regular season in which he evolved into Pittsburgh’s de facto ace, Liriano became a part of franchise lore in a 6-2 victory over Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game on Tuesday. Overpowering the Reds in front of a black-clad crowd aching for postseason success after the Pirates’ 21-year absence, Liriano delivered seven sublime innings that left the park in such a frenzy that fans couldn’t figure out whether to chant his first name or his last – so separate chants of both broke out.“Just trying to please the fans as much as I can,” Liriano said, “be myself and make some good pitches and just give them the win they want.”One Liriano may have wanted even more. An All Star as a 22-year-old with the Minnesota Twins in 2006, Liriano has spent the better part of a decade searching for the form that made him one of the most electrifying lefties. He underwent reconstructive elbow surgery on Nov. 6, 2006, needed more than a year to recover and then worked five middling seasons that made him look more like a cautionary tale than a potential postseason hero.Pittsburgh is willing to take fliers on players who flamed out elsewhere. It didn’t work out in 2012 when Erik Bedard signed a one-year deal only to be cut loose in late-August.Liriano’s broken arm may have turned out to be a blessing. Forced to prepare for the season slowly while his right arm healed, Liriano sent a jolt through the staff when he arrived in mid-May. His slider and breaking ball made more potent by a tweak in his delivery and a fastball that has resumed topping out in the mid-90s, Liriano has been devastating at PNC Park, where long fly balls to left field become innocuous outs.After making quick work of the Reds, Liriano is 9-1 with a 1.43 ERA at home this season, including a pair of wins over the Cardinals.“We have a game plan we’ll take into tomorrow,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “We understand he’s a good pitcher. We also realize we have a very good lineup.”And a guy on the hill who hardly seems concerned by the circumstances. Moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation in July, Kelly went 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA even as Matheny experimented with the 25-year-old’s role. He worked at least five innings in each of his last 15 outings, and the Cardinals were a remarkable 12-3 when he started, one of the main reasons they were able to hold off the Pirates in a hotly contested playoff race.Like Pittsburgh star Gerrit Cole, Kelly appears immune to pressure. He made seven appearances out of the bullpen during the Cardinals’ run to the NL championship series last fall and seemed to enjoy the heckling he received from the San Francisco fans while warming up a few feet from the stands.“That’s what playoff baseball is all about,” Kelly said. “You dream about it as a little kid. It’s going to be a great time. The atmosphere is going to be electric, obviously and I think our side is looking forward to it.”Then again, the Cardinals don’t really have a choice.Pittsburgh has come alive during the franchise’s unexpected revival. People stood on the Roberto Clemente Bridge behind the outfield wall during the wild-card game, eager to be a part of something not seen in a generation.It’s a resurgence that worked in lock-step with Liriano’s emergence as the face of a pitching staff that is threatening to turn a simple “feel good” story into something significantly more substantial.“You have to give him credit for the heart, the conviction, the intent that he put into everything,” Hurdle said. “That is what really, I think, has given that degree of separation from what we might have thought we were going to get to what he has actually done and performed and shown himself capable of.”NOTES: The Pirates sent RHP Duke Welker to Minnesota to complete the Aug. 31 trade for 1B Justin Morneau. The Pirates also sent OF Alex Presley to the Twins.___Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAPlast_img read more