Why Xavier Thomas should have larger role with Clemson the second half of the year

Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas is slowly introducing himself to the college football world. Clemson has produced its share of top defensive linemen under Dabo Swinney, and it appears that … Click to Continue »

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More reasons emerge why Richt went back to Rosier. And three surprising playing time developments

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday evening: ▪ UM coach Mark Richt has explained his decision to start Malik Rosier instead of N’Kosi Perry on Oct. 26 against … Click to Continue »

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Bill Hillgrove’s bobblehead will talk at Virginia Tech game

Pitt Athletics<br/>Bill Hillgrove bobblehead doll.
The Bill Hillgrove bobblehead talks, which is as it should be. Pitt's athletic department announced Thursday a Bill Hillgrove bobblehead giveway for the first 30,000 ...

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The No. 1 college football recruit set a commitment date. Is FSU still a front-runner?

He’s the consensus No. 1 player in the 2019 college football recruiting class, and has already trimmed his landing spot to a top five consisting of Alabama, Florida State, Florida, … Click to Continue »

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Miami coach Mark Richt has variety of reasons for perceived offensive line struggles

The Miami Hurricanes had traveled half the field to start the second half when coach Mark Richt encountered a critical decision. Miami started at its 25-yard line and, with 11 … Click to Continue »

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Why is a lifelong Florida fan so set on his commitment to Miami? Jeremiah Payton explains

Jeremiah Payton was one of those prospects the Miami Hurricanes coveted from just about the time he stepped on a high school football field. A four-star wide receiver in the … Click to Continue »

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The Miami Hurricanes picked up an important commitment from a local prospect

The Miami Hurricanes’ secondary continues to get stronger. Miami, which already holds a pair of commitments from two All-American defensive backs in the Class of 2019, added another top local … Click to Continue »

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Meet the musicians who perform the soundtrack of SU games

SU’s fight song “Down the Field,” written in 1914, echoes through the Carrier Dome in big moments: former SU guard John Gillon’s buzzer-beater to beat Duke in 2017, senior running back Dontae Strickland’s 13 yard touchdown run to cap off a 30-7 win over Florida State on Sept. 15, and when SU fans flooded the field after beating then-No. 2 Clemson last fall.

The Syracuse marching band and pep band have become fixtures at Orange sporting events — the marching band plays at football games, and the pep band at men’s basketball. The marching band formed in 1901 and is one of the oldest bands in the country. It’s among the largest student organizations on campus. Syracuse’s marching band, a staple of the fan experience at the Carrier Dome, features 155 students across more than 85 majors from SU, SUNY-ESF, Onondaga Community College and Le Moyne College. There are 12 instruments in the ensemble, which each spend up to 12 hours per week in rehearsal sessions. They performed before the 2014 Super Bowl and aim to create an electric atmosphere during SU games.

“They’ve always been really good and supportive of us,” said Syracuse’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim, who is now coaching his 43rd-year at SU. “It makes it a lot easier for us to be successful on the court.”

The actual game “is not the only aspect which inspires fandom and pride and creates identity and community,” Ben Phillips, a cultural sports historian, said in his master’s thesis. “Instead, team histories, nostalgia, stadiums, stadium traditions, fan activities, songs, cheers and geography all play a role.”

On game days in the fall, the marching band’s first rehearsal — a two hour run-through — begins six hours before kickoff. It can start as early as 6 a.m. After a quick lunch break, the drumline convenes on the Quad and entertains there, sending percussion beats from Hendricks Chapel to Marshall Street two and a half hours prior to the game. When they finish their set, the whole band marches to the Dome and performs the pregame show.

After lunch, the band suits up in their uniforms — long white socks to cover the ankles, a dri-fit T-shirt and white-and-blue-striped overalls. Shako hats with plumes complete the get-up. The wool uniforms require several layers and can get hot, especially in September’s air-condition-less Dome, band members said.

“These guys work their tails off,” SU Band Director Timothy Diem said. “We just don’t stop. From rehearsal and that little break, we don’t stop from two hours in front of the game until at least a half hour after the game.”

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Bridget Slomian | Presentation Director

Since Diem’s hiring in 2016, after 11 years as the leader of Minnesota’s band, the two athletic bands’ cultures have changed. Members said it has become more rigorous and detail-oriented under Diem.

They drill footwork for hours leading up to every Syracuse football home game, stitching together intricate formations for their pregame and halftime shows. The band uses a program called Pyware to lay out choreography steps in rehearsals. While SU running backs practice precise cuts to escape the backfield, band members lug instruments strapped to themselves as they hit precise yard marks: movements down to one-quarter of a yard, sophomore member Amanda Zall said.

“We’ve got our music book and we’ve got our moving book,” Diem said. “You’ve got to learn both. It’s like an offensive and defensive playbook.”

The band’s motto, former trombone player Edward Schwering said, is the band always wins. No one keeps score for the band, they’re just there to “get the team hyped, create that atmosphere,” even if the Orange is losing.

During the NCAA Tournament, the pep band travels with the men’s basketball team. Sophomore member David Franco recalled a time he sat on the plane near junior guard Tyus Battle, and when he ran into Boeheim in a hotel elevator.

“My friend was clearly starstruck,” Franco said. “I was kind of oblivious. ‘David, do you know who that was on that elevator?’ my friend asked me. ‘That was Jim Boeheim.’”

Playing for basketball games is different from football games because it’s a more compressed environment and the pep band doesn’t have to move as much. The band can “play to the game even easier,” Diem said. Based on actions in the game, the band has to react and decide which tune to play. If SU hits a 3-pointer, and the opposition calls a timeout to stop the momentum, Diem might direct the band to play an upbeat tune like The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme some Lovin” or The Mooney Suzuki’s “Alive and Amplified.”

Beside the SU fight song, the marching band’s favorite songs include DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win,” Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” and Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

The marching band’s end goal, Diem said, is to appeal to the student section as well as the families with student tickets. One week, they played rock and roll. Another week, they played swing music and the military branch themes for Military Appreciation Day. They also plan to perform The Greatest Showman soundtrack soon.

“We try to keep the crowd interested,” Diem said. “And on their feet.”

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Gabrielle Cooper’s been honing an unexpected off-court skill for 10 years

LANSING, Ill. — Shortly after 1 p.m. on a Friday in mid-May, Gabrielle Cooper arrived at Naturally Nappy Locs by Benji, the salon run by her mother in this small town. She walked through the storefront door, about 25 miles south of Chicago, and looked around.

The building is nondescript. Inside, there’s no scent of fresh products, no loud music — just a TV in the back of the room and some chit-chat. A few barbers and stylists were occupied with customers. Minutes after her arrival, Cooper, a junior guard for the Syracuse women’s basketball team, walked over to a window. Then she put on her black apron and went to work.

“Good energy,” she said, opening the blinds to let sunlight in. She began to twist the dreadlocks of a woman in front of her, who happened to be her grandmother, Deborah Smith.

Save for activities on the basketball court, Cooper’s idea of the perfect Saturday is spent here, twisting hair. She has been one of Syracuse’s key players over the past two seasons, but her off-court passion is styling hair — specifically, the dreadlocks of men and women. The art is central to her life.

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Matthew Gutierrez | Senior Staff Writer

Cooper learned the trade from her mother, Benji Hardaway, and the pair come together whenever Cooper is home from Syracuse during the summer and on breaks. Taking care of hairdos is Cooper’s side hustle — and her backup plan if her WNBA dreams don’t work out or end sooner than she’d like.

An important part of many of her clients’ lives is maintaining Afrocentric hair, Cooper said. “Locs,” short for dreadlocks, is a hairstyle where the hair that would be combed or shed locks on itself, creating ropelike strands.

Cooper said hair can send a message about one’s personality or self-image, and it’s a way to channel beauty. Her three-step process is wash, twist then dry, with the end goal of twisting natural hairstyles “into something beautiful,” Cooper said. She treats each hairdo differently, giving each the sort of attention, care and respect that she learned from her mom.

Integral to the process is tight twisting. As she twists the hair, she wants to make it tight so it stays locked and lasts a bit longer.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, getting older, trying to figure out what I want to do with my life,” Cooper said. “I have the talent for this, and there’s always going to be a market for it.”

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Paul Schlesinger | Staff Photographer

During the school year, Cooper has less time to work at her craft. Off-days are her best opportunities to open up shop out of her South Campus apartment. Her mother’s clients have included NFL star Brandon Marshall, but Cooper rivals that with a list of her most loyal customers: Syracuse football players.

One day two years ago, SU junior defensive back Scoop Bradshaw was walking in Manley Field House. His hair was frizzy, and his locks were tangled. At least it appeared that way to Cooper, who stopped him in his tracks to call him out.

“She was like, ‘You need your hair done ASAP,’” Bradshaw recalled.

Cooper mentioned she could take care of his hair herself. Bradshaw was skeptical — he said his hair says a lot about who he is, and he doesn’t mess around with who styles it. But Cooper gained his trust when she said her mother had taught her the craft. That Cooper has dreads, too, solidified her as reliable, Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw came over to her apartment the next Friday, and she spent five hours twisting his hair, Cooper said, because he hadn’t been to a stylist in over a year. When he looked in the mirror later that day, Bradshaw liked what he saw. The result has been a two-year business-like relationship between Cooper and Bradshaw.

“She’s the only one I let touch my hair,” Bradshaw said in August, when he scheduled an appointment with Cooper so his hair “looked good for the first day of class.”

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Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff Photographer

Word spread. In fall 2016, Bradshaw’s teammates asked who was doing his hair. He told them it was a women’s basketball player, Gabrielle Cooper. They hit her up via text, and soon she was doing their hair, too. She charges about $60 per appointment, which usually takes between one and two hours.

Last fall, Cooper found herself doing several other football players’ hair, including junior fullback Chris Elmore, also a native of the Chicago area. He now tries to meet with Cooper as frequently as every three weeks, because he has a saying he shares with teammates: If you want to play in the NFL, he tells them, you’ve got to start acting like it.

“You look at those guys, they’re well-groomed, always,” Elmore said. “So we have to try to keep ourselves that way too.”

Back in Lansing, Illinois, in May, Cooper was working in tandem with her mother, who doubles as her inspiration for hairstyling and personal hero. As the soundtrack changed to a local radio station, which was playing Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes” — “He’s got high hopes” — Cooper spun around the chair to reach the other side of her client’s hair.

Cooper said she has been styling hair since she was about 11 years old, mimicking her mother, who taught herself how to style hair by studying YouTube videos. As a little girl, Cooper began helping her out when needed. But one day, Cooper’s mother, Benji, was overbooked. That’s when Cooper took her first client. She’s been hooked to the craft ever since.

“Pass the spray, mom,” Cooper said at her mother’s shop.

Her mother smiled back and tossed her the bottle.

“This is home,” Cooper said, and then she went back to work, twisting one dreadlock after the other.

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To improve on defense, Syracuse needs more digs

When Miami barely tapped the ball over the net in the second set last Friday, Syracuse players weren’t ready. Both junior Aliah Bowllan and senior Jalissa Trotter stood flat footed and the ball smacked against the wood floor of the Women’s Building. The two upperclassmen stared at each other in confusion.

The Syracuse (10-6, 6-2 Atlantic Coast) defense hasn’t kept many plays alive. The Orange enters this weekend ranked No. 281 in digs per set, averaging 13.35. While Trotter said that communication is to blame, SU head coach Leonid Yelin doesn’t understand the defensive shortcomings. He believes that since Syracuse ranks No. 7 in blocks per set, the back line has no reason to perform so poorly.

“We’re partially good on defense if we’re talking about blocking,” Yelin said. “I think we should be much better because our first defense line block is pretty good.”

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Laura Angle | Staff Photographer/p>

In Syracuse’s most recent match, it once again had defensive lapses.

SU won the opening two sets, but Florida State stormed back to force a fifth. On the opening point of the final set, FSU sophomore Taryn Knuth lept into the air on a back slide play. Bowllan crept to the left, on the opposite side of the benches. Knuth, noticing her slight shift, pounded the ball to the right of the sliding Bowllan.

The Orange totaled 69 digs in all five sets, slightly above its season average. It also allowed 72 kills, 41 of which came in the final three sets.

“Last weekend, I think we struggled a little bit defensively,” assistant coach Derryk Williams said.

Ahead of home matches against North Carolina and North Carolina State, SU targeted defensive positioning as a weakness in practice.

The drill begins with a fake block scenario. The coaching staff places a broom near the net to represent a blocker, Williams said. Next, they set up the defense either in the 6-2 formation, where Bowllan and two others stand in the back row, or in the 5-1, where only two people are behind the blockers.

Once in position, the outside hitters fire balls at varying speeds to different parts of the court. Freshman Polina Shemanova may blast a spike down the line, forcing Bowllan to sprint over and dive to keep the play alive. In other instances, to remain unpredictable, senior Santita Ebangwese may run a slide hit and lightly tap it over the net. The Orange wants their defense to practice against distinct attackers at contrasting speeds, Williams said.

Bowllan believes this helps prepare her for outside hitters who she hasn’t played before.

“The best way to improve is … to get a touch on the ball, getting used to different hitters, different styles,” Bowllan said. “Every hitter is different, so the way Santita hits is different than the way Polina hits.”

Over the last four matches, Syracuse is 2-2. In the two wins, the Orange averaged more than  15 digs per set. SU sputtered in the losses to Florida State and Pittsburgh, totaling only 12.1 digs per set.

Bowllan believes the Orange back line will develop. She knows that with more reps in practice, she and the defense can provide outside hitters with more opportunities to win points.

“It’s about working together and having that good team chemistry, back row and front row,” Bowllan said. “If we can have that connection and figure out where people are and what they’re doing, we’ll be better.”

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