Football

Tommy DeVito, Syracuse’s top QB prospect since McNabb, well-prepped for the pocket

Courtesy of Leon Clarke

Tommy DeVito wasn't fazed by the pressure to commit elsewhere. He was SU's first commit in the class of 2017, and two other four-star recruits have since pledged to the Orange.

Syracuse’s most heralded quarterback prospect since Donovan McNabb may not play a down of football this year. He didn’t start on the Don Bosco (New Jersey) High School varsity team until two years ago and has never sipped alcohol, his father said.

For much of high school, he fell under the radar of Power 5 coaches. His dad said he arrived at Syracuse after turning down offers from Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Wake Forest, among others, because he wanted to play for Dino Babers’ up-tempo offense and lead the coach’s charge in rebooting the program. Two four-star offensive linemen have since committed to SU.

He went from a top-1600 recruit to near the top of his class, as the No. 8 pocket passer in the Class of 2017. He was an Under Armour All-American and Elite 11 finalist.

Yet in 2017, he has yet to take a snap and Babers and teammates have offered little insight on him, so it’s still too early to predict his future.

Now, SU’s (1-1) top newcomer is on campus, where there remains a general cloudiness on how his talents will translate in the Atlantic Coast Conference or when he will take his first snap. DeVito signed at SU well aware of the program’s struggles, declining attendance and Eric Dungey’s success. He signed despite pressure to change plans. Now, he awaits his time to play.

“Tommy has every plan on competing for the starting job,” his father, Tony, said. “He in no way shape or form wants to redshirt. This is what he loves to do.”

DeVito was not made available for interviews because team policy is that freshmen don’t address the media until they appear in a game.

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Todd Michalek | Contributing Photographer

When DeVito verbally committed in April 2016, he ranked with three stars by most major recruiting services. The quarterback who became a four-star signal-caller and SU’s top-rated signee, never wavered. DeVito saw the possibilities that SU’s offense provides quarterbacks, and he did not hesitate to turn down big-time attention elsewhere.

“He was kind of like Denzel Washington in the movie ‘Glory,’ when he was holding that flag at the end,” Babers said on National Signing Day. “Everybody was taking bullets, but he just handled that flag, held onto that ‘S’ and kept waving. He’s a lot better than what everyone else evaluated him out to be.”

DeVito might not be at Syracuse if not for his mentor and trainer, Leon Clarke. Since he turned 6, DeVito went through rigorous circuits several times per week, including 60 minutes of drop backs and hundreds of throws into hula hoops laid out on a field to target. After a year with Clarke, he knew how to three-step drop and look off safeties.

“Much of my 20s was spent with him,” Clarke said. “… He put a lot of his childhood to the side to prepare for what he has today.”

DeVito played junior varsity as a sophomore, even though he threw a touchdown against the varsity in a scrimmage before he stepped foot in high school. Once, when he was about 16, DeVito stayed at practice to do extra conditioning with a teammate who had fumbled twice that day. DeVito was a backup, but he performed the extra length-of-field sprints on a hot day so his teammate didn’t have to do it alone.

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Courtesy of Leon Clarke

In his junior year at Don Bosco, which won a state title that season, he tossed a perfect spiral over a defender from the far hash. Bosco’s head coach, Mike Teel, called it “one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.”

It’s not the only time DeVito impressed. In a two-minute drill later that season at Bergen Catholic (New Jersey) High School, DeVito marched down the field. He spun a 55-yard touchdown pass to cap off the game-winning drive.

“Our guy had him covered like a glove,” Bergen Catholic head coach Nunzio Campanile recalled. “That was a throw not a lot of guys in America can make.”

Nearly a year later, at the Elite 11 finals in Los Angeles, DeVito didn’t make one particular throw that captured the attention of Joey Roberts, but his body of work left an impression. Roberts, an ESPN NFL associate sport scout and the Elite 11 director of scouting, has seen other prospects make impressive throws, like Jared Goff. The now-Los Angeles Rams quarterback hit a deep throw into the wind that signaled to Roberts that Goff had talent.

Still, Roberts shot a text to Trent Dilfer, a former NFL analyst and quarterback, saying DeVito was a can’t miss because of his ability to a hit on all throws consistently. Roberts remembers DeVito hitting on well over 75 percent of his throws, including sideline passes, balls down the seam and cross routes.

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Courtesy of Leon Clarke

Over the years, whatever the 6-foot-2 DeVito has lacked in size, analysts said, he made up for in arm strength. Arm action, thick joints and huge hands, Dilfer said, enables DeVito to wrist the ball, using less arm. The time it takes DeVito to carry the ball from chest to release creates a short arc and ensures consistent, accurate throws.

“Tommy has a better arm than Drew (Brees),” Dilfer said. “He has the physical and mental makeup to be a star. He’s got a uniquely gifted deep ball. And he knows when to throw. He understands matchups and has a really uncanny ability to be accurate down the field.”

When the time arrives, DeVito doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. While it’s unclear when that will be, DeVito will keep waving his flag.

“He didn’t let all of that recruiting garbage distract him from what he wanted to do,” Dilfer said, “and what he wanted to be.”

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