Dino Babers has confidence that Rex Culpepper can help reconstruct the Syracuse University football offense, dating back to the first visit between the head coach and quarterback in which Culpepper was building a dune buggy from scratch.
The redshirt senior is expected to start under center when SU (1-3 overall) hosts unbeaten FBS independent Liberty (4-0) in its lone nonconference game at noon Saturday in the Carrier Dome. The game will be held without fans and televised locally on YES Network.
Culpepper was the starting QB on the Orange depth chart released earlier this week in place of injured starter Tommy DeVito, who was not listed.
The team has yet to disclose DeVito’s injury or status moving forward, but Babers said the redshirt junior remained in a boot and on crutches Monday after hurting his lower left leg in last Saturday’s 38-24 loss to Duke. Multiple reports indicate that DeVito is out for the year.
Culpepper is one of seven players remaining from Babers’ inaugural season as head coach in 2016. Earlier this week, Babers described his initial introduction to Culpepper upon accepting the job and visiting the family in their Tampa, Fla., home.
The then-incoming redshirt QB was tinkering with a small, off-road vehicle when Babers arrived.
“He’s sitting in one of those things working on it and I’m like: ‘That’s nice, where did you buy it?’ His dad told me that (Rex) built it, from the ground up,” Babers said. “I mean, Rex is not normal. Rex is not average. He is extremely talented and comes from a unique family. … I wouldn’t underestimate that family in anything they set their mind to.”
Culpepper was diagnosed with testicular cancer in March 2018 and was declared cancer-free three months later. He played his sophomore season that fall and was presented the inaugural Jim DaRin Courage Award at the team banquet that year. He was also one of 10 nominees for the 2018 Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award.
His father, Brad, was an All-American tackle for the University of Florida in 1991 then played nine NFL seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Buccaneers, and Chicago Bears.
Rex Culpepper’s mother, Monica, was a two-time contestant on the CBS reality show “Survivor,” finishing as runner-up in 2013. Brad Culpepper also competed that year and returned to reach the finals in 2017.
Judge Culpepper, Rex’s younger brother, is a defensive lineman at Penn State while their younger sister, Honor, will be a freshman for the New York University women’s basketball team this season.
“Rex is one of the smartest people I know, not only on the football field but off the football field,” Babers said. “He knows this offense as good as anybody, and it’s just a matter of executing and doing things right and being consistent in what we do. We feel like we have someone that has a lot of knowledge if he is going to go in there.”
Rex Culpepper has appeared in 24 career games for SU, including all four this season and 10 overall at QB. He switched to tight end and contributed on special teams midway through 2018 before shifting back to QB full-time last year.
The 6-foot-3, 221-pound passer has completed 8 of 19 attempts for 113 yards and a touchdown as the primary backup this season. For his career, Culpepper is 53-for-95 with 631 passing yards and three TDs to go with four interceptions and 40 career rushing yards.
Culpepper has made one start at QB, as a freshman in 2017, and completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 280 yards and two touchdowns to set the SU record for most passing yards in a starting debut.
Other veteran players who have witnessed Culpepper’s intelligence and resiliency throughout his tenure expressed public confidence this week. Culpepper was not made available for interviews.
Senior guard Chris Elmore, who sits at the locker next to Culpepper, spoke to his grasp of the offense and experience playing behind DeVito and former QB Eric Dungey throughout his tenure.
“Rex is like that guy who’s always been waiting for his shot,” Elmore said. “We’re constantly talking about football, talking about the team, so I know he’s ready and I’m with him every step of the way.”
The Orange listed two true freshmen behind Culpepper on the depth chart for the Liberty game — Dillon Markiewicz and JaCobian Morgan — neither of whom has attempted a collegiate pass.
Markiewicz (6-5, 215) was rated by 247Sports as the No. 62 pro-style QB in the 2020 class out of McKinney North High School in Texas. Morgan (6-4, 203) is from Canton High School in Mississippi and was ranked the No. 77 pro-style QB in the last recruiting cycle.
BABERS SALARY RANK
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers was ranked No. 46 in the USA Today database of college football head coach salaries with an estimated annual income of $3.2 million.
The annual update was released this week and included the latest available details on Babers’ salary, which came in 2018 prior to his signing a long-term contract extension for undisclosed compensation.
The available data on Babers placed him No. 7 among 13 ACC coaches, including Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly ($1.8 million approximated), whose Fighting Irish is competing in the conference for this season only. Both coaches were among those from private institutions who only had estimated salary listed and did not include figures on scheduled school pay or buyouts.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban ($9.3 million) was the highest paid coach in the report, followed by LSU’s Ed Orgeron ($8.9 million) and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney ($8.3 million).
Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze stated during his weekly media appearance that the Flames would conduct five rounds of COVID-19 testing prior to Saturday’s game against SU in the Dome to comply with ACC protocol and state regulations, according to a report in the News and Advance of Lynchburg, Va.
According to Freeze, the team had plans to test every day except Tuesday, and be tested twice on Friday. The ACC will select a third party to conduct testing for Liberty players and coaches at the team hotel.
The 4-0 FBS independent has abided by the conference coronavirus testing protocols of each team it has faced this season.
CLEMSON KICK TIME
The SU-Clemson football game scheduled for Oct. 24 will kick off at noon, according to an announcement by the ACC. The game will be televised on either ESPN or ACC Network and will be determined after this weekend’s games. Every SU game has kicked off at noon or 12:30 p.m. this year.
The Tigers (4-0) are the top-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll.