SYRACUSE — Chris Elmore opened the eyes of Syracuse University football coach Dino Babers with his punishing physicality long before the junior tight end/fullback garnered notoriety among Orange fans and gained the nickname “Rhino.”
During his weekly press conference on Monday — in advance of the Orange’s home opener against top-ranked and defending national champion Clemson slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Carrier Dome and to be nationally-televised on ABC — Babers described a scene from 2017 training camp when a then-freshman Elmore challenged former middle linebacker Zaire Franklin.
Elmore ran full-speed and delivered a crushing block on Franklin — the only three-time SU captain of the last century who is now a 53-man roster member of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts — which prompted the veteran Franklin (6-feet, 236 pounds) to request the play be run again. Babers obliged, and said that Elmore proved his might with his response to the challenge.
“He’s a freshman trying to make his way and Zaire is looking at him like: ‘Do you know who in the heck you’re messing with?’ It was an ACC, welcome-to- college-football hit,” Babers recalled.
“But when Rhino took off his helmet with his mouth bleeding, he was ready to go again, and that’s when I knew we had the right guy. Then when Rhino said: ‘Let’s do it again, run it again,’ and Zaire is just looking at him, that’s when I was like: ‘OK, we’re not doing it again.’ They were friends but both very, very physical players.”
The Orange (1-1 overall) will look to channel that spirit following a 63-20 loss to Maryland last Saturday as it prepares to host the Tigers (2-0) in what SU athletic director John Wildhack stated Monday is expected to be the first sold-out football crowd at the Carrier Dome since the 1998 season opener against Tennessee.
Elmore (6-0, 295) has appeared in all 27 games during his SU career, including five starts, and can usually be found providing a critical and often devastating block on SU’s game-changing plays.
“I’m just a very physical dude and I love being the physical dude that I am, so I take a lot of pride in that and in being one of the voices of the team,” said Elmore, a Chicago native. “Every team needs a leader, whether that leader is vocal or not, and I’m more that vocal type of leader.”
He added: “For guys to know that I’m that voice, I love it, guys look forward to me bringing that boom and bringing that tempo to the team. When they see me make a big hit, it gets everybody else hyped, so I just feel that’s where I fit in.”
Elmore returned to preseason practice after missing most of the spring session due to a knee injury that required surgery and said that he’s feeling “a bit rusty,” as he rounds back into form.
He has tallied 64 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 27 career carries, but is most relied upon for his pad-popping lead blocks that energize fans and teammates alike. Elmore said that he has received added attention around campus and calls from former high school teammates that have heard Elmore hyped by other players at their respective college programs.
“The fans here know that when I’m in, I’m going to bring that boom every time and there’s no shortage to my game,” Elmore said.
Elmore has developed into a trusted presence in the locker room and the charismatic third-year player was selected to host the SU-produced weekly player interview series — now titled “Jungle Rumble,” — in which he profiles a different teammate each week for a web short on the SU athletics site, cuse.com.
“Since Chris stepped on campus, he’s helped this offense from the jump,” said SU senior running back Moe Neal. “He’s a great leader, starting to take that role as he’s maturing coming into this season, becoming more vocal in the room. You see it on film, he’s always getting after it and going 110 percent, and he’s a very valuable piece to this offense and our run game.”
TIM GREEN JERSEY RETIREMENT
SU will retire the No. 72 jersey of the program’s all-time sacks leader, Tim Green, during a halftime ceremony Saturday night.
Green will be the sixth individual player to be honored with a jersey retirement, and the first full-time defensive player in program history. He will join Larry Csonka (No. 39), John Mackey (88), Donovan McNabb (5), Don McPherson (9), and Joe Morris (47) in the exclusive club. The program has also retired the No. 44, which was worn by 25 different players, including legendary running backs Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little.
Green was recognized as a member of SU’s All-Century Team and recorded 45.5 career sacks and 341 tackles from 1982-85 before moving onto a standout NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons.
SU is selling an “official orange-out,” T-shirt for Saturday’s game with Green’s No. 72 on the back, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Green’s “Tackle ALS,” charity. Green was diagnosed with the disease last November and has since raised more than $3 million toward ALS research in partnership with the Massachusetts General Hospital.
FREENEY, 1959 TEAM ON HAND
In addition to Green’s ceremony, SU has planned several celebrations and fan activities for its much-anticipated home opener.
During a timeout in the first quarter, the Orange’s 1959 national championship team will be recognized to mark the 60th anniversary of the program’s first undefeated season. Under coach Ben Schwartzwalder, SU posted an 11-0 record and beat Texas, 23-14, in the Cotton Bowl for the first bowl win in team history. SU icon and former running back Ernie Davis was one of five All-Americans to star for the Orange that season.
Prior to the game, SU will hold a ‘Cuse on the Quad,’ fan tailgate, hosted by former SU All-American and NFL star, Dwight Freeney. That on-campus event will feature a performance by national artist Eric Chesser and other live entertainment.