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Original Issue


Many of the recruiters who came to Chicago's Mount Carmel High
in the fall of 1993 to evaluate quarterback Donovan McNabb saw
the same qualities: size, speed and an arm so erratic that it
might never power a college passing game. Nebraska was willing
to take a chance on the speedy 6'2", 213-pound quarterback;
after all, Tommie Frazier didn't really learn to throw until he
got to Lincoln. And Syracuse assistant coach George DeLeone saw
something, too. "When the lights went on," says DeLeone, "this
guy would play big."

Three years later, having decided Nebraska was too deep at
quarterback for him, McNabb is entering his sophomore season at
Syracuse (he redshirted in '94), and the lights are on. Boy, are
they on. After the Orangemen finished 6-4-1 in 1993 and 7-4 in
'94, they went 9-3 last fall, including a 41-0 starching of
Clemson in the Gator Bowl. Fifteen starters are back, and
Syracuse's principal Big East rivals, Virginia Tech and Miami,
must visit the Carrier Dome this fall. "I feel very good about
where we are right now," says Orangemen coach Paul Pasqualoni, a
man who ordinarily treats high expectation as if it were a mug
of sour milk.

It is McNabb, most of all, who gives Syracuse cause to make
January plans. He didn't win the starting job last season until
the week of the season opener, but once installed, McNabb, who
was a reserve on the Syracuse basketball team that went to last
spring's NCAA title game, blossomed into a multidimensional
force perfect for running Syracuse's complex option offense. He
threw for 1,991 yards and 16 touchdowns, with just six
interceptions, and rushed for 261 yards and two more scores. "If
you give him time, he'll make a big play; if you don't give him
time, he'll still make a big play," says junior offensive tackle
Brent Warren. "He's an offensive lineman's dream."

The same can be said of sophomore fullback Rob Konrad, who
rushed for 433 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman
last fall. The one gaping hole on offense is at wideout, a spot
weakened by the departure of Marvin Harrison, who was drafted in
the first round by the Indianapolis Colts. Kevin Johnson, a
quarterback-turned-wide receiver, and true freshman Quinton
Spotwood, will combine to replace Harrison.

Returning to a defense that ranked fourth in the Big East
against the run is Antwaune Ponds, a 6'1", 241-pound linebacker,
Donovin Darius, a 6'1", 206-pound free safety who is one of the
biggest hitters in the conference, and senior cornerback Kevin
Abrams, who is not only a sticky man-to-man defender but also a
font of wisdom. Abrams was a redshirt in 1992, when the
Orangemen were 10-2 and won the Fiesta Bowl. Expectations
soared, but two disappointing seasons followed. "I've seen all
the peaks and valleys," says Abrams. "You have to play every
down. You have to earn it. Our goal last year was to get the
program back where it used to be. We did that."

Well, expectations are high again. And the lights are on. Here
is a team that can handle both.


COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER If McNabb's sophomore season is like his first, Syracuse should roll. [Donovan McNabb]