As it does on occasion, the schedule of high school state football championships in Syracuse left a day between games. It’s become custom for many of those in town to use it as an excuse to go to the Carrier Dome anyway to watch the Syracuse football team. I did exactly that on Saturday, but did so with the intention of checking in on Doug Hogue (left), the former Roosevelt star.
For those who haven’t followed Hogue during his years with the Orange, his collegiate career has been tumultuous. It has included some success and plenty of failure for the team, which endured a coaching change two seasons ago. For Hogue, it has also been marked by a position change that redefined him as a player — and may soon make him a very rich man.
Hogue’s story was featured in Saturday’s paper and online, and you can read it here. He was very emotional after the final game of his career at the Carrier Dome, a 16-7 loss to Boston College in a non-conference game. Still, Hogue and I talked one-on-one after the game about the position change, which, according to mock drafts and scouting services, has turned him into a fourth or fifth-round prospect for the 2011 NFL Draft. Hogue has already earned an invite to the Senior Bowl and his position coach, Dan Conley, who played linebacker for Syracuse in the 90s, believes the NFL will invite Hogue to its pre-draft combine.
There’s plenty to like about Hogue. Sure, he only started six games as a running back in two seasons, but he clearly has a back’s athleticism coupled with a linebacker’s size. Hogue can run the 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range, but stands 6-foot-2, 226 pounds.
Conley told me the story of how the position change took place. He said Syracuse’s new coach, Doug Marrone, told defense coordinator Scott Shafer that the team really needed more athleticism at linebacker to compete and said he could pick one player from offense to convert.
“He said I’ll take that third-team tailback Doug Hogue,” Conley remembered. Everyone agreed, especially Hogue.
“My thing was, as long as I could get some playing time and get on the field and help my brothers out. That’s the way I looked at it,” Hogue said.
So that April (back in 2009), Marrone called Hogue into his office and told him he wouldn’t only play, he’d start as Syracuse’s new strong-side linebacker.
“That was really the first day you saw a smile on his face,” said Conley, one of 44 players named to the school’s all-century team. “It sounds funny, but really he’s been smiling every day since.”
That’s probably because Hogue has turned into a pretty darn good linebacker. Most of the aforementioned scouting services have rated him as one of the top 12 outside linebackers in this year’s draft. And why not? In just 24 games, Hogue has been named national defensive player of the week twice by the Walter Camp Foundation, once because he set a program record with a ridiculous 6 1/2 tackles-for-loss last year against Rutgers (3 1/2 were sacks). This year he spurred an upset of No. 19 West Virginia with a pair of interceptions and 10 tackles to claim the award.
“Even though I embraced it when it first happened, I would never have known I’d get national defensive player of the week two years in a row,” Hogue said. “I was honored, man. It just worked out for me. Coach Marrone knew what he was doing, putting me in the right position.”
Conley compared Hogue to another famous Syracuse and LoHud alum: Keith Bulluck. Although Bulluck, a converted safety, had more speed than Hogue out of college, Hogue has plenty of speed and athleticism to go along with a frame with plenty of room for growth.
Hogue had an opportunity to show family and friends just how far he’s come already on Saturday. His parents, Doug Sr. and Alicia (right), were on the field for pregame ceremonies. He was also joined Saturday by former Roosevelt coaches Tom Drago (now a New Rochelle assistant), Anthony Fiorelli (Saunders head coach) and Kevin Martins (Valhalla head coach); cousins; and former teammates.
They were out to dinner Saturday night when I finally tracked down Fiorelli, who had helped Hogue visit with several BCS-level programs four years ago. He had come to the same conclusion that everyone else has about his former pupil.
“He hasn’t even touched his upside of being a linebacker yet,” Fiorelli said. “It’s just unbelievable. He’s playing on his great athletic ability and he’s just learning now to be a linebacker.”
Thanks to photographer Frank Becerra for the pictures. You can find more here.
— BLOG NOTE: Check back this afternoon for the final Top 10 poll and class rankings of the 2010 football season. After that, we move on to basketball. I’ve already been out to a couple of practices and hope to catch another today.