Nassib prepares to play with banged-up secondary

He has heart. He flies around. He’s a smart kid.

That’s how Syracuse wide receiver Christopher Clark described senior backup cornerback Joe Nassib.

“He’s like a little lion out there,” Clark said.

Nassib’s teammates and coaches generally describe him the same way. Although he’s only 5 feet, 9 inches and 180 pounds, they say he compensates for his lack of size with a tremendous work ethic, intelligence and understanding of the game. He’s been a key member of the special teams unit since his sophomore year, but has rarely seen time as a cornerback.

Nassib, the cousin of former SU quarterback Ryan Nassib, may see more of a role Saturday when Syracuse (5-5, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) takes on Pittsburgh (5-5, 2-4) in the Carrier Dome at 12:30 p.m. in pursuit of bowl eligibility. With injuries to defensive backs Keon Lyn and Julian Whigham, Wayne Morgan will be the third cornerback, but Nassib is next in line if there’s another injury.

“I’m just preparing like I am going to start,” Nassib said, “just in case anything does happen, that I am ready to play.”

One of Nassib’s favorite moments at Syracuse came during practice toward the end of his freshman season. Ryan Nassib scrambled and threw the ball in Joe’s direction. Joe swooped in and picked off his cousin, who now plays for the New York Giants.

It was a far more glorious moment than the time Ryan and Malvern Preparatory torched Joe and Haverford, 49-0, in high school.

Ryan was the reason Joe ended up at Syracuse in the first place. Joe wasn’t getting many Division I looks, but Ryan gave the Syracuse coaching staff his highlight tape. They were sold, and took him as a preferred walk-on. Nassib never came up to visit. The first time he saw the school was during Summer Start before his freshman season.

Since then, he’s seen time on SU’s special teams unit, playing in nearly every game the past three seasons. He recorded a tackle against Cincinnati last season while playing cornerback, seeing the field as a defender for the first time.

His teammates didn’t even notice, but he was “ecstatic.”

He got his first defensive action of this season against Wagner and Tulane, two blowout wins for Syracuse.

“I’ve gotten my dosage of plays throughout the years,” Nassib said, “but never really on defense.”

Nassib may or may not play this week, but Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer he’s “going to be ready to be a backup.” He put Nassib on scholarship this season and whether he plays on Saturday is “neither here nor there.”

Shafer simply appreciates the way Nassib respects the game.

“I love the hell out of Joey,” Shafer said.

Syracuse offensive lineman Ivan Foy said Nassib never gets fazed regardless of who he’s going up against. He doesn’t let his size slow him down and is as tough as they come. Foy said Nassib was the only defensive back not wearing sleeves despite the 35-degree weather Tuesday.

But the thing that helps him prepare for defenses and the reason he’s confident whenever his number is called is his intelligence.

“He’s smart,” Foy said, nodding his head. “I don’t know how smart, but he is very, very smart. He might be a little too smart for me. I can’t keep up with him.”

SU defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough added that Nassib knows his limitations, but makes up for his lack of size with his intellect. Bullough likened Nassib to former UCLA star-turned Tennessee Titan Alterraun Verner.

Bullough coached the 5-foot-10 defensive back Verner from 2006-09. Like Verner, Nassib isn’t fast, Bullough said. He simply reads formations well, knows splits and is very sharp.

“That’s how I think of Joe,” Bullough said.

For the kid from Pennsylvania with flowing hair and a wildly successful cousin, Saturday may be Nassib’s chance help send Syracuse to a bowl game. He may not play, but if he does, he’ll be fully prepared.

“Joe’s a little bit smaller, he’s this, he’s not that,” Shafer said, “but Joe’s going to go out there and make a ton of money some day. He’s bright, he’s sharp and he’s what Syracuse is all about.”


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