Assistant coaches Acosta, Adam bring Division-III roots to Syracuse

Nick Annis | Contributing Photographer

Bobby Acosta steps into a previously vacant position as tight ends coach with the opportunity to mold a young position on his own.

Schools like Widener University and Elmhurst College may be relative unknowns in the world of football, but there are coaches down at the Division III level with pedigree and talent.

Scott Shafer doesn’t get caught up with the names of the program, but rather the familiar names of the coaches. Before his first season, he brought in Elmhurst’s Tim Lester as his quarterbacks coach.

With two new coaching vacancies to fill this offseason, Shafer went back to the well. He plucked Elmhurst’s new head coach Joe Adam as his offensive line coach. He looked to Widener head coach Bobby Acosta to become Syracuse’s tight ends coach.

Shafer has worked with Adam. SU offensive coordinator George McDonald has worked with Acosta.

“It’s something that we talked about seven years ago when I left him,” Adam said. “We had always met up, we had talked and we said if we ever had the chance to coach together, I would jump at the chance.”

Adam and Acosta give the Orange three coaches whose most recent experience prior to Syracuse was D-III head coaching. Adam had primarily worked on the defensive side of the ball for the past five years, but replaces Pat Perles as the Orange’s offensive line coach. Acosta fills a previously vacant position as tight ends coach — McDonald handled those duties last year — and the spot on the staff previously occupied by wide receivers coach Rob Moore. McDonald will handle the wideouts this season.

Adam was part of the Western Michigan coaching staff in the mid 2000s that also included Shafer, Lester, McDonald, Chuck Bullough and Tim Daoust.

Lester said the other coaches assumed Adam was coming to SU because of their relationship at Elmhurst (Ill.) University, but this move was Shafer’s doing. Shafer was the one who worked with Adam on the Broncos’ defense and Shafer was the one who told Lester to hire Adam when he took over as the Bluejays’ head coach.

“Everyone was like, ‘Joe’s your guy.’ And I was like, ‘No. Actually Joe’s Shafe’s guy,’” Lester said. “Ten years ago I didn’t know Joe very well.”

The only member of the offensive staff now without a tie to Shafer is the new tight ends coach. Shafer wanted him because of his recruiting ties in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, but McDonald wanted him because of his coaching.

Acosta was an intern for McDonald when he worked for the Cleveland Browns. After that, he established himself as an assistant at Delaware and the head coach at Widener University in Pennsylvania. And when a spot opened on the Orange’s staff, McDonald drove down to Philadelphia to talk to Acosta about joining him at SU.

“We just talked about the situation here, and I think it all kind of made sense,” Acosta said. “Recruiting New Jersey, spread offense, tight-end background — it’s a good fit and sometimes it’s not about Division III or high school, it’s about the fit.”

Acosta steps into a previously vacant position as tight ends coach with the opportunity to mold a young position on his own. Last year, McDonald handled the position along with a slew of other duties.

He encouraged his tight ends to use short, choppy steps when run blocking. Acosta emphasizes the same style, but he has the time to get more specific. He works on his players’ footwork hip placement.

“With coach McDonald, we would still get it done, but he really didn’t spend much time on it just because of the fact that he’s not really a tight end,” SU tight end Josh Parris said, “but coach Acosta — his profession is for tight ends, so it made it easier for us because he breaks everything down.”

Both Adam and Acosta said the toughest adjustment to make when making the jump from D-III back to D-I is simply the speed and size, especially on the line. Lester, who made the leap last season, said some of the schemes used against defensive lineman at Elmhurst are useless against Division I talent.

Otherwise, though, it’s not too different. None of the coaches have looked or felt like they were in over their heads at the top level. There are differences, but it’s still football.

“You prepare yourself as a coach to coach at the highest level and I think being a head coach really prepares you to be a good assistant,” Acosta said. “Kids are kids still, players are players and you have to put your players in position to make place. I don’t think there’s a big difference.”


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