Tenth of an 11-part series. Coming tomorrow: Specialists
Andre Cisco was a self-described nobody. He didn’t have a single scholarship offer. He hadn’t played a down of varsity football.
Then, in the summer before his junior year of high school came a trip to Bradenton, Fla., for a camp at prep school IMG Academy.
That trip changed his life.
The coaching staff liked what it saw in the Valley Stream, L.I., native. They were impressed by his work habits, size and ability to learn on the fly. They approached him about joining their program.
“He checked all the boxes [for what we were looking for],” said Adam Behrens, one of the coaches at IMG at the time.
Cisco was at first hesitant about leaving his friends and family at home halfway through high school. His mother, Myriam, wasn’t. She insisted he take advantage of the opportunity.
“That was really big for my development,” Cisco told The Post in a phone interview.
It set in motion his rise from a virtual unknown high school football prospect at St. Anthony’s (L.I.) into a projected NFL draft pick. Considered a top-five safety in the draft, the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Cisco could get taken as high as the second round. After two strong years at IMG Academy, Cisco developed into a legitimate Division I prospect and became one of college football’s top safeties the last three years at Syracuse, the active FBS leader in interceptions (13). He’s a ball hawk with good speed, having run a 4.5 40-yard dash in the past. The one thing possibly holding him back is a torn ACL he suffered last September.
“He has good size, the physical traits you want in a safety,” NFL Network draft analyst Lance Zierlein said. “He’s a chance-taker, so there’s going to be some boom-bust/feast-famine type stuff with him. That’s his nature. … The fearlessness, I kind of like that in some regards, but at the same time he’s going to have to dial back that chance-taking to be a smart dependable safety that doesn’t allow plays to expand beyond what they should be.”
Syracuse coach Dino Babers described Cisco as a rare player, because of his work ethic, the kind of guy who will always do more. Ask him to put on eight pounds of muscle, he’ll gain 14, but not lose any of his speed. Ask him to spend an hour in the weight room, he’ll be there for 90 minutes.
Cisco, Babers recalled, was always the last player on the practice field working on his technique, perfecting his craft, whether he was coming off a great performance or a poor one. The Syracuse coach has a rule for himself: he can’t leave until all of his players are gone. Cisco frequently made him late for appointments. It is one of the reasons Babers is convinced his star safety will excel in the NFL.
“There’s two types of guys in the National Football League,” Babers said. “You got the freaks and then you got these guys who are just Steady Eddies, overachievers with ability, but they don’t act like they have ability. They’re always fine-tuning their craft and getting better and better and better. I think Cisco is more in the latter group, where he has very good athletic ability, but his work ethic puts him over the top.”
If not for the ACL injury he suffered during warm-ups prior to the third game of the season, Cisco would have had a shot at the Syracuse interception record of 19 held by Markus Paul, and could’ve possibly played his way into the first round.
As a freshman, he was the 2018 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and the first Syracuse true freshman to receive All-America honors, after picking off seven passes. He was an All-ACC second-team selection as a sophomore despite missing three games due to injury. Expectations were through the roof for him last year. He was named to a series of preseason All-America teams and watch lists. Then came the freak injury. His season was over after two games.
“It was heartbreaking,” he recalled. “That was the only thing I’ve cried over in the past five years. That was one of those moments I just broke down.”
Cisco is hopeful the injury won’t hurt him too much in the draft. He is ahead of schedule, able to run and do field work, though he was only able to bench press at Syracuse’s Pro Day. He has been able to send teams videos of the progress he has made and expects to be ready for training camp.
“I still think I’m in a good place,” he said. “What I did in college is hard to ignore.”
The last five years have been a roller-coaster ride for Cisco. It started with his decision to leave home. Then came a sterling three-year stint at Syracuse that was cut short. Up next is a professional career that seemed like a longshot not so long ago.
“Honestly, it’s hard to imagine,” Cisco said. “That’s the part that’s going to get me the most, hearing the commissioner say my name. Everything [I’ve done] is for one moment. I’m sure it will be emotional.”