Editor’s Note: Throughout the college football season we will provide profiles on breakout seniors. This week’s breakout player is Syracuse wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo.
To find our first breakout player of the year, we travel all the way to upstate New York where one wide receiver has leapt straight over defenders and into the spotlight to become one of the most feared offensive threats in the nation.
Standing at an imposing 6-foot-2, Amba Etta-Tawo of Syracuse not only looks the part of a number one option, but he has delivered consistently no matter how defenses have tried to scheme against him. He already has not one, but two 200-yard receiving games, and has scored in four of Syracuse’s five games. For Etta-Tawo, though, the challenges presented by his opponents must pale in comparison to the journey it took for him to get to this point.
Before arriving in Syracuse this year, Etta-Tawo was doing his best to stay afloat at Maryland in College Park. The Terrapins, unfortunately, never quite had a steady quarterback rotation to feed him targets, and he ended up playing for five different signal-callers during his years there. The most yardage he ever had in a season was 500 during his redshirt freshman year, and he only registered three total touchdowns during his time at Maryland.
Despite his innate athleticism and pure speed, the offense was unable to tailor itself around his talents. It’s little wonder, then, that Etta-Tawo would take advantage of a graduate transfer opportunity. Having gotten his degree from UMD, he set his sights on the college football landscape to find where would be his last chance to make a mark.
From all indications, he’s made the right choice. He started off his new career at Syracuse with a bang, grabbing 12 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. While the sheer volume of passes he caught and the yardage he racked up was impressive, it would’ve been easy to write off his performance by saying it was an opening-week fluke.
However, Etta-Tawo then backed up his performance with eight catches, 103 yards and two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the nation in Louisville, followed by another eight-catch game, this time for 123 yards, against South Florida. At some point, it seemed likely that he wasn’t just a flash in the pan, but the September 24, 2016 matchup against Connecticut would be the true test of his abilities.
Playing opposite last season’s All-AAC cornerback, Etta-Tawo had not just the best day of his career, but the best day of any Syracuse wide receiver in history with 270 yards receiving. He repeatedly burned the defense from the get-go, with five catches for a whopping 118 yards and two touchdowns in the opening five minutes.
But he wasn’t finished just yet. With Syracuse backed up on its own one-yard line and nursing a one-score lead late in the fourth quarter, the Orange desperately needed any sort of production, even if it was just a first down to try and come out with a win. On third down and long, their quarterback decided to get the ball into the hands of his favorite target: Etta-Tawo, who took it for 59 yards. The drive would end with a touchdown as Syracuse would win, 31-24.
Etta-Tawo followed his career-high performance with a seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown this past weekend against perennial power Notre Dame.
With 47 catches for 840 yards and six touchdowns, Etta-Tawo has surpassed his catch and yardage totals of the last two years and put together more scores than he has in every other season combined.
More impressively, he is leading the entire nation in receiving yards. Etta-Tawo’s blend of size, speed, and separation make him a bona-fide offensive weapon, and the Orange are surely glad he’s wearing their colors now.
– David Chough
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Analyst