|PHOTOS: JUSTIN PUGH GALLERY|
Syracuse University Orange
Council Rock South High School
Pugh drew rave responses from his head coach, Doug Marrone, a former Syracuse offensive lineman himself, when the Orange leader was asked who he thought was the best offensive lineman in the Big East Conference. This is nothing new in the life of one of the most aggressive, dominating blockers to ever perform at the university. Sadly, for Syracuse fans, that career would span only three seasons, after the All-American declared for the 2013 NFL Draft rather than return to school in 2013.
Pugh's elevation to the elite at his position came through countless hours of hard work in preparing to be the dominating blocker he has become on game day. An upper body injury kept him off the field for part of 2012 spring drills and it was almost comical the lengths the coaching staff had to go through to keep this "tough as nails" character from putting on the helmet and lining up at left tackle during those scrimmages.
But, those are the traits that have captured the attention of NFL scouts, who envision the bind-side offensive tackle of plying his wares in the league as an offensive guard. His status among the best blockers in this year's draft pool was further cemented when the red-shirt junior became the first underclassman to ever play in a Senior Bowl clash.
By graduating early, the bowl's administrators were allowed to extend him an invitation to come to Mobile, Alabama, where he was under the "microscope" of the watchful eyes of the league's general managers and coaches. Seeing time at his projected pro position, along with playing at his customary spot at tackle, Pugh did not disappoint those who have been citing his emerging ability all season.
Pugh has a very powerful upper body that displays thick limbs and well-proportioned thighs and calves. He possesses a thick lower body frame with wide hips, good bubble, and a squat build that might be better suited for an interior line position. He can carry at least another fifteen pounds without any loss in quickness.
Because he has just adequate arm length for an offensive tackle, that could be a reason for teams to consider him a better guard prospect than one to protect a quarterback's blind side. But, much like Green Bay's Bulaga, a player with a similar build, Pugh has very active hands and does a nice job extending to make reach blocks. He comes off the ball with good leg drive and hand punch to shock and jolt. He generates good hip rotation when redirecting on the move and knows how to use his size to get leverage on the defender.
Pugh has outstanding power for a player his size. Another possible reason for a shift to offensive guard in the NFL is that he has the athletic agility to get out in front on sweeps and pulls and is very flexible when redirecting. He shows good knee bend and quickness for a trap blocker and runs with a normal stride working into the second level. He also demonstrates the fluid change of direction skills and proper weight distribution in space and has good body quickness in his kick slide.
Pugh also shows the foot agility, balance and body control to get out and stalk second level defenders. He maintains good balance on drive blocks and is quick enough when running long distances. In the short area, he has above average balance and a fluid running stride. He is quick in his retreat setting up in pass protection and has the functional overall flexibility to get back into the action on the move, taking proper angles to neutralize linebackers. He plays flat-footed with his hands properly inside his frame to gain leverage.
Before joining the Syracuse program, the Pennsylvania product earned the Maxwell Award, which is presented to the Top 50 high school scholar-athletes in the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) during his senior season at Council Rock South High School. The award recognizes athletics, academics and community service.
Pugh also earned All-Area and All-Suburban One League first-team honors as a junior and senior, in addition to being named second-team All-Area and All-State as a defensive line-man by the Pennsylvania Football News during the 2008 schedule. Earlier in his prep career, he was a second-team All-Area choice as a sophomore offensive tackle.
The senior was named his team's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year while serving as team captain in 2008. He was selected to play for Pennsylvania in the 2009 Big 33 All-Star Classic. He was also heavily involved in Special Olympics and volunteered for Athletes Helping Athletes.
Upon arriving at Syracuse, Pugh spent the 2009 season performing on the scout team, thus retaining four years of college eligibility. A sensational performance throughout 2010 preseason camps earned the red-shirt freshman the starting job at left offensive tackle, a position he would remain at throughout his Orange career.
Pugh's performance during his first season as a starter was one of the main reasons the team improved its record from 4-8 in 2009 to 8-5 in 2010, marking the first time in six seasons that Syracuse would play in a bowl game. Behind his blocking, the team scored thirteen of their fourteen rushing touchdowns, as he collected 85 knockdowns and was named All-Big East Conference second-team.
The team limped to a 5-7 mark during his sophomore season, but Pugh continued to improve, as the coaches selected him All-Big East Conference first-team. For the second-straight year, the Orange had a 1,000-yard rusher and it was their left tackle leading the charge on most of their ten touchdown runs (nine for the running game and five more for the aerial attack). He would become the first Orange blocker to record over 100 knock- downs (100) in a season since John Flannery in 1990.
Despite being held out of spring camp and then missing the first four games on the 2012 schedule to recover from left shoulder surgery, the team co-captain garnered All-Big East and All-American accolades. In just nine starting assignments, he produced thirteen touch-down resulting blocks and 102 knockdowns. He paced an offensive attack that set team season-records for total offense (6,188 yards), passing yards (3,757), touchdown tosses (26) and pass completions (295).
While fending off rumors late in the 2012, Pugh finally acknowledged after the December 29th Pinstripe Bowl that he would be leaving school to play in the NFL for the 2013 season.
"My Syracuse career was the best four years of my life. My teammates, coaches, the staff and the fans have been great," Pugh said in announcing his decision.
"Coach Marrone and Coach Adkins have been great throughout my career, including through this process," Pugh said. "I wanted to be honest with everyone as I made this decision and they were the same with me. I would not change anything about my decision to attend Syracuse or my career. I am so happy I came to Syracuse University. I will always be active in the Orange football program and the Syracuse community. I love the Orange. Go 'Cuse."
"Justin is a big part of this program turning the corner," Marrone said. "He came in with us four years ago and gave us everything he had. We are proud of him for earning his degree and for what he has accomplished on the field as a leader of this team. He has earned it. I believe he will be very successful at the next level and in everything he does outside of football. Justin will always be part of the Orange football family."
Since tackle Marquis F. (Bill) Horr was named Syracuse's first All-American in 1908, 54 players at the school received that prestigious honor. Just sixteen of them were offensive lineman. Pugh's 2012 selection was the first for an Orange blocker since center John Flannery earned it in back-to-back seasons (1989-90). The last Syracuse offensive tackle to receive All-American recognition was Gary A. Bugenhagen in 1966.
Pugh comes from a program that has not exactly produced many NFL offensive linemen over the years. Since the two leagues merged drafts in 1970, only eighteen Orange offensive linemen have been drafted, twelve at offensive tackle. No blockers were chosen in the first round and only three heard their names called in Round Two. Pugh should join that rio, which featured tackle Dan Yochum (Philadelphia in 1972), center John Flannery (Houston in 1991) and tackle Adam Terry (Baltimore in 2005).
Pugh blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his three seasons at Syracuse, where he started all 34 games he played in as their left offensive tackle…The team's first offensive lineman to earn All-American honors since 1990 left the university after recording 40 touchdown-resulting blocks and 288 knockdowns, an average of 1.18 TD-resulting blocks and 8.47 knockdowns per game.
Despite missing the team's first four games while recovering from off-season left shoulder surgery, Pugh became the team's first offensive lineman to earn All-American honors (third-team by The NFL Draft Report) since center John Flannery in 1990…He was also named All-Big East Conference for the third-consecutive year, marking his second-straight campaign as a first-team choice…Started the final nine games at left offensive tackle, where he recorded thirteen touchdown-resulting blocks for a running attack that scored 21 times and averaged 187.00 yards per game…Registered 102 knockdowns, marking the first time an Orange lineman recorded back-to-back seasons of at least 100 KDs…Helped the team set school season-records for pass completions (295), touchdown passes (26), aerial yards (3,757, as they ranked second in the Big East and 29th nationally with an average of 289.00 yards per game) and total offense (6,188 yards, as they led the league and tied for 17th in the FBS with an average of 476.00 yards)…In nine games with Pugh in the lineup, the Orange allowed ten sacks for minus 62 yards, but in the four games he missed, the front wall yielded six sacks for losses of 30 yards…In five of his nine appearances, the Orange generated at least 500 yards in total offense and Syracuse would close out the season with multiple touchdown rushing efforts in each of their last six contests…In the Connecticut clash, he delivered fourteen knockdowns and two touchdown-resulting blocks, including one that stopped linebacker Sio Moore on a 4-yard touchdown run by reserve tailback Prince-Tyson Gulley that began the second half scoring onslaught in a 40-10 Syracuse victory…Posted twelve knockdowns with another multiple touchdown-resulting-blocks performance vs. Louisville, crushing defensive end Marcus Smith on a 35-yard scoring scamper by tailback Jerome Smith, as the Orange generated 524 yards for the day…Pugh produced his third two-touch-down resulting blocks effort in five games, as he delivered thirteen knockdowns to help the offense amass 470 yards, killing the blitz when he upended linebacker Blaze Caponegro on a 24-yard touchdown toss from QB Ryan Nassib to Marcus Sales.
Pugh started all twelve games for the Orange, earning All-Big East Conference first-team honors, as the left offensive tackle became the first Syracuse player since John Flannery in 1990 to record at least 100 knockdowns in a season…Registered 101 knockdowns and fourteen touchdown-resulting blocks, paving the way for a 1,000-yard ball carrier for the second-straight season in tailback Antwon Bailey (1,051 yards)…The offense averaged 120.42 yards rushing, 227.75 yards passing and 24.17 points per game, as the amassed 4,178 total yards…While Pugh allowed just one sack, the Orange blockers yielded 29 for losses totaling 155 yards…Helped the team gain at least 400 yards in total offense in each of the West Virginia (443) and South Florida (405) clashes…Posted multiple touchdown-resulting blocks vs. Wake Forest, as the team scored five times vs. the Demon Deacons…
Also had two touchdown-resulting blocks and a season-best fifteen knockdowns in a 37-34 decision over Tulane.
Pugh garnered All-Big East Conference second-team honors, as he started all thirteen games at the demanding left tackle position…The red-shirt freshman was credited with 85 knockdowns and thirteen touchdown-resulting blocks while paving the way for tailback Delone Carter's 1,233-yard rushing campaign…Also helped the Orange convert on 34-of-40 (.850) chances in the red zone, which tied for second in the conference…Syracuse would average 322.85 yards per game, but the front wall was charged with 33 sacks for minus 232 yards.
Pugh redshirted as a freshman.
2012 Season…Pugh was held out of spring drills with what the coaches termed an "upper body" injury that was later revealed to be a left shoulder injury that would not only require surgery, but forced Pugh to miss the first four games of the season.
Pugh attended Council Rock South (Holland, Pa.) High School, playing football for head coach Vince Bedesem…Earned the Maxwell Award, which is presented to the Top 50 high school scholar-athletes in the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) during his senior season. The award recognizes athletics, academics and community service…Added All-Area and All-Suburban One League first-team honors as a junior and senior, in addition to being named second-team All-Area and All-State as a defensive line-man by the Pennsylvania Football News during the 2008 schedule…Earlier in his career, he was a second-team All-Area choice as a sophomore offensive tackle…The senior was named his team's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year while serving as team captain in 2008…Selected to play for Pennsylvania in the 2009 Big 33 All-Star Classic…Also heavily involved in Special Olympics and volunteered for Athletes Helping Athletes.
Pugh graduated in December, 2012, with a degree in Finance from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management…Son of Carolyn and Frank Gavaghan…Born Justin David Pugh … in August 1990…Resides in Holland, Pennsylvania.