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Sean Tucker on return to Syracuse next year: ‘I believe a lot I’m going to be here’

Syracuse football running back Sean Tucker has established himself as one of the nation’s top players this fall. The second-year standout from Baltimore set the program’s single-season rushing record at No. 25 North Carolina State on Saturday, breaking a mark held by Joe Morris for 42 years. Earlier in the season, Tucker reeled off seven consecutive 100-yard performances — including a 200-yarder against Boston College — good for another SU record.

On Tuesday, ahead of a bowl-or-bust regular-season against No. 20 Pittsburgh, Tucker was asked a logical series of questions. With the passing of the one-time transfer rule and the nationwide acceleration of in-season transfers, reporters broached the 2022 season with Tucker.

The soft-spoken back said that he thinks he’ll be in Central New York next year — “I believe a lot,” he said to a follow-up — but that he’ll finalize his decision after sitting down with family at the end of the season.

When asked if he could see a variable besides the departure of head coach Dino Babers leading him to entering the portal, Tucker said, ‘No.’

Tucker’s messaging lays important context to the choice SU athletic director John Wildhack, chancellor Kent Syverud and Board of Trustees members have in their hands — whether to keep Babers on for a seventh season. The 60-year-old addressed his job security at his Monday press conference, leaning into a control-the-controllables approach.

“This is a very easy, very easy question to answer,” Babers said. “My job belongs to my employer. My career belongs to me. I only control the things that I can control. I also believe that good coaches get hired and good coaches get fired. And really, really, really good coaches get re-hired. But I’ve always thought that, for 35 years, whether I was an assistant, a coordinator or a head coach. It’s not the most important thing.”

Going into Week 13, Tucker ranks third nationally in rushing yards through 11 games with 1,467, trailing only Lew Nichols (Central Michigan) and Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State). He’s become the centerpiece of the Syracuse offense, so much so that Babers shifted his veer-and-shoot scheme toward a run-oriented approach in Week 4. The head coach turned to Mississippi State quarterback transfer Garrett Shrader, in place of pass-first veteran Tommy DeVito.

If Tucker does return in 2022, he would have the 6-foot-4, 230-pound bruising Shrader back with him as well as senior fullback/tight end Chris Elmore, a valuable lead blocker who only appeared in four games this year due to a combination of injury and undisclosed reasoning. Babers announced on Monday that Elmore would return redshirt this year and return for a sixth season.

“It definitely means a lot,” Tucker said. “He’s definitely an experienced guy, been here a long time, and having him in the backfield with me would definitely help.”

Tucker and the Orange (5-6, 2-5 ACC) wrap up the 2021 regular season on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Panthers (8-2, 5-1) present one of the most difficult tests of the season, going into the matchup as a double-digit favorite.