No Joking

Because of his size and strength and sheer nastiness, Christian Ferrara is the last person you'd expect to count himself as a member of a group called The Wookie Brothers. Yet Ferrara's a proud part - and, moreover, a founding father - of the Syracuse football team's best pranksters.

Ferrara and fellow defensive linemen Josh Thomas and Louis Gachelin founded The Wookie Brothers last year as a way to keep a light mood during the Orangemen's 4-8 season. Defensive backs Diamond Ferri and Anthony Smith joined the ranks this year.

Our motto is: No Loyalty, No Honor, Ferrara said.

So The Wookie Brothers get their kicks out of taping teammates' lockers shut and spreading joke rumors among the coaching staff.

People looked at us, Ferrara said, and they said, ‘That's what keeps those guys together.'

And such is Ferrara's task this season: Hold together a defense that allowed 33.8 points per game last fall. Ferrara's attitude makes him the perfect player for the job. As the Orangemen's senior nose tackle, he must take on two offensive linemen during every play - a duty that has nurtured his mean streak.

He's a little bit crazy, said Gachelin, Ferrara's roommate. On the field, he's like a fighter going into the boxing ring. That mean streak is something we've missed here for a very long time.

Christian's a worker, defensive end Julian Pollard said. To see how mean and tough he is, you kind of feed off that.

Just how nasty is Ferrara?

I just say what I want when I want to say it, he said. If someone on the other team says something, I'll say something back like ‘I'll be on you all day.' Stuff like that. I have a bad attitude on the field. You've got to earn it.

Injuries silenced Ferrara for part of last year. During spring practices in 2002, he tore his biceps muscle, which prevented him from lifting weights from April to June. Then he hurt his knee in the Orangemen's season opener at Brigham Young and sat out two games.

Still, Ferrara registered 29 tackles, fourth on the team. He had a career-high five solo tackles at West Virginia. In his first two games this year, against North Carolina and Louisville, Ferrara made 10 tackles- two for a loss.

Perhaps his production stems from the Orangemen's efficiency-minded defensive motto: Six Seconds Punish. Since the average play last six seconds, Syracuse coaches want their players to punish their opponents for the duration.

That shouldn't be a problem for Ferrara.

The only thing I took (out of last year) was hatred against the teams we should've beat, he said. We were ticked off going into North Carolina and Louisville. I don't think those guys wanted to hit us. But with us, you're going to get hit. We're not gonna be patty-cakin'.

I wanna have one of the best defenses in the country-if not the best. And me, Josh and Louis have to be the best players on the defense for our unit to be successful. We can't slack off.

To that end, SU coaches concentrated on fundamentals and technique during what Ferrara called the Orangemen's most focused summer practices since he arrived on campus in 1999.

Syracuse originally recruited Ferrara as an offensive lineman, since he played offensive and defensive line at West Essex Regional High, where his strength coach was former SU linebacker Bill Wosilius.

After redshirting in 1999, SU coaches switched Ferrara to defense because he was too small to play on the offensive line. The move fit Ferrara perfect, and he played in all 11 games during the 2000 season. As a sophomore, he started every game and registered 10 sacks and 4 1Ú2 forced fumbles.

Now, as a senior, he's entrusted with more than just tackling opponents. He works with younger defensive linemen like Pollard, Kader Drame and Ryan LaCasse, helping them hone their skills.

The better he is, Pollard said, the better we are.

I'm looking for Josh, Christian, along with Jameel Dumas and Rich Scanlon and Louis Gachelin, to be the foundation of the defense, SU head coach Paul Pasqualoni said at the Orangemen's media day in August. Those guys have been in a lot of football games. They've played a lot of reps around here. They know what it is about. They need to set the tempo.

When Ferrara, who is enrolled in the School of Education as a selective studies major, finishes passing his knowledge - and mean streak - along to the Orangemen's younger defenders, he hopes to open his own gym. Ferrara's friend who owns a successful Power House Gym near Ferrara's home in North Caldwell, N.J., sparked Ferrara's interest in the venture.

I'd enjoy going to work every day, Ferrara said.

Until then, Ferrara will have to enjoy the rest of his senior season - putting in long hours at practice, hitting opponents on Saturdays and playing pranks with The Wookie Brothers.

And, as nasty as he is, he relishes every minute of it.

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