With senior captain Nate Spitler leading the way, the Cornell linebacker corps is expected to be the backbone of a strong, veteran defensive unit. The speedy backers all have the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline, and their play could very well determine the success of the team.
Spitler, the man in the middle, is the unquestioned leader of the Red’s defense. The fiery inside linebacker was selected as a preseason honorable mention All-American by Don Hansen and is one of the top players at his position in the conference. He made a team-high 70 tackles in the 2001 campaign, including 31 solos and 39 assists, leading to an honorable mention All-Ivy award at season’s end.
Starting for the second consecutive season, senior inside linebacker Jarad Madea adds stability to the linebacker position. Madea was one of Cornell’s leading tacklers last season, making 19 solo tackles and helping on 28 other stops.
Having played a year together, Spitler and Madea are expected to be a dynamic duo in the heart of the defense.
“When they are playing well, they have the ability potentially to be the best pair of inside linebackers in the league,” Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast said.
Sophomore outside linebacker Brad Kitlowski will be filling the role of the departed Phil Rigueur ’02. As a rookie last year, Kitlowski contributed immediately, making 35 total tackles in a reserve role. Of his 35 tackles, five were for a loss, showing Kitlowski’s penchant for big plays.
Joel Sussman, another sophomore, will be the mirror of Kitlowski at the other outside linebacker spot. Sussman recorded just 17 tackles in his rookie campaign but made significant contributions on special teams.
Despite the relative inexperience of his two young outside linebackers, Pendergast believes that they are quality players who will make plays when called upon.
“Right now they’re pretty good players. They’re good playmakers, and they’ve got a lot of confidence,” he said. “They’re both intense, dedicated football players.”
Others expected to see time at the position are juniors Jim Hilliard and Daane Reinking, sophomores Dan Collins and Sean Sansiveri, and freshman John Nelson.
Now in the second year of defensive coordinator Jim Pletcher’s scheme, the players can be expected to perform at a much higher level.
“I think our whole defense has learned a lot, and I’ve really learned a lot about my responsibilities,” Spitler said. “I feel like we have a lot better knowledge of what we’re trying to get done. It helps a lot, and it’ll show early on without as many mental mistakes and missed assignments.”
Madea also stressed the importance of having a year of experience under his belt.
“We’ve got good talent there this year, and all of us have one more year of experience from last year,” he said. “We’re all better.”
With an inexperienced offense, the defense, headed by the linebackers may be called upon to step up its game in the early parts of the season.
“Defense can win games,” Spitler noted. “We definitely need to go out and play our side of the ball the best we can. And early on, it could make a difference in some games.”
Spitler’s partner in crime, Madea, concurred.
“The expectations are that we’ve got to lead this defense, and I think we can do that,” he said. “We have to be strong and be the leading unit.”
Archived article by Alex Ip