Four seasons, two head coaches, finishes all over the Ivy League standings, and everything else the 16 members of the football team’s senior class have been through will come to a close on Saturday afternoon on Schoellkopf Field.
In its season finale against Penn, the Red will be playing for pride, as it goes out to even its season record at 5-5 and finish with a conference record above .500. And the senior class, with the wisdom of three seasons of Cornell football, already knows what both feelings are like.
The trip began in 1999, under the reins of then-head coach Pete Mangurian. On a team that went 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League, many members of the current senior class played as freshmen. Eleven players who will wear the Carnelian and White for the last time on Saturday saw significant action as a rookie.
The contributions continued in the team’s next season, as the squad went 5-5 but contended for the Ivy League title until the last day of the season, when Penn routed the Red to snatch away the crown. That loss still lingers with the players from that 2000 team.
“They took something from us,” said senior defensive lineman Pete Combe. “They took that ring.”
Last season was a difficult one, as the team had to adjust to a new coach and a new playbook. But under the leadership of co-captains linebacker Nate Spitler and fullback Nate Archer, Cornell bounced back from that 2-7 finish to compile a 4-5 record this year with just one game remaining. The senior class has been a big part of that rebound.
“The guys who are playing a lot, contributing a lot, they’re leading in a way that’s really hard to describe because of the emotion that they bring to the game, the leadership ability, the plays that they have made this year,” praised head coach Tim Pendergast.
The class of 2003 certainly has left its mark on the Red record books. Senior wide receiver Keith Ferguson, most notably, has rewritten the top of the receiving lists at Cornell, setting the marks for career receptions (198) and career yardage (2,532). Senior cornerback Vince Bates also is in the books as the last Red returner to bring a punt back for a touchdown, which he did against Harvard in his freshman year. In his sophomore year, he established the school record for kick return yardage (814).
“This is the last time we’ll all be together at Schoellkopf unless it’s graduation, but we won’t have the big ‘C’ on our heads,” said Ferguson.
Although the seniors won’t be on the field together after this weekend, Pendergast was sure the football program wouldn’t forget their contributions.
“While they’ll be gone eventually from us physically after Saturday, they’ll always be with us,” he said. “They’ll always be a part of this program. And when we win consistently around here, and win big, those guys are a part of it. They’re not forgotten.”
The senior class will be honored at Saturday’s game with an on-field ceremony, where the players’ parents will join them on the turf.
Although their time on the field is coming to an end, the seniors still have one task ahead of them before they focus on life after football: beating the Quakers.
“I’ll worry about not being a football player after Saturday is over,” said Combe.
Archived article by Alex Fineman