Ironic as it sounds, the biggest player in Cornell”s defensive backfield will start this year playing the weak side of the ball. That man is senior Joel Sussman, and his title — whip — belies a fierce competitor when it comes to wrecking opposing offenses.
Standing 6-4 and weighing 232 pounds, Sussman delivers blows with remarkable speed and power, such that he has built a reputation as one of the most respected players on the team. Despite missing the 2003 season to injury, Sussman returns to the defense after leading it with 90 tackles as a sophomore.
This year, however, he will have a different view of the field, as he moves back from his normal position at outside linebacker to whip in the defensive backfield. The move will free him to roam the backside of the play, containing counters while looking to blindside unsuspecting quarterbacks and play search-and-destroy with ballcarriers.
‘Basically, I”m doing the same stuff this year, I just have a different name,’ Sussman said. ‘But I also have greater responsibilities, and the defense is a little more complex.’
The decision to move Sussman came after Cornell”s new coaches met in the offseason to review game films and move players to positions where they could have the greatest impact, the place where they could most help the team. When safeties coach Brad Beerwinkel saw tapes of Sussman”s sophomore campaign, he knew right away the big man was a perfect fit for the role.
‘We decided to move him back because he”s a playmaker,’ Beerwinkel said. ‘At his position, he”ll be freed up most of the time and have the opportunity to make some big plays, big hits. I knew he was coming back from an injury, but he”s 100-percent now, ready to play.’
At the whip, Sussman will be an integral part of both pass and run defenses.
‘On passing downs, Joel will blitz the passer, but he”ll also move up for run support if we need him,’ said head coach Jim Knowles “87. ‘He”s a safety who plays well all over the field.’
With Sussman comes fellow senior and co-captain Brad Kitlowski. The duo has spent its time together at Schoellkopf filling the role of bookends at outside backer, and now at whip and strong safety, respectively. Together, they make a remarkably effective package.
‘Kitlowski is great. We constantly bounce ideas off each other, and we just know where the other guy”s going to be and what he”s going to do,’ Sussman said. ‘It”s a good team.’
But while no one questions their chemistry, assuming new roles late in their careers may prove challenging.
‘They”re the most untested part of our defense right now. ‘ Knowles said. ‘They have to play with discipline, and they”ll have to play with great technique.’
Despite the late transition, new responsibilities, and crushing pressure to perform, Sussman feels fully confident in his ability to step up and excel in his role.
‘I have really high expectations,’ he said.
‘I told Joel at the end of last year that if he didn”t come back and make first team All-Ivy, something”s wrong,’ he said.
‘He”s going to be in a position to get the stats to make it: tackles for loss, sacks, total tackles. And he can do it.’
While all agree that has the ability to stalk opponents and, perhaps, turn the tide of a game with his big-play prowess, Sussman felt leery about making any predictions for this season, saying, ‘You”ll just have to come out and watch.’
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor