With the kickoff of a brand new season for any team comes a hopeful outlook and a thirst for redemption. This feeling is especially true for Cornell football — a team with two wins under its belt in as many seasons.
“I think we’re ready to play,” said head coach David Archer ’05.
“It’s definitely a long process, especially being at an Ivy League school where you don’t play until two weeks after everyone else,” added senior captain and tight end Matt Sullivan. “We’re ready. We used the five weeks the best we could. In my four years, at least for the offense, we are the most prepared we’ve ever been, prepared to win games.”
By preparing for a new season, the Red has also been prepping to face a familiar foe in Bucknell, whom they have played 56 times in team history. A revived spirit of readiness will come to center stage on the road this weekend against a Bison team that went 4-7 (1-5 Patriot) this past season.
The biggest question for Cornell and Bucknell’s next meeting, however, is the health of Bucknell’s senior quarterback R.J. Nitti, who has started the past two seasons. In the last meeting between the two teams, Nitti threw for 174 yards, two touchdowns and completed 61 percent of his passes against the Red’s third best pass defense in the league.
In his second game of the season, the Bison quarterback went out with an injury against Duquesne, making his status for Saturday is uncertain.
“With [Bucknell], it’s the question of who is going to play quarterback,” Archer said. “[Nitti’s] a super kid, a tough kid. His brother played for us here when I was assistant. I know if there any way he can physically play he’ll do it.”
Even with Nitti’s questionable status, Archer knows there are plenty of players to look out for on Bucknell’s roster.
“They return a big, physical offensive line,” he said. “Will Carter, their receiver, is a real deep ball threat. And on defense they pride themselves on taking the ball away and they have done that very well their first two games. This year we have to play each play, stay in the now, and get our jobs done.”
Facing Bucknell for yet another season, the team feels it has done enough this offseason to reclaim a win against the Bison.
“It’s been a nice preseason,” said senior captain and linebacker Jackson Weber. “Our attention to detail has improved this past offseason. We made a lot of growth the past few weeks and it’ll be nice getting into a game this weekend.”
On top of practices and workouts, the Red scrimmaged against some schools already this year to get back in the gameday mindset.
“What was great was that two weeks ago we went down to Schenectady, so it was really like the same thing,” Sullivan said. “You get there after a two and a half to three hour drive, get in the locker room, get ready to go and go play. We had great results there and it will show dividends this Saturday. We saw that we can do it.”
One key difference in this year’s tilt is the void left by some key Cornellians from graduation and injury. At the linebacker position, J.J. Fives ’16 is now an alumnus and Miles Norris will likely be out for the season after suffering an achilles injury at the beginning of the year.
“Those are two huge loses,” Weber said. “But we still have a solid core group, some guys who have played a decent amount of games. We take the same mindset every day, just work to improve the linebacker group and defense as a whole.”
The Red’s quarterback will also take on new face, as Archer and his staff have elected to start sophomore Dalton Banks after an impressive offseason. He replaces Robert Somborn, who started all 10 games during the 2015 campaign.
“[Banks] took the open depth chart competition very seriously and performed very well in the spring,” Archer said. “He can make all the throws on the field. He is a football junkie, always watching tape and preparing. He does a lot of nice things and will go out there as the starting quarterback. We’ll see how he does in a real game situation.”
With the offseason slowly fading away, Cornell has honed its skills and will put a renewed sense of belief to the test this Saturday night in Lewisburg.
“Right now it’s about managing those emotions to make sure we’re all good with our assignment and execution and to realize the ball goes in the air Saturday at 6 p.m.,” Archer said, eager to get a season underway.