Soon after head coach Pete Mangurian and his staff arrived on campus during the fall of 1998, one of their primary concerns became the matter of replacing John Hanson ’99.
Hanson, a four-year starter at linebacker, set a Cornell record with a frightening 530 tackles, including 135 his senior season. And when he graduated only a year into Mangurian’s tenure, Hanson left a gaping void at the linebacker position.
Fortunately, Dave Pitman ’00 and Nate Fischer ’00 picked up the slack during the 1999 campaign, combining for 166 tackles. But their graduation this May meant that the linebacker spot was once again put in dire straits.
Not to fear, though. With two returning seniors and a quartet of eager sophomores, the linebacking crew looks to be in safe hands.
Senior Dan Weyandt (recently elected team co-captain), having started at middle linebacker last season, appears the likely leader of group. He ranked behind Pitman and safety David Caputo ’00 with 89 tackles.
“He’s experienced, he’s in tremendous shape, he keeps his wits about him, he’s calm, but he’s an emotional player when the ball snaps,” Mangurian praised.
“I feel really good about that spot.”
While Weyandt takes care of the middle linebacker position, five others will rotate for the two remaining spots at outside linebacker.
Senior Tony Vitullo, who has shined in special teams throughout his career, should expect to see significant time at the position this season.
“Tony’s improved every single year [this coaching staff] has been here,” stated Gigantino, continuing, “He’s played better this spring and in training camp than he has since he’s been here.”
Also in the rotation for the outside slots are sophomores Nate Spitler, Pete Combe, Jarad Madea, and Derek Kingrey.
While all four got a taste of playing time last season, Spitler (20 tackles) and Combe (20 tackles, one sack) enjoyed the most significant amount.
“I think it gives them a little bit of experience,” Gigantino said, weighing the sophomores’ action last year.
The five will be expected to rotate in and out of action for the outside spots.
“[The rotation] is going to be the best thing for us,” Kingrey optimistically claimed. “All of us can do the job.”
While Weyandt has logged plenty of experience, for the rest of the linebacking squad, learning on the job will be the key to their success.
“Coach Gigantino calls it ‘live bullets.’ There’s not going to be a whole lot of time for us to ease into it and screw around. We’re really going to have to pick it up fast,” Combe wisely declared. “It’s just going to be a matter of going out and getting it done. There’s really no other option.”
Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj