Senior tailbacks Evan Simmons and Justin Dunleavy came into the Ivy League at the wrong time. Once the Ivies celebrated their rushers such as Yale’s Calvin Hill and Cornell’s own Ed Marinaro ’71 and the running game contributed to significant amounts of yardage. Those days have passed, though, and much to the dismay of the Red backfield.
“We hate to see the ball passed 60 times [in a game],” Dunleavy confessed.
And when asked if they think if the running back is underrated within the conference they answered in an unanimous yes. But change is in the air.
Under new head coach Tim Pendergast, Cornell has made a greater commitment to the running game. Part of that commitment came in the form of running back coach Scott Walker. Although he is the fourth person to occupy the position in four years, the running backs consider his arrival a large step up from their coach in past years.
“All our running back coaches have been great guys, young guys who’ve wanted to help us, but Scott Walker is by far the most qualified coach we’ve had. He knows everything there is to know about a running back. He teaches; he doesn’t preach. He’s able to let us run as running backs,” Dunleavy explained.
In addition, Pendergast typically devotes about half of practice on developing the running game.
“Last year the coaching staff was so quick to give up on something if it wasn’t going right,” Simmons remarked. “Drop the running game; go to the passing game.
“But this year appears to be really dedicated to actually running the ball,” he added.
With so much time and effort buried in the backfield there are plenty of expectations thrust upon the rushers, not to mention that last year’s entire backfield is returning.
Simmons, the leading rusher from last year with 611 yards, will be the starting tailback again this year. Pendergast sees a big year for the quick and explosive senior.
“Evan, I believe to be a 1,000 yard rusher,” the coach boasted. “Will he be? I don’t know. But he has the ability.”
Behind Simmons is another veteran, Dunleavy. Although not as fast as Simmons, Dunleavy more than compensates with his deceptive power. Unlike last year, the duo will be playing side-by-side in upcoming games.
“I think that the coaches understand when we have me and Justin in the backfield, that’s the best way for us to win games,” Simmons said. “[It] is not to have each of us on the field, one at a time, but both of us at the same time.”
Also adding his talent and experience is junior fullback Nate Archer, who only had two carries for five yard all of last year.
“Nate Archer is your typical bruising fullback,” Pendergast alleged. “We want a fullback who will strike — Nate will do that. But we also want a fullback who can pick up the tough four yards — Nate can do that.”
Classmate Brian Ulbricht returns this season after not playing in 2000. Although he is technically a fullback, he described as fitting into a tailback mold, being fast on his feet.
Although freshman Marcus Blanks will be playing behind Simmons and Dunleavy, the program has invested much confidence in his development. The 5-11, 175 rusher was one of Cornell’s most highly touted recruits, and will likely have increasing amounts of responsibility rested on his shoulders throughout the season.
“Right now Marcus is the best young guy coming,” Dunleavy observed. “He has a lot of talent, and he’s always asking questions.”
Archived article by Amanda Angel