September 21, 2001

From Pupil to Mentor

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It took now senior Pete Iverson just one look at the scoreboard.

One glance confirmed the unrelenting void created by being on the losing end of the biggest game of his career. It was the state semifinals, senior year in high school, and his team had just been defeated by the No. 1 ranked squad.

As he walked off the field, the bitter taste of losing still fresh in his mind, Iverson realized it would not be his last football game.

The experience left the Mayer, Ariz., native anxious to find a spot on collegiate roster. Fate had it that Cornell was in need of a kicker. So under the guidance of his father, Iverson sent in game tape to the Red’s coaching staff, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Iverson recalls that he had some offers from D-III programs, but the opportunity to play on the hallowed Schoellkopf Field was certainly the most enticing proposition.

“I wanted to see a different part of the country, and Cornell has a great engineering school,” the kicker mused.

From the very beginning Iverson was involved in big plays on East Hill. His first kick for the carnelian and white came in the nearly sold out inaugural game at Princeton’s Palmer Stadium in 1998.

“I was pretty much overwhelmed. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life,” a humble Iverson noted.

And certainly it would presage a career loaded with clutch kicks. By the end of his first season, he was recognized with an award as the freshman to have the greatest impact on the team.

In his rookie season, Iverson handled only the kick-off duties, but by the middle of his sophomore campaign, he saw his responsibilities expanded to include place-kicking. And though his opportunities were limited, he did not disappoint — going a perfect seven for seven on field goals and an unblemished three for three on point after tries.

But numbers do not sufficiently capture the one moment in his sophomore year that will forever stand out in his mind.

Three days prior to the Red’s duel with Columbia, senior place-kicker John McCombs ’98 lost his father. McCombs had been a mentor of sorts for Iverson and the news sent shock waves through the Cornell club. The morning of the game, Iverson received a call from the senior who offered a few words of encouragement before wishing his pupil good luck.

As destiny would have it, the game came down to the final minute. With Cornell trailing by one point with just thirty-eight seconds left, Iverson calmly entered the game and sent a thirty-nine yard kick through the uprights.

He had just one game of place kicking experience entering the contest.

“It was one of the toughest games I have ever played in,” he stated, adding that he still keeps in touch with McCombs who is now in the Army.

Despite awesome individual efforts throughout his career, Iverson wants nothing more than an Ivy ring to cap of his time on East Hill.

“I want to make every field goal I take and I want to get every kickoff into the back of the end zone, but a championship is the most important thing. Individual awards are not a focus for anyone,” Iverson explained.

The kicker believes the coaching change and the accompanying shift in philosophy can help advance those goals.

“I’m really happy with head coach [Tim] Pendergast. He gives [the kickers] individual attention. He loves the game of football and is a really personable guy. He is just what the team needed,” Iverson observed.

As the lone senior in a youthful kicking corps, Iverson is hoping he can continue the legacy of his mentor, McCombs. With the roster boosting two freshmen kickers in Mike Baumgartel and Trevor MacMeekin, Iverson is prepared to be a leader.

“I really appreciate what John did for me, I want to be able to give [the freshmen] the same,” he reflected.

If last year is any indication, the Red can expect great things from Iverson this year. In his junior campaign he made a career long 42-yard field goal against Colgate. He notched a trio of three-point efforts in the game, tying a school record. On the season he had 46 points — second on the team. Those numbers have the coaching staff excited.

“Pete Iverson is a real weapon, and not just as a guy that scores points [on PATs and FGs] but also as a kickoff guy,” Pendergast praised.

And perhaps if Iverson has the season the staff and those surrounding Cornell football expect him to have, an Ivy title may be within reach. If that happens on Nov. 17th, then in his final game in a Cornell uniform, he can walk off the field, look at the scoreboard and simply smile, knowing he accomplished what he set out to do on a similar fall day four years ago.

Archived article by Gary Schueller