September 21, 2001

On the Front Lines

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There are two old football adages about winning that apply to any defensive line: “Defense wins football games” and “The game is won in the trenches.”

If you take those thoughts and mix in a little, “Experience is critical to the success of any team,” and you have to have to be excited about Cornell’s prospects on the football field this year.

Anchored by six upperclassmen and armed with a new defensive scheme, the group appears to be designed to cause as many disruptions as possible in the backfield.

The new coaching staff has implemented the new attacking defense in an effort to shore up a crew that last year was below average on run defense and to give the potent quarterbacks of the Ivy League as little time as possible to throw.

Without pressure, it could be a very long year for the Cornell corners in the new 4-4 defense. But, with enough blitzes and enough penetration by the four men on the front line, the Red stands a good chance of stopping the likes of Penn QB Gavin Hoffman and Harvard QB Neil Rose.

Anchoring the middle of the line at the defensive tackle positions will be junior Jesse Rodriguez and senior George Paraskevopoulos. They will be primarily responsible for stopping the running game. Paraskevopoulos is one of the leaders of not only the line, but also of the whole defense. Paraskevopoulos stands 6-2, 289, and had 38 tackles last year, including 21 solo ones.

“I’m a run-stopper,” Paraskevopoulos said. “I can do my fair share of pass rushing and run stopping, and if I have to, I’ll try to be the strength of the D-line.”

Rodriguez is the smaller of the tackles,but doesn’t allow that to hold him back. He fits well into Cornell’s new belief in speed defense and at 6-0, 225, has the wheels to get to the ball carrier or the passer. He finished last year with three sacks.

“Jesse’s the little tyrant. He runs around with his hair on fire,” says Paraskevopoulos of his fellow tackle. “He’s the only guy on the team that I think enjoys practice just as much as he does the game.”

Backing up the two up will be the experienced Bill Goodrich, a junior who has battled injuries but provides strength and size, and Mike Stone, a sophomore.

Key to the line this year will be the play of its ends, who will be required to put as much pressure on quarterbacks as possible and improve their sack totals from the year before. On the right side is Brian Sacco, whose five sacks tied him for the team lead last year. He also recorded nine tackles for losses.

“Sacco’s a great pass rusher. He’s a leader and a great guy to be around,” said Paraskevopoulos. “He loves playing the game and it shows.”

Behind Sacco will be the Pete Combe, a junior who has never missed a game for the Red in two years. His role as a backup will not mean a change in his iron man streak however, as he will alternate in frequently. The ILR student recorded 36 tackles last year.

On the left end will be Rich Zacek, another senior defensive leader and a man who recorded four sacks for the Red in 2000.

In the end, the adage that may be of most importance to this line is one that Cornell hopes to prove wrong. With a new defensive style, a new coach and new schemes, head coach Tim Pendergast may simply be hoping that he can teach some old dogs new tricks.

Archived article by Charles Persons