August 29, 2002

Team Mixes Experience, Youth

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With some Division I-A football programs already taking the field for games, the Cornell gridders’ opening day of Sept. 21 at Bucknell seems very distant.

However, that date — over three weeks away — is more of a blessing to the Red, which has been practicing for less than a week and has one of the youngest squads in the league to boot.

As the roster stands right now, almost three quarters of the personnel are made up of freshmen and sophomores. There are only 15 seniors on the roster. With a team so inexperienced, the late start to the season will give head coach Tim Pendergast more time to bring the new players up to speed with a system the rest of the team is already accustomed to.

“Those guys are not ready yet. With all the orientation that’s going on around the freshmen, those guys have only been to about two full practices,” Pendergast said between practices on Tuesday. “Things for them won’t settle down until classes start, and then once classes start it’s the confusion of ‘Where’s Roberts Hall?’ ‘Where’s the cafeteria?’ things along those lines.”

The rookies will have a month to get acclimated to life at Cornell while balancing football practice. Meanwhile freshmen at major D I-A programs go through an orientation program over the summer and report to camp long before classes begin.

The good news for Pendergast’s young troops is that they join returning players who have played a year in the system already. Although Cornell struggled through a 2-7 season (2-5 Ivy) in 2001, the Red was still learning a new playbook.

Now in Pendergast’s second year at the reins, he can worry more about introducing the new players to his program instead of introducing his program to an entire team.

“Each day that we went through last season was a new day, it was the first day that we were doing something. Now it’s more routine,” he explained. “Now it’s making sure the freshmen are fitting in, following along, and understanding where they have to be and when they have to be there.”

The progress of the freshmen has been quicker than expected, according to senior safety Jamie Moriarty.

“The freshman class looks good. We’ve got some good kids at each position that are learning the system fast, which is good. Usually it takes them a little bit of time. They’re doing pretty good keeping up with the upperclassmen,” he said. “It helps us out a lot because we are able to rely on the younger guys. Usually when you’re out there you have to worry about what they’re doing, and it kind of takes away from what you’re doing.”

As far as the veterans like Moriarty go, the year of experience will prove very useful, particularly on defense, where several key players are returning.

“We will be better in those areas because we’ve grown and guys are experienced at least one year in the defense now, so they have a better grasp of it and a better understanding,” Pendergast said.

On the offensive side of the football, Cornell has lost several key players, most notably quarterback Ricky Rahne ’02 and running back Evan Simmons ’02. However, senior captain and fullback Nate Archer was confident that the turnover wouldn’t adversely affect the offense.

“We got a really good line, I feel,” Archer said. “We got a good backfield and adequate quarterbacks to step in and fill the void that Ricky Rahne left.”

Last year’s campaign was doubly difficult for Pendergast and his players, since the team was largely underclassmen tryiPTIOo learn a new system. This season, one of those obstacles isn’t a problem. Inexperience, though, still will trouble the Red again.

“I’d like to get to the point in this program where we don’t have to rely on the freshmen, because of all they have to go through, they just, generally speaking, aren’t ready,” said Pendergast. “Are we at that point yet? I don’t know. I think maybe in some spots we might.”

Pendergast was very confident about what his few upperclassmen bring to the table in the leadership department, an important factor in bringing the young players along.

“If you can be a leader and withstand the peer pressure, then that’s great, and I think we’ve got that this year,” he said. “I feel very good with what I see in selected individuals in the senior class and the junior class.”

Archived article by Alex Fineman