Common themes of the football team’s lineup this year are inexperience, youth, and question marks. One position where such words have no place is the trenches of the defensive line. Characterized instead by game experience, knowledge of the system, and depth, the four-man front of Cornell’s defense is sure to be a bright spot game in and game out this season.
At the defensive end position, Cornell returns two players that saw significant reps at the end of last season and will be the driving force on the outside this year.
Senior Pete Combe is looking to close out a successful run with the Red, having played in nearly every game since arriving on East Hill. Combe has 94 tackles and five sacks in his career. Having played in just under 30 games in his three prior seasons, Combe brings a unique aspect to the defense: game-situation know-how.
Junior Kevin Rooney, who also saw significant time during the latter stages of the 2001 season, will be called upon for more production heading into this campaign. At 6-3, 252 lbs., Rooney presents the most physically intimidating presence at the end position.
“Those are the guys who have the experience and know what the position is all about,” said head coach Tim Pendergast of the upperclass tandem. “We’ll call on them to make the consistent plays as the season moves along.”
Adding depth at defensive end will be junior Ryan Lempa, who was injured last summer in a non-football-related incident and was forced to sit out all last season. Lempa has responded like a true warrior, getting himself back in shape.
Rounding out the big four on the outside is sophomore Jason Morgan. Morgan is a popular choice among many as a player to watch on this year’s defense and should provide a consistent spark for the Red.
With a blend of speed and power at his disposal, defensive line coach Pete DeStefano will look to disrupt offenses by giving teams unique looks.
“We have the opportunity to do a lot of things on the outside with the mix of players we have in the four-man rotation,” said DeStefano, “our pass rush from the ends will be much better than last year, no doubt.”
Complementing the talent and speed on the ends will be the power of Cornell’s defensive tackles. As with the end position, Cornell runs a four-man rotation in the middle — which creates a revolving door effect.
“We have a concept that eight travel, eight play,” said senior tackle Jesse Rodriguez.
Anchoring the middle will be Rodriguez, who was once described by a teammate as “playing with his hair on fire all the time.” Rodriguez is one of the emotional leaders on the team and brings an attitude of complete effort to every game and practice. Rodriguez’s blue-collar work ethic garnered him 27 tackles last season, 12 of which were for losses.
“He’s one of those guys you have to have on the field,” said DeStefano, “he’s more or less the bus driver of the front line.”
At Rodriguez’s shoulder will be classmate Bill Goodrich. Goodrich is a third year starter who had nine solo tackles last year. Goodrich is a quiet contributor who tends to do the little things that don’t translate into big statistics.
Junior Mike Stone will play a major role in the line rotation. Stone played all last season on a bad ankle but is healthy coming into this fall, which bodes poorly for opposing quarterbacks.
Completing the rotation is sophomore Mike McGinty, who already knows how to play in the big game. McGinty attended St. Ignatius High School in Ohio, one of the most dominant programs in the nation.
Most important for this year’s defensive line is a departure from last year’s vulnerability to the big play.
“Our main problems last year were alignment problems,” said Rodriguez, “this year we’re more confident in the system and will look to execute out of that experience.”
With added emphasis on constant pursuit and a slew of big-play linemen, the defense will look to its front four to be the driving force behind a successful 2002 season.
Archived article by Scott Jones