Speed kills, and if Cornell’s fleet-footed wide receivers have their way this season, they will be burning opposing secondaries up and down Schoellkopf Field. While this talented group returns just one senior, Keith Ferguson, it boasts several players who have had extensive game time.
Ferguson, the Red’s leading receiver a season ago, will once again look to be the focal point of the team’s passing attack. The 5-9 wideout has excelled in his first three seasons on the East Hill, snatching 41 balls in both his freshman and sophomore years and a career-high 50 in the 2001 campaign. His 50 catches last season netted him 507 yards, which were also a team-high.
While Ferguson averaged just over 10 yards per reception last season, he is undoubtedly Cornell’s biggest playmaker on the offensive side of the ball.
“He’s going to make big plays all the time,” senior tight end Matt Wise said. “He’s quick and makes guys miss. He just comes up with balls when he really shouldn’t.”
Junior John Kellner will start across from Ferguson after achieving unexpected success as the team’s third receiver last year. Receiving significant playing time in the 2001 season, Kellner caught a team-best three touchdowns, while gaining 437 yards on his 31 receptions. With extended time on the field this season, Kellner will be counted upon to give the Red a solid secondary receiver.
“They’ll be seeing [Kellner] 50 percent more than last year and that’s a lot more trouble,” Ferguson said.
Coming in on passing downs, juniors Chad Nice and Vic Yanz will give senior quarterback Mick Razzano additional down field targets. In his first season as a wideout last season, Nice secured 12 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. In his limited action, Nice flashed big-play potential, including a 45-yard catch and run against Brown. Meanwhile, Yanz will give the Red a dependable possession receiver after catching eight balls for 114 yards last season.
With opposing defenses certain to key in on Ferguson in the early part of the season, it will be necessary for the other receivers to establish themselves as legitimate threats.
“Ferg is going to see some double teams this year, and my goal is to not let them do that,” Kellner said. “If they double him, then I’m going to be single-covered and I’m going to have to make big plays to get the double teams off of Ferg.”
For his part, Ferguson believes that his fellow pass-catchers can utilize their speed to stretch the field and create opportunities for him.
“We’ve got great speed at the position this year, and I just don’t see teams being able to key in on one guy,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy to double-team me because those guys can definitely play, and they’re going to help me out.”
As a unit, the Cornell receivers do not boast extraordinary size. In fact, Nice is the biggest of the group at 6-0, 186 pounds. However, the group is blessed with excellent speed, which should pose problems for opponents who choose to play the Red with man-to-man coverage.
Besides catching balls, a requisite for a receiving corps is throwing blocks for other ballcarriers. In that respect, no member of the group does a better job than Cornell’s starting tight end, Wise. Although Wise does not earn many individual accolades, he excels at his often overlooked job as a blocker, and will once again be an integral cog of the team’s ground attack.
Wise has managed just nine catches in three prior seasons, but he gives the team a strong blocker on the end of the line. At 6-0, 255 lbs., he acts as virtually a sixth offensive lineman.
However, in addition to his blocking duties, he may be called upon to take on more of a burden as a pass-catcher this coming season. With a relatively inexperienced quarterback, Wise’s ability to work the middle of the field will be crucial to the passing attack.
“We’re doing a lot with the tight end this year, getting the tight end as the primary receiver on some plays,” Wise said.
With the elusive Ferguson leading the way and a strong supporting cast behind him, the Cornell receiving corps looks to post big numbers in the coming season.
“We expect to be the best group in the league,” Ferguson said emphatically.
Archived article by Alex Ip