The sprint football team enters the 2002 season looking for its first winning campaign in a decade. The brief six-game schedule does not allow for many mishaps, and last Friday’s season-opening 17-3 loss to Penn will make the Red’s quest difficult. Nonetheless, a multitude of returning starters on both sides of the ball gives Cornell its best chance of breaking the .500 barrier in recent history.
At the helm of the 165-pound-and-under squad will be Terry Cullen, a Cornell coach since 1964. Cullen owns an 85-70-4 record and four CSFL championships. Although the Red has not won a championship since 1986, Cullen is cautiously optimistic about this year’s team.
“Our kids coming back are pretty good football players all across the board, and we’ve got one of the best freshman classes since I’ve been here. But it will be a very tough league,” he said. “Princeton only had three seniors last year. Penn returns all their skill players: quarterback, tailback, and two wideouts. They’re all-leaguers.
“Army and Navy are always two of the top teams. The league is always deep and competitive, and even more so this year.”
Senior captain Charlie Tam will inherit the starting quarterback job after seeing limited action last year. He will look to improve on last year’s numbers: 13 completions in 41 pass attempts for 133 yards and one touchdown. Tam is most effective as a runner, though. In 2001, he finished with 195 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.
“Charlie’s a legitimate tailback. In fact, that’s what he used to play for us,” Cullen said. “But last year we moved him to quarterback because we needed him there. He’d probably be a better tailback, but he will be a good player for us at quarterback too.”
Tam’s primary target will be first-team All-CSFL tight end Michael Ormsby. Last year, the junior hauled in a team-high 21 receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, junior wide receiver Henry Kim, who tallied over 100 yards and one touchdown, will be counted on to stretch opposing defenses.
Junior tailback Dean Coccaro will shoulder the bulk of the running duties. Last year Coccaro topped the team with 89 carries for 373 yards — a respectable 4.2 yards per attempt. His longest scamper was a team high 30-yard rush. The workhorse will look to improve upon 2001’s two rushing touchdowns.
Overall, eight players who saw considerable time on the line return, and Cullen considers the offensive line the team’s deepest area. Anchored by captain and first team All-CSFL offensive tackle Mike Rutenberg, the Red’s offensive line returns all its starters except at center.
On the other side of the ball, Cornell has implemented a new 4-4 defensive system, replacing last year’s 4-3.
“We’ve had trouble stopping the run the past two years and felt we needed to do something different. To stop the run, we need more people up in the box, and the 4-4 will allow us to do that,” Cullen said.
Nine seniors will start on defense, five of whom started last year. Two standouts on the line are defensive tackle and captain Jay Sackett, a four-year starter, and classmate defensive end Scott McQuade. The two combined for 42 tackles last year. Senior Greg Drakos will line up at the other end position with Jacob Fama as the other tackle.
Linebacker is an area of concern because of the transition to a 4-4, which places more responsibility on the position. Senior Eric Eisenhart and sophomore Andrew Snider were two of the Red’s most outstanding defensive performers last year, and they will be joined by seniors Parsa Kiai and Kent Ferguson at the starting linebacker position.
Leading the secondary will be cornerback and captain Adam Romeiser, a four-year starter. Joining Romeiser at the other corner will be returning starter senior Refugio Contreras. Romeiser led the secondary with 24 tackles in 2001, while Contreras contributed 11 tackles and one interception. The lone safety will be junior Timothy LaFrance.
Special teams should be another strong point for the Red. The kicking game will boast experience, with sophomore Chris Garnic handling both the placekicking and punting duties. The second-year player averaged a respectable 34 yards per punt last season and converted on four of five field goals and six of seven extra points.
Despite the loss to Penn, Cullen and the rest of the team remain confident in their ability to finish the season above .500. However, success will not be measured solely by wins and losses.
Cullen explained that the Red’s goal is to “play as well as we can play. We’ve traditionally had great enthusiasm, and we want to play a hard-hitting brand of football. We consider ourselves the strongest, toughest team in the league. We will try to maintain that. We teach kids if we do things right, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
Archived article by Mark Fetzko