Yale was just about to attempt a 42-yard field goal that would put the Elis up 10-6 over Cornell after 15 minutes of play. Yale kicker John Troost, in his first-ever collegiate field goal attempt, kicked it right … in to the hands of sophomore Joel Sussman.
Sussman then batted the ball to the ground where it was recovered by his classmate, Kyle Thomas, and run into the end zone. However, that wasn’t the only place where Sussman’s name appeared on the score sheet. In fact, he led the team in solo tackles (6) and tied Thomas for tops in total takedowns (12).
Even though the Red has played just two games, Sussman’s 22 tackles in 2002 is five better than he got through all of last season. He currently ranks third in the league and is on pace to have 110 tackles — a total that would have been best in the conference in 2001.
Sussman played a considerable amount for a freshman, but he was overshadowed by the accomplishments of another classmate, Brad Kitlowski, who started some games, accruing 35 tackles. In order to compete for the start at outside linebacker, Sussman spent his summer vacation in Ithaca preparing.
“We all worked hard in the offseason. About 20 to 25 of us stayed over the summer. I worked on conditioning, on strength. I watched a lot of tape of myself and what people have done before me to help me win the starting job,” he said.
Having his freshman year to make the transition to collegiate football also helped Sussman. He appeared in every one of Cornell’s games under head coach Tim Pendergast’s reign and knows the defense as well as some of the more veteran players. This familiarity, combined with more experience against opposing offenses, has also helped him.
“After a year with the constant repetition, you get a feel for it, what to do, where to be, what the guy next to you is going to do,” Sussman said. “You know what the other guy is going to do. You know what he thinks, you know how he plays a certain play.”
Sussman also has a penchant for making big plays, especially on special teams. Although his blocked kick last Saturday was the first Cornell has returned for a touchdown in 30 years, it was not his first blocked field-goal attempt. That came against Penn in the Red’s final game of last season. Yet, Sussman attributes the play to his teammates blocking in front of him.
“It was a good push by the D-line, and that’s always critical for the block because I have to get into their backfield to really get a good jump. With the good push, I was able to get into the backfield and get good height on the jump and just hit the check. And after that, we were just throwing blocks,” he said.
But individual statistics and accolades are not what Sussman is looking for right now. Getting the first win of the season under his belt is his main priority.
“Individual goals come after team goals. It would be great to be recognized as one of the top players in the Ivy League, but until our defense is recognized as the top defense in the Ivy League, individual efforts come later. We are all about winning games.”
But those wins haven’t come easily, as Cornell sports a 2-9 record in 2001 through 2002. After tomorrow’s game against Towson, the Red will be on the road for two weeks against Harvard and Brown, two of the top teams in the conference.
“There’s always urgency because you can’t beat the other team if you’re relaxed,” Sussman said, adding, “You can’t panic because there is a sense of urgency, you’ve got to keep fighting through adversity, you’ve got to keep believing in yourself and your teammates. We have the talent.”
Archived article by Amanda Angel