September 19, 2003

Energizer Battlers

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Football’s hardest hitters have traditionally come out of the defense’s linebacking corps and the group Cornell boasts this season is certainly no exception. While the inside linebacker position will need to account for the loss of standouts Nate Spitler ’03 and Jarad Madea ’03, the outside position is one of the team’s most potent areas of experience.

While reluctantly accepting the designation, the junior tandem of Joel Sussman and Brad Kitlowski is arguably the Ivy League’s best outside linebacking duo.

“If they’re saying we’re the best, that’s very complimentary,” said Kitlowski. “We just do our job and a lot of times that means they count on us to make plays.”

And plays they made — to the tune of 172 combined tackles, 12 of which were for a loss, and four forced fumbles. Sussman’s 90 total tackles led the team, while Kitlowski’s 82 were best for third. Those respective marks also placed them each in the Ivy League’s top eight.

For their efforts, Sussman was named to the All-Ivy second-team last season, while Kitlowski garnered an honorable mention. However, some felt those designations spoke poorly to the pair’s true significance.

“They were both underappreciated last season by this league,” said head coach Tim Pendergast. “Sussman should’ve been a first teamer, while Kitlowski should’ve at least been on the second team. Should have been, period.”

If this pair of defensive juggernauts continues to rise to that challenge, they can only improve and take Pendergast’s team to the next level.

Following Sussman and Kitlowski, are back-ups Patrick Starleper, Jeff Hahn, and Jim Hillard. Each has improved in the offseason, according to Pendergast, and any one of the three could comfortably step into a starting role if called upon to do so.

At inside linebacker, the Red defense faces one of its most intense struggles for a starting role.

“I was a little, I guess, uneasy coming into preseason; How do you replace Spitler and Madea?” said Pendergast. “Well, I think our answer is that we’re going to do it with four guys.”

Junior Dan Collins is Pendergast’s surest option at the position and will likely see most of the starts at one of the inside positions. Collins has the most experience of the four likely candidates, playing in a combined 19 games over his first two seasons at Cornell.

“Dan is having a very good camp and he has better speed and quickness than either of the guys we lost,” said Pendergast. “He hasn’t played as much, so he’s got to get into the fire and see how hot it cooks.”

Junior Paul Pardi and sophomore Patrick Potts are the front-runners at the opposite inside position. Pardi has the edge in game experience, racking up 19 tackles and a forced fumble last season, while Potts was only able to whet his appetite in two contests a year ago.

“I’d feel comfortable with either of them on the football field,” said Pendergast. “They both have their special qualities that help make them good players.”

The final combatant at inside linebacker is sophomore Ed Sabia. Coaches told Sabia a year ago that if he worked hard over the offseason, he could compete for a job this season. The second year player took his coaches’ challenge very seriously, stayed in Ithaca for the summer, and has come out with a fury during the preseason.

“We told Ed, ‘Look, if you want that opportunity, this is what you have to do.’ He went out and seized that opportunity,” said Pendergast.

With constructive competition fueling the inside linebackers, and a pair of catalytic Ivy stars holding down the outside, the Red defense can expect good things in 2003. And it sounds so simple anyway.

“We’re just trying to stop the other team’s offense,” concluded Kitlowski.

And while this group of hard-hitting young guns tries to keep it simple, Pendergast keeps it real about his linebackers.

“They’re really a great bunch and bring a lot of energy and toughness to this team,” he said. “I just don’t want to get them mad at me.”

Archived article by Scott Jones