Cornell’s rushing game will depend on a combination of returning stars and raw young talent to provide an explosive ground attack that was absent much of last season. A trio of tailbacks will share the majority of carries, while an ensemble of players will attempt to fill a huge void left by graduation at fullback.
Anchoring the entire bunch will be junior returning starter Marcus Blanks. At 5-9, 183-pounds Blanks boasts a slashing, Barry Sanders-like style that allows him to run around and through opposing defenses.
The featured tailback from a year ago gained 568 yards on 129 attempts, while averaging 63.1 ground yards a game. The latter mark was good for third best in the Ivy League.
Blanks worked particularly hard in the offseason on areas of apparent deficiency from last season. And his work has not gone unnoticed.
“Marcus is simply a much better player this year. He’s really grown into the position and is much stronger than a year ago. He’s much more elusive, has improved his blocking, and is catching the ball real well,” said Pendergast. “We’re real pleased.”
All of which is a lot to say about a guy who really broke open some games last season as a mere sophomore.
As is often the case for Pendergast’s team, Blanks will have to compete for carries, thanks to a pair of equally capable young stars.
Sophomores Josh Johnston and Andre Hardaway will put pressure on Blanks all season long, as they prepare to be the future of Cornell’s running game.
Johnston is a 6-1, 207-pound workhorse that gives Pendergast’s team a more north-south style approach, which could help in goal line and short-yardage situations.
“Josh is deceptively powerful; he’s a different type of runner than Marcus. He knows how to use his blocks and has a knack of changing directions at top speed,” praised Pendergast.
Hardaway is a similar style runner at 6-1, 210 pounds. With experience returning kickoffs a year ago, Hardaway has continued to develop his game-breaking potential. Hardaway, like Johnston, provides the Red with a ying to Blanks’s yang, thunder to Blanks’s lightning. Though battling some nagging injuries, Hardaway will look to be fully healthy come opening day.
“Andre is a real dandy when he’s healthy,” said Pendergast. “He’s got that rare combination of a big body and quickness that is often needed to be successful in this league.”
Pendergast feels extremely comfortable at the tailback position and is excited to see how the contest plays out both this season and in years to come.
“I think we may’ve hit the jackpot here with these three guys. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.
While the tailback position seems to provide the Red with an extreme sense of hope and security, the fullback position is one full of uncertainties. With the departure of captain and All-Ivy first-teamer Nate Archer ’03, and his very-capable back-up Matt Wise ’03, several players have an opportunity to step up and contribute immediately for the Cornell offense.
“It’s hard to replace Nate and it’s hard to replace Matt Wise, but we have a couple guys that could potentially do it,” said Pendergast.
Senior Todd Newell will be the Red’s first option to fill the void. Newell saw action in just five of the Red’s games last year, but his coaches feel good about his abilities heading into the 2003 campaign.
“Todd has little experience in his pocket, but he can catch the ball and has grown into an above average blocker,” said Pendergast.
Newell’s primary competition will come from sophomore Eduardo Garcia, who has particularly impressed his coaches with his blocking abilities.
“Garcia is our most talented perimeter blocker. He can really get outside and put guys on the ground,” lauded Pendergast.
While the tailback and fullback positions remain in relative flux, the competition brewing at each spot can only improve the Red’s rushing capabilities. Cornell gained just 1,251 yards on the ground last year, compared to 1,742 by its opponents, and was outscored 22 to 13 in rushing TDs.
While these statistics relate to the entire Red offense, this year’s backfield seems poised to improve upon those numbers. With incredible promise at tailback and potentially great youth at fullback, this corps will likely improve not just this season but for several years to come.
And that’s good news for the Red, who have lacked above-average potency on the ground for several seasons.
Archived article by Scott Jones