They call it special teams.
That ambiguous part of the game that falls somewhere between offense and defense, somewhere outside of the familiar objective of moving the ball 10 yards in four plays, or preventing the opponent from doing so.
Special, they say, because in some football situations, it takes something extra to do what needs to be done. To Cornell’s special teams unit, giving something extra is just part of the job.
Second-team all-Ivy selection Trevor MacMeekin will again be the Red’s place kicker. The junior was impressive in his first year as a starter, winning two games for the Red in overtime with field goals. All together, MacMeekin was 8-for-9 on field goal attempts, and converted on 17-of-19 extra points. He will look to follow up on last season’s success with further improvement.
“After having a pretty good season last year, I’m a little more comfortable even still. I can focus on what I can do myself to improve even more,” he said.
Part of MacMeekin’s impetus to improve will come in the person of sophomore A.J. Weitzman, who has been challenging MacMeekin for the place kicking job throughout camp.
“We’ve had a good competition this fall. A.J. Weitzman has really come along. I think he’s really pushed Trevor, and it’s been really good for both of them,” said kickers coach Jeff Brookshire. “It’ll be a huge advantage for us. We have two guys who are quality kickers. They push each other to get better.”
The punting duties will be handled by another junior, Ivy League record-holder Mike Baumgartel. After a stellar freshman year that saw Baumgartel set a league record for longest punt, he posted another solid season in 2002. His average of 34.4 yards on 63 punts was good for third in the league — all this despite playing the entire season on an injured knee.
Following off-season surgery, Baumgartel enters this season 100 percent healthy.
“I stayed up here all summer to rehab with the team, rehab with Bernie [DePalma, head athletic trainer]. They did a great job with me, I’m back in shape,” Baumgartel said. “It feels a lot different now, punting without the brace on now, full range of motion. It feels great.”
With two full years of experience under his belt, Baumgartel will also be relied upon to try some different things strategically with his punts.
“We’re asking him to do some things schematically,” explained head coach Tim Pendergast. “There’s a science to it. Where the ball’s going to be punted or hang time, things along those lines.”
Baumgartel has been working in camp with sophomore Rich Trumpka, who is slated to be the Red’s long snapper.
“Being a long snapper is kind of like being a quarterback with receivers, it’s rhythm. It’s getting to work with the same guy,” said Pendergast. “Rich and Mike are really working well together right now.”
Trumpka will likely also see some time at linebacker this season.
Senior Dom Garguile returns as the short snapper, though junior Dan Collins will challenge for the job.
“There’s a good battle going on there right now. I feel very good with either of those guys. Garguile has the nod because he’s done it in games,” Pendergast said.
The Red’s corps of wide receivers will round out the special teams unit. Senior Vic Yanz will be the holder for MacMeekin. Classmate John Kellner will start the season as the primary punt returner, while senior Chad Nice and sophomore Andre Hardaway will return kickoffs. Hardaway and junior Sean Nassoiy will also challenge for the nod as punt returner.
While often overlooked, the special teams unit will likely play a crucial role in the Red’s success this season. To a man, the objective of the special teams players is consistent with that of the team as a whole.
“Our number one goal is to win the Ivy League championship,” said MacMeekin. “Going into our third year, now that we’ve seen it, we’ve set our goals high, and we’ll accept nothing less than the championship.”
Archived article by Owen Bochner