There were games last season when wide receiver Keith Ferguson ’03 simply carried the team. In a loss at Harvard last October, “Ferg” hauled in 12 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns. In a dramatic late-season win over Dartmouth, Ferguson grabbed 11 balls for 175 yards. In many respects, Ferguson was the most crucial cog in the Cornell offensive machinery. He was the playmaker. But now, he’s gone.
With the loss of the program’s most prolific receiver to graduation, one big question surrounds the receiver corps: who will step forward and become senior quarterback Mick Razzano’s go-to receiver?
According to Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast, it might be a group effort.
“I don’t know that one guy can do that,” Pendergast said of replacing Ferguson’s 70 catches and 852 yards. “I’m not saying that we don’t have the ability to do it, we’ll find that out. I think more than likely it will be a host of receivers that will come up with those 70 receptions.”
“Keith’s shoes are pretty big to fill. Since we have three here doing it, I think we’ll be able to do that. One person, I’m not sure,” senior receiver Chad Nice said.
The three men who will be counted on to make up for Ferguson’s departure will be a trio of seniors — John Kellner, Nice, and Vic Yanz.
“Those three guys are really workaholics, and they’ve done a really good job of taking their games up a level each year since their sophomore year,” Pendergast said.
Kellner is the best bet to become the Red’s No. 1 receiver after starting opposite Ferguson last season. As a junior, Kellner posted 36 catches for 493 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the squad with an average of 13.7 yards per catch.
“Kellner might have the ability to be that leading receiver,” Pendergast said.
While Kellner is more of a possession receiver, Nice, who is penciled in as the second starter, has big-play potential written all over him. After catching 15 passes for 164 yards last season, Nice will be counted on to provide Cornell with a deep threat.
“The real deep threat guy is Nice. He can run — he can run with any guy in this league. He’s explosively fast. Chad’s the kind of guy that if he finds a seam and hits the crack, he can take it 80 yards.”
Yanz, who saw the majority of his playing time last season in four-receiver sets and at the goal line, will be Cornell’s third option this season. However, Yanz’s other contributions are not as visible to the casual fan. He’s one of the better blocking skill-position players on the team.
“Vic does everything that we ask him to do. He’s a tremendous blocking wide receiver — one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Pendergast said. “Not a lot of wide receivers do it — to go down in there and dig out a linebacker, dig out a safety.”
“I think I developed blocking skills basically from a process of elimination. I came here as a freshman and I couldn’t run routes, I couldn’t catch. I was converted from another position so I was just not used to the position,” Yanz said. “I told myself as a freshman that the only way I could get noticed is if I just kind of threw my body around. It’s just something that’s stuck.”
In addition to Kellner, Nice, and Yanz, several other players will vie for playing time. Junior Carlos Hill and sophomore Andy West have impressed coaches with their size and speed, while freshman Tony Jackson and sophomore Arjun Rao will need to polish their games before seeing action on the field. Finally, seniors Tom Britton and Marschall Berkes add experience and leadership to the receiving corps.
Sophomore Chris Eckstein has assumed the starting job at tight end, but senior Pat Deyhle — a big receiving threat at the position — and sophomore Troy Follmar, will push Eckstein.
“We’ve got three guys who are really in the mix,” Pendergast said.
Only time will tell if this year’s receiving corps, which includes five seniors, can make up for the loss of Ferguson. But if you ask any member of the Red, there is no doubt.
“I see it as an advantage for us because teams aren’t going to be able to key in on one guy anymore like they have in the past,” Yanz said. “Instead of it coming from one place, it’s three, or four, or five. I really see it as something we can use to our advantage.”
Archived article by Alex Ip