Earlier this season, senior safety Neil Morrissey was named both the Ivy League and ECAC Defensive Player of the Week after his 24-tackle performance against Colgate. Morrissey currently leads his team in tackles with 49, and is one of the Ivy’s best defensive backs with a league-leading eight passes broken up. Yet for Morrissey, 100 has been one of the sweetest numbers this season — 100 dollars.
With each touchdown Cornell scores this season, the Tompkins Trust Company will donate $100 to the local chapter of the American Cancer Society for research to fight colorectal and prostate cancer. Currently, Tompkins County residents are 10 percent more likely to die from these types of cancer than the national average, and it’s for this reason that the Trust Company became involved. The program, created by Morrissey, is named “Touchdowns for Hope.”
“We’re just pushing through,” Morrissey noted of the program. “This is going to be a tough season to inaugurate it because it wasn’t really out there until the start of the season, so I’m going to have a couple guys continue with the program indefinitely.”
It’s this giving spirit and drive to make a difference that have earned Morrissey accolades from his coaching staff and team. It’s this and more that have earned him this month’s Red Key Sportsmanship Award.
The award was created this year to recognize athletes who go above and beyond on the field expectations, and strive to make a difference on their campus and in their community. Applicants are nominated by a letter from their coach, and all nominations are then reviewed by members of the society.
For football head coach Tim Pendergast, the nomination was a no brainer. In the coach’s mind, Morrissey had cemented his place as an outstanding individual when he approached Pendergast about the program last spring.
“I thought it was a tremendous, tremendous thing that Neil undertook,” he said. “[Touchdowns for Hope] was a lot of different things that Neil had to prepare for, that Neil had to do.”
Once Morrissey had obtained Pendergast’s support, he went to work. Eventually, after dozens of meetings, phone calls and letters to officials from the American Cancer Society and the Tompkins Trust Company, Morrissey found success. The program was launched this fall and has already raised close to $1000 for research.
Morrissey has always been active in the Ithaca community with his role as a volunteer in programs such as Big Red Readers; a program in which Cornell athletes assist local elementary children with reading and school work.
“Neil is the kind of guy, since I’ve been here, who wanted to give back in any way that he could,” said Pendergast. “Whether it be reading to kids on Friday afternoon, or whether it be the Touchdowns for Hope.”
The Touchdowns for Hope program, however, comes not from Morrissey’s big heart, but a broken one. Last fall the safety suffered what could have been a career-ending injury. At the same time, one of Morrissey’s close family friends passed away from colorectal cancer. Morrissey rehabilitated and trained to come back for his last season, all the while using the memory of his fallen friend for inspiration.
In Morrissey’s mind, he needed to finish his collegiate career for his friend, who would never have that opportunity himself. In Pendergast’s opinion, that dedication and spirit just proved how special Morrissey really was.
“Neil’s got a heart that’s huge, and there’s something about having a big heart, and a good soul and a good mind that’s real valuable,” Pendergast said. “Everything he does is full speed and primarily for the benefit of others. He’s a special guy that way and it means a lot to have a guy like Neil around simply because he wears that heart outside