November 13, 2003

Football Seniors Reflect on Red Careers

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Just one week ago, football head coach Tim Pendergast brought together his team’s seniors. In their closed door meeting, he applauded them for sticking with the team, for while they entered as a class of 40, they take to the field this Saturday at Schoellkopf as just 17. They’ve been diminished by injury and personal reasons, yet the thinning of ranks doesn’t diminish the importance of this season’s final home game.

“They know that this is it, this is the curtain call, this is the finite game — so to speak — at home,” said Pendergast. “They want a good lasting memory, one 20 years or 40 years from now that they can look back and remember.”

Senior captain Kevin Rooney agreed.

“It’s a little surreal,” he said. “I remember my first game here at Schoellkopf against Yale freshman year, and I can’t believe this might be the last time I play here.”

For Rooney, however, this Saturday looks to be just another in a long-line of successes. The senior already has 29 tackles this season, with four of them putting the other team in the hole. Overall, he’s on pace to graduate with 50-plus career tackles. Rooney’s also done something few of his defensive teammates can claim — he’s given his team the lead.

“Personally, scoring a touchdown sophomore year was pretty cool, and all those comeback victories.”

Rooney’s touchdown was a 22-yard interception, and Cornell’s first return for a touchdown since 1993. It even came against Columbia.

Still, while Rooney’s personal record stands out, it’s something else that makes him proud to play for Cornell. It’s his teammates.

“The thing I’ll obviously remember the most is just all those guys in the locker room, and the hours and hours, and days that we spend together that no one else sees,” Rooney said. “These are the guys I’m going to remember and keep in contact with forever.”

Senior safety Neil Morrissey could also point to personal statistics, but instead points to his teammates.

“[It’s] the guys I’ve been playing with and the coaches,” said Morrissey when asked what he’ll miss most about Cornell.

“Not so much the classes,” he added jokingly.

Yet at the twilight of their collegiate careers, the seniors are looking more to the future than to the past.

“It’s not tough to keep going because this is what we live for,” said Rooney when asked about playing through a losing season. “What I’ve tried to talk to the guys about now is building for the future. This program is going to win a championship whether it’s next year, three years, five years — it’s got to start somewhere, so why not now?”

Morrissey had similar thoughts, putting his team above himself.

“You put everything you’ve got into it, and you just want to see the best thing for your team. It’s kind of a farewell,” he said of this weekend’s game.

Still, after four years, the person who’s learned the most isn’t moving on.

“I’m blessed to be around guys like that, all 17 of them. I’m blessed, I’ve learned from them,” said Pendergast. “They obviously have brought leadership, character, strong will, perseverance, the never say die attitude — that’s what they’ve brought.”

And because of that, he understands the importance of the season’s last home game. It’ll be the last game the senior class plays at Schoellkopf.

“It’s special that way, for these seniors,” Pendergast said.

Archived article by Matt Janiga