September 1, 2004

Football Squad Continues Growth

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Every afternoon for the last two weeks, work has progressed on what many hope will be the resurrection of the Cornell football program. With the team inching closer to the season opener against Bucknell on Sept. 18, if one thing has been apparent, it is that a renewed sense of energy surrounds the team as it continues to improve and build for the start of the season.

“Every day there’s a sense of improvement. We all know it’s a long climb,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “I challenged the guys … in terms of never-be-defeated, have fun, one-play-at-a-time, shot-out-of-the-cannon type of attitude. I know that last year, with so many disappointments, we have to work really hard to avoid the attitude of ‘oh no, here we go again.'”

The improved team attitude has fostered an atmosphere of optimism, one that has been severely lacking from the program for the last couple of years. Knowles and his coaching staff view this as a tremendously encouraging sign as the team attempts to improve on last season’s dismal 1-9 record.

“[Monday] we had a night practice that was just helmets and special teams. There was real enthusiasm there,” Knowles said. “There’s no doubt that they’ve bought into what we’re selling, and they’ve bought everything and they want nothing more than to do what we’re trying to teach them. They’re eager learners now, but it’s all on a curve. It kind of ebbs and flows, but there’s no doubt that they’re trying to do everything that we want them to.”

The heightened energy on the practice field is palpable as players move from station to station, working with positional coaches on various skill and agility drills.

The Red is also benefitting from an infusion of youth, which is surprising given the very late start Knowles had in compiling this year’s freshman class.

“Coming in so late in their recruiting class, I didn’t know what we had really. There’s four, five freshmen that are going to play for us. When I left the Ivy League seven years ago, there weren’t freshmen having that kind of impact,” Knowles said. “At the corner, Matt Grant is a young kid who’s stepping up, and Chi Chi Madu, from our freshman class is a guy to watch.

He’s a 6-2 corner, and he’s a guy who’s really emerged out of nowhere. Danny Rant, a freshman linebacker, big tall guy. [Mike] Pittore, the defensive lineman, is going to weigh about 100 pounds less than the guys he’s going against, but he never lost a game in high school.”

Wide receiver Colin Nash joins Grant, Madu, Rant, and Pittore as rookies who look to challenge for substantial playing time this season.

As Cornell begins to focus its energies on its early season opponents, Knowles hesitated to offer a prediction for the team’s on-field fortunes this season. He did, however, offer up the type of optimism that has been a constant throughout.

“My gut sense is you’ll see guys who have the potential for excitement on every play,” he said. “You’ll see a team that play it one play at a time, and be excited about that one play, and focused on that one play, and not worrying about what happened on the previous play.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor