September 17, 2004

Cornell Football, Schoellkpf Ready for Renewal

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If you want to know what the difference between this season and last season for the Cornell football team is, you need look no further than the practice field. Because it”s there that the change is most apparent.

Instead of players moving sluggishly from station to station, there”s a type of palpable energy, excitement, that is just refreshing to watch.

For the team”s 75 returning players, there is no better time than now, no better place than here for the program to have its rebirth.

Make no mistake, the Red is in for a major resurgence. And it”s not just because of the renewed sense of optimism that Jim Knowles “87 has brought.

Despite the fact that the football team is currently housed on the Grumman Squash Courts — displaced by a renovation project to the program”s headquarters in Schoellkopf Hall — this season has brought a renewed sense of urgency, an optimistic disposition that simply died in the dank surroundings of the aging Schoellkopf locker room.

Of course, optimism at the beginning of a new season is normal — something is wrong if a team that doesn”t go into its first game with high hopes.

Somehow, this optimism is different. It”s not the ho-hum type of anticipation that normally characterizes this time of year, but it”s a deeply-held belief that this year will indeed be different.

To a man, Cornell took last year”s 1-9 finish personally. As star offensive lineman Kevin Boothe says, ‘the guys who have been here realize 1-9 is 1-9 … no one wants to feel that way again.’

Pain and embarrassment can be quite a motivator. It”s one that no member of the team ever expected to have to contend with. However, having been through that type of adversity, the players now have a much better understanding of how to avoid it. And it all comes down to attitude and preparation.

When Cornell”s players look around at each other, they see the talent necessary to make a statement in the Ivy League. To listen to Knowles describe his team is to listen to a proud teacher discuss the successes of his disciples. The ability is there — the challenge is making it work.

And this is why the 2004 Cornell football team will be a significant and welcome improvement over the 2003 version. While it will be difficult to not improve over last year”s dismal finish, there is plenty of reason to believe that this team can achieve even more than that.

While a league championship is likely still a long shot, the Red has experience, depth, and desire enough to at the very least make the race interesting come late October and early November.

Knowles has turned the program on its ear, and the change will reap some very satisfying rewards. He and his coaching staff come with the philosophy that their primary responsibility is to teach, and that ‘sacrifice’ is a word that is best left in the past.

The family atmosphere surrounding the program is much stronger than in years past, the depth of commitment is much greater. This too will help to build a stronger program in the years to come.

Former head coach Tim Pendergast used to pride himself on being the ‘caretaker’ of Schoellkopf Hall and the storied program it houses. Knowles is ready to be much more than that — Knowles is ready to be the long-term inhabitant. Instead of painting the walls and repairing some broken windows, the entire foundation of a building and a program is about to change.

And the change will be for the better.

The motivation that losing provides and the desire to turn over a new leaf as a new regime takes have given the Red reason to believe again.

This year of transition may be difficult. But there are enough seniors who have never tasted the glory with which their leader is so familiar and enough bright-eyed new faces who are ready to change the past, that there is no doubt the transition will be rapid. Cornell football now sits at the dawn of a new era — an era that it hopes and expects will be as fruitful as the championship seasons the University holds so dear.

Let there be no doubt — Cornell football is back.

Archived article by Owen Bochner