It truly is a jungle out there. Like prowling tigers stalking out their prey, the Red’s defensive line will be hunting opposing quarterbacks and running backs methodically and ferociously. And with all four starters on the line having registered significant playing time in previous seasons, this pack will be bearing much more experienced teeth.
Seniors Ryan Lempa and Mike McGinty will lead a revamped defensive unit that is looking to increase the pressure on visiting offenses in 2004. Last year, the linemen notched 12 sacks for 54 negative yards in the course of 10 games. However, the 2003 line included departed seniors Kevin Rooney (four sacks for 21 yards) and Mike Stone (14 solo tackles). And at a combined weight of 542 pounds, those departures will amount to some very large shoes to fill.
“I really feel like our ends can be a strength,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “In our defense, we’re going to have all the gaps covered.”
The Red has high hopes for the defensive line this year — especially with the additions of battle tested junior Matt Pollack and bruising sophomore Jonathan Lucas. Both have seen serious time in game situations — Pollack pounded out 24 tackles in 10 games last season and Lucas added another 13 tackles in eight appearances — but there remains plenty of room for improvement. Cornell ranked last in the Ivy League in rushing defense last year, giving up 18 touchdowns on the ground and allowing an average of 205 rushing yards against per game.
However — like any predator in the jungle will attest — things change, and more importantly, the underdog often turns out to be the most deadly. Lempa and McGinty are dedicated to making their final outing in the red and white the most successful yet, and that begins with every player fulfilling their role on the team.
Lempa, one of the three captains, posted outstanding numbers in 2003 on his way to an All-Ivy honorable mention. Currently in his fifth year with the team — he was granted an extra year of eligibility after sitting out all of his sophomore season with an injury — Lempa will be looking to build on his 31 solo tackles performance from last year. An engineer out of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., Lempa combines speed off the line with devastating hitting ability — in 2003 he registered nine tackles for losses and three sacks. Lempa is projected to start tomorrow at the left defensive end position.
“Lempa is strong, solid and dependable,” Knowles said. “He should be as good as any defensive end in the league.”
McGinty adds a wealth of experience to the defensive line, having seen action in all but one game over the past two seasons. A bruising tackle from North Royalton, Ohio, McGinty has been a stalwart defensive stopper throughout his career with the Red. In 2003, he notched five tackles for loss — including two sacks for negative 18 yards — in nine games. Another invaluable aspect of McGinty’s play is his uncanny presence of mind on the field. Last season, he not only forced two fumbles, but also recovered two others.
“McGinty is a very solid player — he is always in the right place,” Knowles said. Despite an injury during spring practices, Pollack is fully recovered and slated to start at right tackle against Bucknell. The junior out of Fulton, N.Y. played in all 10 games last year and finished the season with 24 total tackles.
As a rookie last year, Lucas (Wheat Ridge, Colo.) saw action in eight games and picked up nine solo tackles.
The only underclassman penciled in to start on the defensive line, Lucas should accumulate plenty of sacks this season as Lempa’s complement at right end. “Lucas is a younger guy — he has that combination of speed and strength,” Knowles said.
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor