With the diligence of a detective”s investigation and the intensity of a high-speed car chase, the Cornell special teams unit plans to make its motto — ‘Protect and Serve’ –the most respected phrase in the Ivy League by the end of the 2004 season. Returning both starting senior kicker Trevor MacMeekin and All-Ivy classmate Mike Baumgartel in the punter”s spot, the Red anticipates its special teams to be among the most reliable — and formidable — units in the Ancient Eight.
‘There is no reason we can”t have the best kicking game in the league,’ said head coach Jim Knowles “87. ‘ Both MacMeekin and Baumgartel are very, very good.’
Special teams was often one of the lone bright spots during a 2003 season plagued with defensive and offensive confusion. The Red was perfect on PAT”s — going 16 for 16 in 10 games last year. MacMeekin, who shared kicking duties with junior A.J. Weitsman, is expected to handle most of the extra point and field goal duties this season following his perfect 9 for 9 PAT performance in 2003.
‘My objective is to score points for the team,’ MacMeekin said. ‘We need to convert every opportunity we have to score.’
The Red did not fare as well on field goal attempts last year, hitting only four in 12 opportunities (33.3%) — second to last in the Ivy League. MacMeekin –who went 3 for 9 — was hampered by an injury for most of the season. In 2002, the Phoenix, Md. native hit eight out of nine field goals and earned second-team All-Ivy honors.
Now, with the arrival of Knowles and the injection of a new enthusiasm throughout the team, the kickers are devoted to holding up their end of the deal.
‘The mindset for me is to be perfect — 100% accuracy,’ MacMeekin said. ‘We have the same roles as last year so [Knowles] trusts our experience. Our self-confidence is very high.’ Baumgartel (Mars, Pa.) returns for his final campaign as one of the most highly regarded punters in the league.
In 2003, he averaged 37.6 yards per punt, including a 61-yard bomb against Harvard on Oct. 11. In 10 games, Baumgartel amassed 2,216 punting yards — good enough for second in the Ivies.
‘We”re looking to build off of last year,’ Baumgartel said. ‘I”ve personally improved each season as I have gotten older and more comfortable on the field.’
Baumgartel leads a punt coverage squad that hopes to put the Red defense in a better position to shut down opposing offenses.
Knowles affirms that the coverage squad — whether they are “protecting” or “serving” — is one of the most crucial facets of the team.
‘Good teams always stress the little things,’ Knowles said. ‘We do not overlook our punting game. A blocked punt or a great punt can change the momentum of the game.’
On the other side of the ball, tailback Joshua Johnston (Centerport, N.Y.) is expected to continue his role in the kickoff return spot for the Red. As a sophomore in 2003, Johnston accumulated 446 rushing yards on 103 carries, an average of 4.3 yards per carry. He only took two kickoff returns last season, picking up 49 yards.
Much of Cornell”s offensive production this year will depend on the junior”s ability to cut through lanes quickly and acquire good field position.
Punt returning duties are expected to fall with junior wide receiver Brian Romney, a transfer from Snow Junior College in Utah. Romney was a second team All-America selection at Snow during his freshman season.
In spite of their separation from the normal day-to-day duties of the offense and defense, the special teams unit this year is nonetheless just as hungry for a winning season. ‘My goal is to win the championship,’ Baumgartel said. ‘That”s what I”m striving for above all individual goals.’
It would cap off a great career here at Cornell.’
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor