In just one season at Cornell, football head coach Jim Knowles ’87 turned a winless team into a very competitive 4-6 squad that finished with a winning record in Ivy League play. His reward — the daunting task of replacing 24 graduating seniors that played an integral part in the team’s recent success. However, Knowles has done just that by assembling one of the largest recruiting classes in school history, as 40 players have signed on to continue the revitalization of Cornell football.
“The real reason we were so successful is that we really showcased Cornell,” Knowles said. “We did everything with the recruits. We had them all over for dinner at my house, we played paintball with them when they were on their visit. It required us to put our heart on the line, which is what our program is all about.”
Of those 40 players, 23 of them will join an offense that struggled at times a year ago. Knowles has brought in five wide receivers, four running backs, four quarterbacks, and three tight ends — a group he hopes will have an immediate impact on an often-lackluster offensive attack. He also has added seven offensive linemen, who average 6’4″ and 288 pounds.
“We are going to need guys to play right away,” Knowles said. “At wide receiver, we are down in numbers so we are going to need guys to step in. On the offensive line, there is going to be two or three guys that figure into our top ten … Of the four quarterbacks we are bringing in, one of them may compete for the backup position next season. There is going to be someone right there, which puts you one step away from leading the football team.”
The squad will add 13 players to a defensive unit that ranked as one of the stingiest in the country last season. The Cornell rush defense in particular allowed just over 100 yards per game, the lowest average in the Ivy League and seventh nationally. However, that unit will welcome eight new defensive linemen, who average 6’2″ and 246 pounds. The secondary will also receive a boost from three defensive backs and a pair of linebackers.
“Not as many guys will play [on defense] as on offense, but you will still see them at skill positions, including cornerback, which was an area we struggled in last year,” Knowles said.
Three other players will join the team with no definitive positions, however each possesses the athletic ability to be versatile contributors. The last member of the recruiting class is a punter, who will work closely with special teams coach Roderick Plummer.
As a whole, the recruiting class is a diverse group, heading to Cornell from 14 different states, including seven from Pennsylvania. However, they all share a common thread: terrific success at the high school level. Eleven players were first-team all-state selections, while seven others played for state championship teams.
“I know I traveled a lot personally,” Knowles said. “We kind of pressed the recruiting budget — we really pushed it. We thought it was so important to do that the first year. You want to get into the best schools in the country and establish a reputation and a pipeline from those schools. We got across the country into the best football areas.”
The Class of 2009 will take the field for the first time in mid-August, marking the beginning of the fall practice schedule. Whether or not the recruits will be immediate contributors to the Red, will be decided by the coaching staff before the team’s first game on September 17 at home against Bucknell.
Archived article by Bryan Pepper
Sun Assistant Sports Editor