September 13, 2006

Long Off-Season Aids Football Team

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Head coach Jim Knowles ’87 has an explanation as to why the football team will be the last NCAA squad to play its first game of the 2006 campaign.
“Well, you’ve heard about saving the best for last, haven’t you?” he said with a smile. “I think the whole country is eagerly anticipating Cornell Big Red football opening up — none of the other games even count before that.”
Jokes aside, the football team is more than ready to take the field against Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pa., this Saturday night.
“We’re all definitely excited to get out there and be able to hit someone who’s not on our team that we don’t see every day,” sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford said.
With a month of preseason in its pockets, the team has had plenty of time to get a handle on the new facets of offense and defense for this season. And likewise, as classes move into their third week, everyone on the team has had a chance to strike a balance between the demands in the classroom and on the field. These are distinct advantages for the Red over other teams whose seasons start earlier or whose classes start later.
“Harvard’s practicing at six a.m. this week because of freshman orientation, and that’s all behind us,” Knowles said. “I remember being at some places and you’d have a big game coming up [and] maybe it’s the third game of the year but you haven’t even started class — and that’s the week your players start classes so their heads are spinning.”
The players may still be finding their footing in the classroom, but they’ve been preparing for this Saturday night over the course of an off-season that stretched back months before the first day of classes. With the departure of quarterback Ryan Kuhn ’06, who ran an attack centered on a running offense, and the emergence of Ford, the Cornell coaching staff has spent the spring and summer teaching a new game plan to the Red.
“The coaching staff did a great job preparing us,” Ford said. “We know exactly what we need to do, and having such a long preseason helps to reiterate what we need to do and what we need to go through mentally. So I think we’re excited but really prepared.”
For Ford, it will be his first varsity start in the carnelian and white. During the 2005 season, he took snaps in four games, connecting on 14-of-25 passes for 132 yards. His best showing was in the second half of a 37-17 loss to Yale on Sept. 24, when he stepped in to relieve Kuhn and connected on 10-of-17 passes for 112 yards.
“I just can’t wait to go out there and get it under my belt and move on,” Ford said. “But at the same time, I don’t feel too nervous because I just feel real prepared [from] this whole preseason and this whole offseason going through with the coaches what I need to do, what they except of me. I feel real comfortable with my role.”
However, the extra time for preparation and the daily grind of practice has had its drawbacks.
“Obviously, the difficult thing is just to continue to create challenges by beating each other up for a month,” Knowles said. “I think our attitude is great, our team health is great, everybody’s real positive. It’s just kind of a game-speed question that I have in my mind.”
The Bison have a jump start on the season, having already posted a 1-1 record in 2006.
“I’m real concerned about the game speed,” Knowles said. “They’ll be ready … and I’m always concerned whether it might take us a few plays to get up to speed, particularly with [the Bucknell] offense.”[img_assist|nid=18249|title=Sophomore starter|desc=Sophomore starting quarterback Nathan Ford looks to pass during the Red’s 34-20 road loss to Colgate on Oct. 1, 2005.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=52]