While most of the spots vacated by graduation have been claimed by starters that emerged during the off-season and fall camp, one area in which the football team still has lingering questions is on special teams.
Last year, Cornell made 14-of-16 field goal attempts, which was good enough for second-best in the Ivy League. The team’s kickers were also perfect in extra point situations, the only squad in the league that could boast this feat. When it came to punting, the Red was third-best in the conference, averaging 32.2 net yards per punt. It also had the second-best kickoff average of any team the league at 35.8 net yards.
However, the Red will have to hand over the reins to a new group of kickers and punters this season. The Red suffered the loss of kicker A.J. Weitsman ’06, whose 72 points scored was tied for the fifth-highest total in the conference.
“[Assistant coach] Zac Roper, who I brought up from Old Miss, is one of the best technique kicking and punting guys I’ve ever been around,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “And he’s the guy that A.J. said had a huge affect on him and his career last season. I think Zach’s done a great job with them already.”
Coming in to fill the shoes of Weitsman will be juniors Peter Zell and Jay Harding.
Zell has seen action in only two contests in over the course of the last two seasons. He converted 2-of-3 extra points and missed his only field goal try during his rookie campaign. Last season, he had kickoffs in two games.
Harding, who is competing with Zell for the starting kicker spot, adds another dependable leg to the kicking team. Like Zell, 2005 saw him log his first playing time, as he took some of the kickoffs against Brown and Princeton. He completed an onsides kick against the Tigers, which he recovered himself to steal another possession for the Red.
“We’ve been putting some pressure situations on them already, and they’ve been fine,” Knowles said of his kicking teams. “I’m confident in them.”
Starting at punter for the second consecutive season will be junior Michael Bolling. Kicking the ball with good hang time, Bolling was one of the Ivy League’s top punters in 2005. He averaged 36.7 yards on 52 kicks, and in his 10 starts last season, he totaled 1,909 yards. He also pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line on 23 occasions, and his five kicks of 50 yards or more was a team-best, and he emerged from the season without a single touchback.
Sophomore Nick Maxwell will play a supporting role to Bolling in the lineup. He improved steadily over his freshman season, punting twice in two games for an average of 29.5 yards per kick. Maxwell, a former quarterback in high school, has demonstrated a useful versatility as well, completing a pass off a fake punt for a 15-yard gain during the Red’s 20-17 overtime loss at Princeton in his rookie season.
Senior Anthony Jackson will continue in his role as punt and kick returner.