The core of the nation’s eighth-ranked rushing offense returns to the gridiron for the Red this season, and if that isn’t scary enough for the seven other teams in the conference, the position promises to be even more of a threat in 2006.
In head coach Jim Knowles’ ’87 new spread offense, the Ivy League’s premiere ground game could develop into a multi-dimensional offensive weapon, playing to the strengths of returning first team All-Ivy performer, junior Luke Siwula, as well as those of senior tri-captain Anthony Macaluso and sophomore Shane Kilcoyne. Still, despite the development of a new aerial attack, the Red still remains committed to establishing the run as its first priority.
“We’re not going to change in terms of philosophy,” said offensive coordinator Clayton Carlin. “We’re going to run the ball first. We’re going to play to our strengths in that we’re a physical football team.”
Despite the core having yet to be healthy all at the same time during fall practice, the group should be ready for tomorrow’s season opener against Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pa. Siwula had been fighting an ankle injury that has caused him to miss scrimmages and some practice. However, the running back is 100 percent now and will be full go to start the regular season.
“As a head coach, you never feel firmly secure about that position,” Knowles said. “You know how quickly that position can turn sour with how much those guys take a beating. That’s just the nature of the position in college football. You have to know how to take a hit and keep guys off you.”
Although Knowles vows that the running back position is one that coaches always worry about, one thing that is for certain is that the reputation of Cornell tailbacks has changed from disrespected two years ago to feared within the course of a year. Evidence lies in the statistics compiled by Siwula last season, who rushed for more yards in his sophomore campaign than the 2004 squad did during the entire year combined.
Siwula led the team in rushing last year with 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is also predicted to excel further this season, utilizing his above-average pass protection and receiving skills to open up opportunities on the ground.
With the new-look Cornell offense, the long run is a facet of the game that the backs expect to take advantage of with gun-slinging sophomore Nathan Ford at the helm. Even with his impressive numbers from last season, Siwula never broke a run for more than 28 yards.
“They’re not going to think that we’re running eight out of every 10 plays like we did last year.” Siwula said. “Hopefully, we’ll see a more open field with more six and seven man boxes. If that’s the case then the big run is something we’ll see a lot more of this season.”
The full-bodied Macaluso (5-7, 204) will share carries with Siwula, lending his services to special teams and fullback when not carrying the ball. Macaluso was rewarded for his character this past off-season by being named as the team’s offensive captain.
“Anthony represents everything we stand for,” Knowles said. “While [senior defensive tackle Jonathan] Lucas is our physical leader, Anthony is our vocal leader. He’s a role model for our younger players. No job is too small for him.”
While the roles of the two upperclassman backs look to stay the same, Knowles hopes to make the position more dangerous by getting other backs more touches in the open field. Kilcoyne, a versatile back, will see an expanded role in the Red offense this season as he is expected to line up at receiver in some of Carlin’s new spread sets. Kilcoyne was the only freshman to start a game for the Red last season, compiling 130 yards on 33 carries over the course of the year.
Rounding out the position is the high-energy sophomore, Jamie Germani, who looks to make an impact on special teams. Freshmen Randy Barbour, Matt Kenney, and Isaac Minor fill out the tailback roster for 2006.
“We don’t really have any [individual] goals for the season as a whole,” Siwula said. “Everything falls in with the goals of the team. We expect to be the sparkplug of the offense and expect to be consistent, play in and play out all year long.”