At each practice, head coach Jim Knowles ’87 gives the football team an “edge” — an idea he plants in the minds of his players to motivate them to work harder. Usually, the week before the last game for the seniors on the roster, he’ll ask them to share an edge with their teammates, to explain why Cornell football has been worthy of so many hours of dedication and hard work. This year, however, he did things a little differently. He asked the Class of 2007 to give an edge during fall camp.
Senior captains Jonathan Lucas and Anthony Macaluso didn’t have to think long to find their edge. They are two of just 16 seniors on this year’s roster — the remnants of a recruiting class of 28 players whose introduction to life on the gridiron on the East Hill was a 1-9 (0-7 Ivy) season in 2003, the worst performance by a Cornell squad in 28 years. To stick around after a welcome like that, and help Knowles lead the team to the best turnaround the Ivy League had seen since 1958, and an overall winning record the year after, Lucas, Macaluso, and their classmates needed a very strong edge.
For Macaluso, it was family.
“There [were] a million reasons why I could have quit, but I’m still here,” he said. “I would never quit on my family. I could never bring myself to quit on guys that I’ve formed such close relationships with. … When things get tough, just look at the guy next to you, because he’s in the same boat with you. He’s not going to quit on you, so don’t quit on him.”
Lucas told his teammates about how he’s driven to get better every day.
“My edge was to compete every day at practice — just to go out and compete against yourself or another teammate and that’s the only way you’re going to get better. … And I challenged them to let somebody else on the other side of the ball know that you were going to compete against them and beat that person.”
The third captain of this year’s team might not have been able to stand in front of the underclassmen and give a voice to his edge, but the legacy of what Cornell football meant to Jaime McManamon echoes with the Red every day.
“He was just a wonderful kid to be around, always had a smile on his face,” Knowles said. “The harder you coached him at practicee — when you really got after him — he would just have more fun. He just enjoyed it and he had really high goals for himself.”
Those goals includeed being captain of the football team. McManamon, who was killed in a car accident on May 13, 2004, never had the chance to realize that dream. But none of his teammates doubts that if he were still here, he would have achieved everything he had hoped for.
“His playing ability was overshadowed by his personality and just what a great guy he was,” Lucas said. “It was just astonishing how strong he was. His work ethic off the field was what just set him apart, how strong he was and in the weight room all the time, working as hard as he did.”
McManamon was challenging for a starting spot as a defensive lineman at the time of his death, and two and a half years after they were last on the field with him, teammates still speak of his strength with awe. The team named an award after him that is presented to the senior who through diligence and hard work in the strength and conditioning program was able to lift his game to another level on the playing field. Last year, Kevin Boothe ’05 earned the honor.
Lucas, another talented defensive lineman looking for a permanent spot in the starting rotation in the spring of 2004, has developed into a force on the field that Knowles calls “one of the best defensive players in the Ivy League.”
On pace to join an elite group of four-year letterwinners, Lucas became a stalwart on the defensive line in 2004, when he led the team with nine tacles for loss and made 50 tackles. Last season, he was named to the All-Ivy second team after notching four sacks — a team best — seven tackles for a loss, and 39 tackles.
“When you talk about tempo and playing hard to the whistle and effort all the time in practice and never taking a play off, that’s what Jon does,” Knowles said. “He’s built up such great respect from his teammates that it was pretty much a unanimous decision for him [to be elected captain].”
While Macaluso hasn’t garned the honors and accolads that Lucas has, his contributions to the team have been just as noticeable.
“From day one since I came in here, Anthony kind of took me under his wing,” said junior tailback Luke Siwula. “He’s kind of developed into a big brother figure for me, and I know a lot of the guys see him in the same way. He’s a real responsible kid that really has his lif ein order — anything from socially to academically to football-oriented, he seems to always have the answers. The whole well-rounded aspect of his leadership is what really appeals to the team.”
After recovering from an injury that sidelined him for his rookie season, Macaluso emerged as an integral contributor on special teams, making four tackles and returning a pair of kickoffs for 21 yards. In 2005, he carried the pigskin 20 times, amassing 74 rushing yards and catching two passes for 16 yards. His first career touchdown came in a 45-17 victory against Columbia on Nov. 11.
The two captains, encouraged by the memories of their fallen teammate, have a single goal in mind: to help the football program take the final step in its renaissance — an Ivy League championship.
“Being a senior now, realizing that our time is almost over, it’s cool to think that the senior class has played a part in reshaping the program and getting it back on the right track,” Macaluso said. “I think it’s great that our legacy as a senior class could be that we saw the bottom, we saw the depth of how the program had got [and] I think over three years we’re starting to scratch the surface of how great it’s going to be now and how great it’s going to be in the future.”
And beyond a single championship, the captains hope to spark a new attitude for their program.
“We’ve been pushing more every year, even last year when we were above .500,” Lucas said. “We’re not conent with that, we want to do better. We all believe we can and we should. But even if we go 10-0 this year, it’s not going to be good enough and the guys next year need to do better. … I just look to the future for the Cornell football program and not back to the 1-9 season.”