After bulking up to 172 lbs., Paul Testa put on the pads and stepped in the way of three-time All-CSFL running back, senior Mike Fullowan. Testa’s publicist had to pry the pain killers out of his mouth.
1. You had a 123 carries and gained 637 yards in seven games last season for the sprint football team. Do they just strap a saddle on your back and take you up to Oxley Equestrian Center for practice?
This year’s a different story. We’re throwing the ball a lot more. I got a couple carries in the last game, but our quarterback’s just been amazing this year.
Yeah, what’s the deal with that? Sophomore Zak Dentes just seemed to come out of the blue into the starting job.
He’s like a marine. He just showed up in the off season, and we’re like who is this kid who’s lifting 500 pounds, and he came out our first game and just played really well.
Are you OK with that? You’ll sacrifice your own numbers for the team?
Yeah, absolutely. His first game, he just played incredible.
His dad is the former DA of Tompkins County. Is that an instant get-of-jail-free card for the team?
I mean, I did not know that, but it’s going to be.
2. How different of a game is sprint football from its high school and college cousins?
Obviously, everybody’s a 170 lbs. — except for Army and Navy. They’re pretty big; I don’t know how they get around it. Everybody’s the same speed too.
What would you say to people who discount sprint football as a real sport because the guys aren’t 300-some pounds?
Basically, I’d just tell them to come out to one of the games. I don’t know that many people who have said that, who’ve actually seen a game. People just get lit up from all over the field. You get hit hard every play. There’s no stopping them; just fast little guys just looking to hit somebody.
Does the speed of the game change the way you have to play?
Basically, you can’t dance around. It’s straight up field. If you dance around, you’re going to get killed.
So, you’re pretty much a north-south kind of running back?
Yeah, you kind of have to be in sprint football.
But your freshman year, you came in as a linebacker. What happened?
Yeah, I started out as a linebacker.
Was this kind of a University of Colorado situation, because the four running backs ahead of you all “conveniently” went down with injuries?
Yeah, four running backs all went down with injuries, and [head] coach [Terry Cullen] came up to me, and he was like, “Did you ever play running back in high school?” I told him played it in high school, and so he was like, “OK, we’re going to try you out at running back.” The first game that I played running back in was the alumni game, and I did awful. I went out a little bit the night before, which I probably shouldn’t have, but I went out, and I had maybe three fumbles. I was like, “Oh my God, I look like an idiot.”
Yeah, but these alumni have packed on a few pounds since their sprint football days. Was that game a catalyst for your future success?
Absolutely, and the first game I actually got an opportunity again, I just tried to make the most of it.
I’d say you did. Your first carry was for a touchdown.
How sweet was that?
Yeah, it was pretty sweet… I basically just closed my eyes and ran.
That’s one way to do it. Do you have any sort of Chad Johnson celebrations that you do?
I’ve been working on the river dance.
River dance? You mean the little Irish tapity-tap thing?
Yeah the little jig thing.
I’d like to see that. Maybe next weekend against Navy?
I’ll give it a shot.
3. Are Army and Navy the teams to beat in the Collegiate Sprint Football League?
You guys came so close last year against Navy, and you’re playing Navy again next weekend. Any predictions?
Navy just beat Army pretty convincingly this past week. And we only lost 7-0 to them last year.
A blocked punt returned for a touchdown. That’s almost as bad as fumbling the ball while trying to run out the clock for a game-winning field goal…Damn you Kurt Warner!!
Yeah, so beating them this year would just make my Cornell career.
What team do you get the most satisfaction out of beating?
Recently, it’s been Penn, but now if we beat Army and Navy, that would probably top that.
There’s no scouting in the CSFL. How do you guys prepare for big games like Navy?
Well, we do get a game film the week before, and we traditionally know the defenses that teams run and their offenses too. Sometimes, they come out and give us something different, though.
Like last weekend’s Princeton game. They played a really spread out formation.
Yeah, they always have some scheme thought up that’s supposed to throw us off.
If only they had some talent.
4. The alumni game seems like a great tradition. Alums are really into it, they’re always coming back. But aren’t you worried you’re going to cripple some 40-year-old father of five?
Coach tells us the ground rules, like no hitting around the knees. But for example, there’s a guy who comes back every year, who refuses to wear a facemask.
How old is this guy?
He’s got to be in his 70s. He doesn’t have a facemask. He’s just barely running, walking to his assignment, and you just have to, you know, lay off that.
Are you kidding me?! I’d pound that hole every time.
Man, but there are other guys who come back at a solid 250 lbs. They have to pay five bucks for each pound over [172 lbs.]. So these guys are a solid 250, and they’re just non-stop at you.
Don’t they give up some speed, though?
Yeah … Yeah, they do, and they lose their stamina quick. But that first quarter, they’re just trying to lay you out.
The trainers must be working double time at these games.
This past alumni game, within the first quarter, some guy broke his foot, another guy tore his ACL, and another guy did something to his ankle.
It sound’s like a riot broke out at the St. Anthony of Padua Rest Home. That’s fantastic.
5. Speaking of veteran experience, what’s it like playing for head coach Terry Cullen, who was coaching sprint football at Cornell 20 years before you were even born?
It’s weird. He pretty much has gone through anything that I or anyone can imagine. He tells us in the beginning of each year, “If you have a problem, come to me. I guarantee I’ve heard something like that or worse.” And it’s true.
How much wisdom, how much football knowledge is stored in this one man?
It’s absurd. He could talk to you on any topic for hours.
Seriously? Just football or anything?
Anything — he’s just one of those guys.
What are his favorite topics?
He likes to rip on you for your relationship status — that, and academics.
Yeah? Facebook tells me you’re married, is this true?
Um, yeah, in a sense.
I’m sure she’ll love that.
6. Let’s talk about your weight issues. Does the sprint football team go into Trillium and have to battle lightweight crew for the fat-free Italian dressing? How hard is it to keep your weight below that 172-pound limit?
I actually wrestled in high school. So I had to cut a lot of weight then, but I only weigh 145 pounds now.
If I were to put a jelly doughnut in front of you right now, how hard would it be for you not to eat it?
I mean, I would house it. But I don’t really like jelly, so I’d rather have a different doughnut.
You know they’re opening up a Dunkin Doughnuts in town again.
Yeah, I love it.
I’m so stoked. I’ve been doughnut deprived for years.
Yeah, although KFC …
It was a sad day —the loss of the Coronel — I think I need some pink frosting and sprinkles.
7. What’s the ratio on the sprint football team of New Jersey to Long Island, because it seems like these two regions are really the heartland of Cornell sprint football.
Yeah, it is. It’s New Jersey, Long Island or farm kids.
So the parking lot at practice is split evenly between Jeeps, Camaros, and Chevys. How does that work out in terms of team chemistry?
It’s all in good fun.
Is a sprint football player out of Long Island different from a guy out of Jersey? Less or more pomade?
Yeah, in my opinion.
Long Islanders, maybe more of, oh, I don’t know, pansies?
So do you just pound the Jersey into them? Do you make them listen to Bon Jovi 24/7?
You really can’t shut up a Long Island kid. There’s no way. You interviewed Jon Amoona [’06] last year, and he just loves talking about himself more than anybody. And that’s just all of what Long Island kids are like.
All right, so is it The Boss or Bon Jovi on your Ipod?
I like Bruce.
Sir, I respect that.
I like Bon Jovi, too. Not the new stuff.
Yeah, Jon Bon’s good, but too much hairspray. Bruce just has something special.
Yeah, he is New Jersey, more than Bon Jovi. Bon Jovi’s kind of mainstream these days.
What’s you’re favorite Springsteen song or album?
Oh, I’d have to say “Glory Days.”
Good call. Speaking of glory days, for the past six years, the sprint football team has had a Mascaro. But this is no longer the case, after the departure of famed third-down back and former Sun Sports Editor Chris Mascaro ’06. How big of a hole, and I mean big, has he left?
I mean he had a huge uniform to fill. He went down freshman year. He was one of the running backs that got injured. I got moved up to that side of the ball, so I got to know Chris really well.
Would you call him a mentor?
Showing you what not to do on the field?
Yeah, and in the locker room, too.
8. You probably get this a lot, but let’s say the sprint football team was to take on the 1971 Ivy champion Big Red football team in a sort of ESPN gridiron classic, but the ’71 champs were mini. Who would win?
Like with a mini Ed Marinaro ’72?
Sure, Marinaro’s mini. Who do you have, this year’s sprint football team or the old Ivy Champs?
I don’t know.
We’re talking below four feet tall.
An under four foot Marinaro? I think we would take them.
Really? What’s the score?
I think we would smoke them.
All right, now, the rest of the ’71 team is still mini, but Marinaro’s full size.
I saw him this past weekend at the Cornell-Yale game, and he still looked like a beast, so I would say, it would be a better game. He might beat us.
There we go. Marinaro, by himself, picks up his ’71 teammates, literally, and carries them on his back to victory. His records are crazy. Do you see yourself as sort of the Ed Marinaro of the sprint football team?
I think that’s too high of a comparison. In my book, Marinaro’s still one of the best running backs in the Ivy League, if not the best, to ever play.
9. A little while back, NFL Films and ESPN did a feature on the CSFL and sprint football. There’s even a clip of you rushing for a touchdown against Princeton. How cool was that?
It was really cool. It was something we all looked forward to. ESPN came out to one of our games with their cameras, and they interviewed everybody. It was just a great experience.
That’s unbelievable. How excited were you when it finally aired?
Yeah, we didn’t know what to expect. To have it paired with midgets.
Wait midgets?! Explain.
Well, half of the show was about [former Minnesota Vikings head coach] Mike Tice’s friend, who turned out to be a midget, who loves football and is a diehard fan. So they focused on him a little bit, and then they focused on sprint football.
That’s so offensive.
It was still cool to be on ESPN. You can actually buy the tape of it.
Seriously? Is that just on in the background when you bring girls back to your house?
Yeah, I just have it on.
10. What’s the hottest women’s varsity team at Cornell?
I feel like I’m going to be killed if I don’t say the field hockey team.
I’ve heard some rumors, but why the field hockey team?
Well, first of all, I’m their biggest fan. I haven’t missed a game, even though I have no idea what’s going on. I just sit there. They blow the whistle, they stop, and then they start playing again. It’s cool.
How’d you get into field hockey?
Um, I just … I’m just friends with the girls on the field hockey team.
Sure you are. Anyone in particular on the team that you’re best friends with, really close to?
Well, in the abstract, what’s attractive about field hockey, because personally I like any sport that’s played in skirts?
Yeah, you can’t beat it.
And there’s a good blonde ratio on the team.
Yeah, that’s true, and despite what you might think, I kind of like tall girls and there’s a couple of tall blondes.
How’s that work for you. You’re like 5-6, 5-7?
That’s a generous 5-7, but we’ll give it to you. Does being on the sprint football team and being on ESPN add to your stature?
Yeah, I like to think of myself as if I’m on a pedestal.
Paul Testa is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. 10 Questions will appear every Thursday this year unless the sprint football team needs a tackle for the Navy game. Comments and suggestions can be sent to [email protected].