Only two games into the Cornell football season and the Red is already facing its toughest opponent yet –– a rash of injuries that has severely depleted the team’s roster. With the whirlwind of injuries, head coach Kent Austin continues to remain optimistic and maintain his high standard from his squad. “It’s unlike any place I’ve been. I’ve never seen this many injuries … I told our football players that whoever is on the football field for the game is expected to play at a high level and play like a starter,” Austin said. With a few players already out, Austin could not afford to lose anymore. Out for the remainder of the season, sophomore quarterbacks Josh Vick and Chris Amrhein have already been benched since the spring. The Red started off its 2010 season losing two more of its starters. During the Red’s loss to Wagner, junior quarterback Adam Currie suffered a broken arm, ending his season short, in addition to freshman tailback Grant Gellatly breaking his foot.Just a week later, in Saturday’s loss to Yale, the bad news kept rolling in, as three starters left the game in the first half because of injuries. Senior running back Marcus Hendren is out for the remainder of the season after suffering a concussion, senior left guard Matt Green injured his right ankle and junior defensive end Mike Spooner injured his left ankle. Austin, who gets an injury report everyday from the trainers, is looking at the situation with an optimistic lens instead of making up excuses to keep the morale of the team afloat. “Typically, it’s just that you got tackled wrong and it is usually part of the game. Some teams go through rashes of injuries and other teams stay pretty healthy, but then it cycles back to them too. Unfortunately for us, we are going through a pretty tough cycle right now,” Austin said.One of the main positives of this opportunity is its ability to give some of the underclassmen more playing time.
“If there is an underlying blessing, it is that other individuals have been thrusted into play; younger guys are getting a lot of experience and we are finding out if other guys can play at the level and give us a chance to compete and win,” Austin said.
Looking back at the strength and conditioning systems used during the preseason, Austin and his coaching staff were pretty confident with the endurance of the team following the summer months. While most squads come back out of shape, the majority of the Red returned to Ithaca before the school semester to start running and lifting weights with other teammates.
“We worked hard. We have a comprehensive strength and conditioning program. A lot of our guys came back early for the summer voluntarily. They were lifting and working out together. Most guys passed our conditioning test, which is a pretty tough test, so our guys were in great shape,” Austin said. “You always look back and say could we have done things differently, but really injuries are because of the nature of the game.”
Estimating the trade-off between more hitting practices, Austin weighed the balance of wanting to mimic game situations and improve the teams performance and tackling ability to the risk of injury despite being on the same team.
“We also monitored closely how much hitting we were doing in fall camp. We didn’t want to over hit the guys, in an effort to save the guys from injuries. Next year we will probably hit like crazy and we won’t get hurt,” Austin joked.
Pleased with the amenities provided by Cornell Athletics, Austin has just a few adaptations in his utopian world.
“We’ve got great facilities, a great locker room and a great stadium. From a pure football standpoint, if I just had a wish list, I think we would need a turf practice field for the spring. Because when we are competing for time with the lacrosse teams and the plowing of the snow off the field, they have priority during the time because it’s their season. We have to practice really early in the morning or really late at night and that’s not very conducive for great training because the grass fields don’t thaw out in time,” Austin said.
With the fields in such high demand, putting in another synthetic turf field would enable the various sporting teams additional time for practice, yet Austin stresses the importance of practicing on the same field environment.
“When you are consistently practicing on a particular surface, grass, field-turf, astroturf, whatever, that’s what your players are used to. When you move to another field to practice, your rate of injury goes up 600%, simply because of switching surfaces.”
In addition, Austin’s second wish would be to enclose the field from the harsh Ithaca winter weather. This alteration would also benefit a number of other Cornell teams and would lengthen the lifetime of the field.
“I would bubble the field in the winter and keep the snow off of it. Although we can’t coach our guys during that time, it would give them a chance to throw, run and condition, and defensive guys can go against the receivers and all winter long they can run the offensive and defensive systems to work together and get better. Other teams in the Ivies do that. We need that here,” Austin said.
His last wish would be to create a football-specific weight room, or at least give them top priority, due to the rigorous physical demands of the sport. This would cause the players to live in the weight room and strength train year-round.
With the cold weather drawing near, the football staff continues to be cautious and cognizant of the health of the players, looking at their safety as the primary concern.
“Guys have to be very cognizant of warming up properly. Assistant coach Tom Condell does a great job of getting our guys warmed up properly for practice. Practices move pretty quickly, so we don’t have a lot of guys standing around getting cold and tight,” Austin said. “The guys have to be responsible taking care of their bodies and keeping fluids in them so they don’t pull muscles.”
Original Author: Jill Mendelsohn