August 26, 2013

SPRINT FOOTBALL | Red Sets Sights on First Title Since 2006

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Lost among the buzz surrounding Jeff Mathews’ senior season has been Cornell’s other outgoing star quarterback —2012 All-CSFL First Team selection senior Brendan Miller.

“[Mathews] throws extremely well, and he has a great read on the game. In his own right, Brendan [Miller] in our league is the same way,” said co-head coach Bart Guccia. “He reads coverages very well and throws extremely well. So the two are very comparable in what they do for each of our teams.”

This season, it will be up to Miller to command a squad that went 4-3 last year and has lost two of its star wideouts — Abe Mellinger ’13 and Spenser Gruenenfelder ‘13.

“I’m definitely looking forward to a lot of competition,” Miller said. “[When] you have a lot of young guys who are competing for jobs, that’s when your team can be dangerous, because you have guys fighting for a lot of different spots and that’s when everybody steps up.”

According to Guccia, the loss of these receivers means the Red will have to search its depth chart for replacements.

“We have to take a look at the players we have coming back and some of the new players coming up and actually some other players in other positions that might be able to work out as wide receivers,” Guccia said. “Right now, it’s a work in progress.”

One candidate who could help to fill the offensive void in 2013 is versatile senior running back Nick Perez, who finished third on the team in total offensive production last season According to Miller, he is just about “the fastest kid on the team.”

“I’m thinking about switching to receiver — that’s definitely a possibility,” Perez said. The Red will have the luxury of moving Perez around the field thanks to a deep stable of returning halfbacks, highlighted by sophomore Ben Herrera, who led the team with 190 rushing yards as a freshman. “He’s really going to add a lot and [do] a lot of damage in the league,” Perez said.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Red will again feature one of the CSFL’s top group of linebackers, led by seniors Kyle Higgins and John Kelder and junior Noah Shephard.

“I think our linebackers have always been a strength of the team,” Guccia said. “We’ve been a defensive-oriented team — our defense has been one of the best in the league over the past six, seven years.”

Still, Guccia has his eye on the changing sprint football landscape, where recently offensive and defensive adjustments have become “a game of cat and mouse.”

“As in any other football conference, as teams evolve they tend to get more wide-open,” he said. “That’s how the league has evolved — from a strictly run type of offense to a wide-open shotgun zone-read, so now defensively teams have to prepare for that type of a game.

However, perennial CSFL powerhouse Navy — who defeated the Red, 11-3, last season — plays a different style from other teams in the league.

“Then again, you have to prepare for Navy, who’s still old-fashioned football but can play wide open, so it’s a challenge the way the game has evolved,” Guccia said.

With the recent additions of Mansfield, Post and Franklin Pierce, the CSFL has become increasingly competitive. While the Red is excited by the challenges from these new schools and the service academies, one opponent stands out more than any other.

“Always Penn,” Miller said. “I have an expectation to win every week, but I think the big rivalry developed against Penn. And then given the marathon game we played last year that went into six overtimes. It’s just a really, really, really intense game every year — a lot of hard hitting. We’re always relatively evenly matched teams, so I’m really looking forward to that game.”

The Red defeated Penn in that marathon match, and will once again take on the Quakers in its first home match of 2013. A week prior it will travel to neutral turf in Saratoga Springs to face off against Franklin Pierce in the annual Adirondack Trust Allegiance Bowl. “[That’s] another big one,” Perez said.

With strong play early in the season, the Red has a chance to replicate last season’s 3-0 start and stay in the hunt for the team’s first league title since 2006.

“As a team, we just need to get over that hump,” Miller said. “It seems like we’ve been around that four or five win a season mark since I’ve been here. You can go back and say ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ on a bunch of different games and say ‘we could have had six wins this season’ or ‘we could have had a championship this year’ or whatnot. I expect to go into every game and win every game and be a league champion. Obviously, it’s a lot easier said than done, but as a group I think that if we go in with those expectations it will be a lot better.”

Backed by a strong defense and plenty of contributors on the offensive line and in the running game, Miller will have the opportunity to meet the team’s lofty expectations in 2013. But perhaps most instrumental to the team’s success will be the Red’s secret weapon — All-CSFL First Team kicker and 2012 team scoring leader John Rodriguez.

‘[H]e’s just such a weapon,” Miller said. “When you have a guy who can come in and hit a 50-yard field goal — put it through with five or ten yards to spare — that’s a pretty big weapon in this league, and he definitely kept us in a lot of games. He’s already the best player on our team, but I expect him to get a lot more notoriety for what he has done over the past couple seasons.”

The Red travels to Waterbury, CT for the team’s season opener against the Post Eagles on September 14.

Original Author: Chris Mills