Year one was the transition year. Year two was the implementation year. Year three? It all starts tomorrow.
This season marks Cornell football’s third season with head coach David Archer ’05 at the helm. Last season was the first chance Archer had to really begin implementing his vision for the team. A year later, everything is starting to come together.
“Our first two years [were for] preparation and installation of things we wanted to do on each side of the ball and the kicking game,” Archer said. “Now it’s time to translate that to making plays, winning those plays in the game and that will add up to a win on Saturday. From November to now, we’ve become a much better football team and I’m excited to see what [it] translates to against our opponents in a very, very tough schedule.”
The team is coming off of a 1-9 record, with the sole victory coming against winless Columbia in the second to last game of the season. In 2014, Cornell struggled to find the endzone and similarly struggled to keep opponents from scoring. The Red was outscored by an average score of 34-16 last year and finished last or second to last in most offensive and defensive categories.
“It was a learning year last year,” said senior running back Luke Hagy. “I think everybody is just playing with more confidence this year.”
Hagy, one of the team’s four captains, is the only player in Cornell history to have at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards. He led the Red in rushing yards last season with 734 yards and was the only player above 100 yards on the ground. Archer said he expects another huge year out of the senior.
“This is the first time in Luke Hagy’s career that the offense didn’t change during the offseason,” Archer said. “Take a kid with his talent and give him an entire 18 to 24 months to learn something and be able to check things, it makes a world of difference offensively.”
Also adding to the turbulence of last season was the quarterback situation. Due to injuries and inconsistent play, four different quarterbacks saw play time last year. This season, after a position battle throughout the offseason, junior Robert Somborn has emerged as the definitive starting quarterback.
“[Somborn] got about 60 percent of the snaps during training camp and he did nothing but continue to grow and flourish,” Archer said. “He’s earned the starting job.”
Somborn’s teammates have been similarly impressed by him.
“He does a great job,” said junior linebacker Miles Norris. “He’s fun to compete against, and I can’t wait to compete with him on Saturday.”
Somborn played in five games last year, passing for 1000 yards and nine touchdowns. He had two 300 yard passing games and finished the year with just three interceptions.
Saturday will mark a week since the NFL kicked off and two weeks since most college football teams’ seasons began. All this waiting around has the team anxious and, with Homecoming on the first game of the season, emotions are running high for Cornell.
“It’s just an awesome experience to have everyone here and all the different events that are going on for the crowd, and they get all in it,” Hagy said. “Our first game is Homecoming so it makes it that much more special.”
Norris, another one of the captains of the team, said that despite the emotions and the excitement, he’s going to try to keep a level head going into the game.
“It’s the same game we’ve been playing since we were four or five years old,” Norris said. “It’s at a high level — that’s something you can’t take for granted — but at the end of the day, the coaches do a good job of putting us where we need to be, so it’s about relaxing and playing.”
Archer stresses a “character edge” every week during the season to get the team to focus on a particularly facet of the game. Archer said this week’s edge is details.
“[When] all those big things happen, you really have to focus in on the small things.” Archer said about the multitude of Homecoming events throughout the weekend. “So in our preparation, we want to be really detail focused. On Saturday, [we want to] let that emotion play and use it our advantage, but not let it overcome us.”
Last year, Cornell fell victim to nerves when the Red welcomed Lehigh to Ithaca for Homecoming. There were early mistakes on both sides of the ball and Cornell found itself in a 17-0 hole after 10 minutes of play.
The loss would be one of nine losses the Red would experience last year and, despite topping Columbia, Cornell was picked to finish last in the Ivy League in a preseason poll a couple of weeks ago.
Hagy said the team uses that as fuel to prove people wrong.
“There’s a lot of people saying we’re going to finish eighth,” Hagy said. “But they don’t necessarily know what’s going on here. We’ve been putting in a lot of hard work and I think that we’ve taken great steps as an offense and as a team in general.”
Bucknell (1-1) comes to town on Saturday looking to repeat last year’s victory over the Red. In its 2014 game, Cornell was tied up with the Bison after one quarter, but Bucknell scored 13 unanswered to win its fourth straight. The Bison would go on to finish the season at 8-2, narrowly missing out on winning the Patriot League.
Despite the challenge that Bucknell will bring, Archer said he’s excited for the opening game.
“It’s like it’s Christmas Day,” Archer said. “This is the best time of year. Training camp is finally behind you. You have an opponent, you’re gonna play. The kick is coming at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, and we’re ready to go.”