December 2, 2015

Family Ties Come Full Circle for Cornell Football Running Back Luke Hagy

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Every game starts with a conversation. Although the routine changed slightly this season for Cornell football running back Luke Hagy due to his team captaincy, he made sure that his pregame ritual happened before every single game he played in a Red uniform. Hagy ran down to one of the end zones and took a knee. By himself, Hagy would talk to his grandfather, Anthony Cugini, who passed away when he was in the fifth grade.

“I would just tell him that I miss and that this game was for him,” Hagy said. “I ask him to look out for me. To keep me safe.”

But for Hagy’s last game in a Cornell football uniform at Franklin Field, the home of the Penn Quakers, the routine held greater significance: Cugini played offensive line under legendary coach George Munger during the 1950s. Back then, many regarded the Ivy League as one of the top football conferences in the country.

So for Hagy, playing his last game on the same field where his grandfather played meant a great deal to the player whom head coach David Archer ’05 refers to as one of the greatest running backs in Cornell football history.

“It was kind of surreal,” Hagy said.

‘There’s a Piece of My Dad With Him’

Karen Hagy sees a lot of her father in Luke, the younger of her two kids. There’s something about the way Luke carries himself that evokes memories of her father, Karen said. The competitiveness, the athletic ability, the drive to win. “I feel like there’s a piece of my dad with him every game that he plays,” Karen said. “It makes it really special in that regard.” Whenever Luke enters a room, Karen said, he can make people laugh. Her dad was exactly the same, she said.

Luke and Cugini used to play games together. “He never let me win,” Luke said. “It didn’t matter if it was a board game or some athletic activity, Cugini never let the little Hagy claim victory. The two would sometimes sit on the porch of the house, pick a color of a car and would earn a point anytime a car passed by of that color. “It was always me trying to justify why a maroon car should count as a red car,” Luke said. “I definitely took that competitiveness from him.”

In 2002, Cugini and the Hagy family visited Penn and Franklin Field for a reunion of the 1952 Quakers team. At the time, Karen said, Cugini was very sick. On that day, Cugini and the quarterback of ’54 Quakers team took Hagy, then a fourth grader, onto the field and tossed around a football. “I didn’t understand how great of an experience it was for me, but it was just awesome to go out on the same field he played on and just throw the football around with him,” Hagy said. Cugini passed away in September 2002 at 69 years old. He never got to see Luke play football.

‘I Told Him That It Was For Him’

“Hagy Nation,” as the family coined their personal cheering section, represents one of the most vocal and passionate sections at the game in mid-November. Armed with vuvuzelas, cow bells and several massive signs, Hagy Nation’s presence at Franklin is more than tangible.

On the Red’s last offensive drive of the season, Cornell inched towards the end zone. On the 14-yard line, Cornell quarterback Robert Somborn dropped back and tossed the pigskin to Hagy, who scampered towards the end zone before a big hit. Hagy laid on the ground, winded, and was forced to exit the game with 1:18 left on the clock. As Somborn prepared to snap the ball from the Quaker’s seven-yard line, Penn coach Ray Priore sprinted down the field to call a timeout, allowing Hagy to re-enter the game.

“This is perfect,” Hagy thought. “I’m going back in.”

Somborn snapped the ball and tossed Hagy the ball, who zipped into the end zone for a Cornell touchdown on the last play of his collegiate football career. Hagy went down on a knee. “I told him that it was for him,” Hagy said.

Louise Cugini sits in the bleachers of Franklin Field, the same place she watched her husband play more than 60 years ago. Nearly 40 members of the Hagy and Cugini family showed up to support Luke at Penn for his last game for the Red. Louise met Anthony in high school and became a frequent visitor to Franklin to watch her husband play for the Quakers.

Karen describes her father as humble, a quality she sees in Luke. “Luke is very humble, and that’s another quality that Luke has gotten from him,” Karen said. There was something, however, that Anthony liked to boast about. “[Anthony] told all of his friends that [Luke] was going to be the greatest athlete,” Louise says. “He was always bragging and that was even before [Luke] started football. He just thought that he was going to be good.”

Hagy certainly made his mark in the Cornell football record books. The senior leaves the hill with the sixth-most rushing yards in school history with 2335 rushing yards, a first team and second team All-Ivy selections and 10 receiving touchdowns (10th all-time in Cornell football) among many other accolades and school records. He also is the only player in Ivy League history to have at least 2000 rushing yards and 1500 receiving yards.

“It’s just surreal, I’ll tell you,” Louise says. “[Anthony] would’ve loved to have seen him play.”

Surrounded by family screaming for Hagy and the Red, Louise sits stoically looking at the field, covered by a Penn Quakers blanket. Anthony received the blanket as a senior in 1954 and Louise brings it to every one of Luke’s games with one caveat. “I tell her that she’s only allowed to bring it if she only wears it on the red side,” Hagy said. “It’s red on one side and blue on the other side.”

Louise seems restrained in her emotions as she’s watching Luke carry the football for the last time in a Cornell uniform. Katie Cugini, Hagy’s cousin, turns around to Louise and hands her a phone with pictures of Anthony in his high school and Penn uniforms. Louise is left speechless.

“Where did you find these?” Louise says as her voice begins to trembles. She looks at the pictures, looks for a handkerchief and wipes away the tears beading up under her eyes. “Oh my,” Louise said. “It’s hard to believe that Luke’s playing his last college ball on the same field.” The emotional magnitude of the situation seems to finally dawn on her as she continues to wipe away tears.

“I wished [Anthony] was here to see him,” Louise said. “That’s the thing. I think he does see him.”