Want to keep up with everything Cornell sports? Sign up for our biweekly sports email newsletter and stay up-to-date with the Red. Click here!
With a new coach, a new rule and a new team in the league, change is coming. But change could do Cornell sprint football some good, as the Red tries to put a lackluster 2016 campaign in the rearview mirror.
Change can happen in many ways. Most commonly, the culture and approach of any team starts from the leadership — the head coach. And with a first-year head coach Bob Gneo at the helm, Cornell hopes to find that path to success every team searches for.
“We have a lot of new players,” Gneo said. “And not only new players, we have four new coaches. So this is a big transition year for us.”
The players have not hesitated to embrace their new leader.
“The foundation and basic philosophy of any football program starts with the head coach,” said senior tight end Craig Hannon. “We are excited to have Coach Gneo lead us for the first time this year and feel that he will bring a renewed focus.”
Both the novelty and the attitude of the coaching staff have had invigorating effects on the players to move forward from last season’s struggles.
“Coach Gneo and a few other additions to the coaching staff … have brought a spark of energy to the team.” said junior quarterback Connor Ostrander. “Our practices thus far have been extremely productive and there is a feeling of optimism heading into the season.”
Passing offense and defense were notable struggles for the Red last year, ranking second to last in the Collegiate Sprint Football League in both categories. But Gneo believes his team can clean it up this season.
“[For] pass defense, a lot of it was bad luck,” the former defensive backs coach said. “We were there to make a play numerous times, and we just couldn’t make the play. But we were there. The scheme was fine. … [This year], we didn’t change the offense and defense that much, we just tweaked it.”
Outside the coaching staff, Cornell’s starting lineup will also see adjustments. Of the 12 players named to All-CSFL teams, eight will not be return this year. That is a far cry from last year, when 18 of 22 starters returned.
“We only have five returning players on defense [and] five returning players on offense,” Gneo said. “We lost a lot of good players who graduated.”
Yet the changes to sprint football this year go beyond the program. The CSFL has transformed with the introduction of a new team and a key new rule.
First, Caldwell University from New Jersey has entered the league and will be the Red’s first matchup.
“North Jersey has some of the best football in the country,” Gneo said. “So I don’t expect them to be an ‘expansion’ team. They have got over 50 guys on their team. They’re going to be good.”
With this addition, the coaches voted to split the league into two divisions — North and South. Playing in the North Division will be Cornell, Army West Point, Franklin Pierce and Post, while the South Division will have Caldwell, Chestnut Hill, Mansfield, Penn and Navy.
The winner of each division will meet one week after the regular season for the inaugural CSFL Championship. Unfortunately for Cornell, it finds itself in the division with Army, which has gotten the best of the Red in 57 of 73 meetings.
Cornell will take on Army at home in its penultimate game of the regular season, and If the standings in the North are close come Oct. 27, this game could decide who goes on to the Championship game.
As for the new rule, the CSFL weight limit has been raised from 172 pounds to 178, with an evaluation of the rule every four years.
“The increased weight limit has certainly helped a lot of our “heavier” players cut to playing weight as well as allowed other members of the team to add some additional muscle,” Ostrander said of the rule change. “It will be interesting to see how the weight change and addition of Caldwell will affect the dynamic of the league.”
Cornell has the ability to compete with all eight other squads in the league. Where the Red fell short last season was in its ability to close out games in crunch time. Many wins slipped away in the waning moments of contests in 2016.
“Our biggest issue last season was finishing games,” said junior linebacker Alfonso Nazzaro. “We lost too many close games in the final quarter or overtime. If we want to be successful this season, we will need to improve on our ability to finish.”
“It’s a good group,” Gneo said. “They work hard, [and] they’re good listeners. [We have] just got to coach them up [and] get some depth built.”
The Red kicks things off a week later than normal on Sep. 22 — its bye week coming before the first game.