This is part of The Sun’s position-by-position preview of the 2017 Cornell football team. For a preview of each position, click here.
2016 was not a kind year to any aspect of the Cornell defense, and the secondary was no different. While the Red led the league in interceptions with 15, the team finished seventh in passing yards allowed, giving up 272 yards per game on average, and ranked last in total defense.
This year, all four starting defensive backs return and are eager to help the team improve its pass defense, and head coach David Archer ’05 believes they are ready to do some damage.
“The whole starting back end is back this year, and they’re all better than they were,” Archer said.
Senior captain Nick Gesualdi and classmate Justin Solomon are Cornell’s starting safeties. Gesualdi consistently has been a key contributor for the Red on the defensive side of the ball, and his team is counting on him for another big season.
“It all starts with Gesualdi,” Archer said of the secondary. “He’s a kid that’s around the football all the time, he came back in great shape. He just makes a ton of plays, he just feels it.”
Gesualdi, who led the league with six interceptions in 2016, earned first-team All-Ivy honors and was named a third team FCS All-American. His 81 tackles led the team, and he picked up a few sacks along the way as well.
Solomon had three interceptions to his name and averaged nearly seven tackles per game last season at the free safety position.
Senior Sean Scullen is still battling back from a severe leg injury sustained on the opening kickoff of last season. Scullen was poised to start at safety but missed the entire season with the injury. Archer said 2017 remains a question mark.
“I hope at some point he could get back,” he said.
At cornerback, senior Jelani King and junior D.J. Woullard will get the nod on opening day. Both King and Woullard started all 10 contests last season and should be expected to do the same this year. Each had a solid 2016 season but both had their fair share of blown coverages that led to some big plays for the opponent’s offense.
Sophomore David Jones and junior Austin Holmes will look to join the mix at secondary as each has had “a heck of a camp,” according to Archer.
Freshman Phazione McClurge is another player to watch as the season unfolds.
“He’s really emerged,” Archer said.
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