Change, more than anything else, has defined the nine months since Cornell sprint football last took to the field. The team welcomed two new assistant coaches, while off-season recruiting brought in 10 freshmen and a transfer. And St. Thomas Aquinas joined the Collegiate Sprint Football League, bringing the league to an even 10 teams.
But not all change is good news, as the Red bid farewell to 11 seniors.
And unluckily for Cornell, most of the graduating class played defense — marking a concentrated loss that will put the Red’s new and returning players to the test as the team eagerly looks improve on last year’s 4-3 record and fourth-place finish.
While turnover has left Cornell with a particularly depleted defense, sprint will be able to count on the return of nearly its entire offensive line.
“Although we lost almost our entire interior defensive line, nearly our whole offense is returning,” assistant head coach Bob Gneo said. “And we expect them to be a major part of our success this season.”
In particular, Gneo singled out senior quarterback Connor Ostrander and junior running back Will Griffin, who the coach called “incredibly outstanding.”
Last year, Ostrander amassed an impressive slew of statistics and proved vital to the Red’s ability to win games, leading the team with five passing touchdowns and six rushing scores.
Ostrander will also have the help of sophomore quarterback Aneesh Agarwal, who, according to Gneo, is expected to receive ample playing time.
On the ground, Griffin was Cornell’s lead rusher in 2017, responsible for 378 yards and four touchdowns.
While the Red always has its sights set on a championship — an achievement that has eluded the team since 2006 — falling short of that, sprint more specifically hopes to be “fourth-quarter competitive” against Army and Navy, two opponents that have long proved to be Cornell’s kryptonite, Gneo said.
Last season, Cornell fell to the Midshipmen 49-14 and suffered a 55-0 blowout at the hands of Army. Simply shrinking such lopsided margins would amount to a major improvement for a squad that has struggled to compete against the league’s perennial heavyweights.
Although the sizable senior losses could complicate that ambition, Gneo remains confident the combination of a seasoned offense and a new class of eager freshmen will be enough to hit the gridiron running.
“Our seniors will be very tough to replace,” Gneo said. “But I’m very happy with the freshmen’s ability to get up to speed … and everyone coming back has been very solid.”
The Red’s ability to quickly acclimate to roster changes will be especially important as it opens its season with a series of potentially difficult away matchups against Caldwell and Penn.
“We have a tough schedule early,” Gneo said. “Caldwell will be much, much better this year … and Penn has always been a difficult opponent.”
The Red takes to the road to face Caldwell in its season opener at 1 p.m., Sept. 15.