Heading into last year’s opener, Cornell football’s offensive line was perhaps the most glaring question mark surrounding the team. But this time around, the tables seem to have turned.
Unlike in 2017, when just one member of the line was a returning starter, this year’s unit will feature the same five starters as last season. From left to right, those five are senior Henry Stillwell, junior John Riffle, senior captain J. Edward Keating, senior David D’Amelio and senior Mason Manning III.
“[Keating’s] the center of a very strong, returning unit,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “We’re older, we’re stronger, we’re more experienced. At any level of football, the line of scrimmage is key, and we’re as good right now on the line of scrimmage as we’ve been in my tenure, maybe in my time.”
Last season, the offensive line looked great at times but ended the year with below average results. They allowed 28 sacks (second most in the Ivy League) and helped the Red’s team of running backs to an average of just 3.4 yards per carry on the ground (sixth in the league).
With a full year of experience under their belts, though, Archer expects his offensive linemen to take a big step forward in the 2018 campaign. His confidence comes, in part, from the success of the 2016 offensive line, which helped power the starting quarterback and running back to All-Ivy selections.
“The similarities [between this offensive line and the line two years ago] are that that was their second year playing together, too,” Archer said. “Very similar in that they got a year to play, and in that second year that they were together, they really were good.”
As always, one of the main responsibilities of the offensive line will be to protect senior quarterback Dalton Banks — or whoever gets the majority of the snaps under center — from opposing defenders. Having watched this unit grow over the last calendar year, Banks is eager to see the results of plenty of hard work.
“The offensive line is looking great,” Banks said. “They’ve had another year of experience to form that camaraderie together, and it’s paying off. You can already see they’ve been a lot sharper during camp, and I’m excited.”
One player to watch is Riffle, the left guard, who missed multiple games last season with a hamstring injury. All signs point to him starting Saturday at Delaware, according to Archer.
Keating, the center and leader not only of the offensive line but arguably of the entire offense, was named one of two Cornell captains at the outset of training camp. He was also honored as a member of the All-Ivy League second-team at the conclusion of last season after starting all 10 games.