The most decorated player for Cornell football last year wasn’t its quarterback. It wasn’t the running back, leading receiver nor the top tackler.
No, it was arguably its punter-kicker dual threat, Nickolas Null.
Null began the year as the punter, hoping to at least try to fill the shoes of all-American Chris Fraser ’17 — one of the most decorated players to ever walk through the program. Then, Null took over as both the kickoff and field goal taker.
It was in the second of his two responsibilities that Null had his brightest moment — a last-minute field goal to propel Cornell over Princeton in one of the program’s biggest wins in recent history.
And Null was more than capable at his original position.
Null booted 14 punts that pinned the Red’s opponents inside their own 20, including a school-record seven times in a single game in a loss to Dartmouth. Null still has work to do before he rivals Fraser’s accolades, but he began to make up ground, earning Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week four times last season.
Null punted for a long of 60 yards and an average of 40.4 yards per punt.
“The talent is number one,” head coach David Archer ’05 said of Null and Fraser’s success. “Those are two very talented kids that intrinsically want to be the best. Fraser wants to be the best, Null wants to be the best … It’s easy to coach those type of guys.”
While Null is currently listed as the punter and kicker on the depth chart, Archer admitted that may not be a sustainable pace, even if Null has a mindset strong enough to take it on.
“Pick up right where he left off,” Archer said of his hopes for Null. “I don’t know if he can be all three the whole time. We’ll have to spend him appropriately. But best punter, best field goal kicker, best kickoff guy — it’s one guy: it’s him. He’s a difference-maker type of kid who’s All-Ivy League in both [positions]. He just eats, sleeps and breaths it. He’s got a mentality like a linebacker.”
As for the remaining special teams standouts, junior cornerback David Jones will take over from Nick Gesualdi ’18 as the punt returner, and Jones and sophomore wide receiver Eric Gallman are the projected kick returners. Junior wide receiver Owen Peters could also see action returning, Archer said.
Thomas Ferrara, the only freshman listed as a starter on the depth chart, will take over the role of long snapper from Mac Pope ’18, a player Archer consistently praised even if his efforts weren’t the most evident in the statsheet.
Garrett Cloer, a quarterback converted into a wide receiver, will be the holder on field goals.
With only one returning starter to the core of the special teams unit, Archer can rest assured knowing the lone returner is the most important in Null. But from quarterback to linebackers to receivers, he believes in the depth of his team, and that’s extends to special teams.
“The quality of the depth,” Archer said of what makes him excited for the season. “We’ve been able to recruit and develop and think from top to bottom we are better.”