Michael Wenye Li / Sun Senior Photographer

Senior Nickolas Null is Cornell's best weapon on kickoffs, field goals and punts.

September 15, 2019

Football Position Previews: Null and Jones Return as Difference-Makers for Special Teams

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Some considered Nickolas Null to be the heart of Cornell football in 2017.

That season, Null was honored as a second-team all-Ivy kicker and was tabbed as an honorable mention as a punter — all as a sophomore. The hybrid threat converted on four of his five field goal attempts, recorded 17 touchbacks and had seven punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Null came through in the clutch as well, drilling a 43-yard game-winning field goal to defeat Princeton in a marquee victory.

This excitement carried over into 2018. But perhaps it was too ambitious for head coach David Archer ’05 to deploy Null in three different roles last season. Null started the year as the team’s punter, placekicker and kickoff specialist. That body of work eventually caught up with Null as he suffered a season-ending injury that caused him to miss the final seven games.

“Nick Null is, you know, he was out last year with injuries,” Archer said. “He was an All-Ivy punter and an All-Ivy kicker as a sophomore. Hopefully, he is ready to go game one.”

Knowing what happened last year, Archer addressed how he will use his All-Ivy player in 2019.

“That’s going to be dependent on how he feels, and realizing that there are 10 games, and how does he feel that week, how does he feel that day, what’s the score — that kind of thing,” Archer said. “If we’re up, maybe I can take it back and that type of deal.”

Aside from Null, Cornell boasts a bevy of other talent that can handle special teams duties in Null’s stead. After Null went down with injury, Koby Kiefer — then a freshman — assumed punting responsibilities, averaging nearly 35 yards per punt on 33 boots. Meanwhile, current senior Zach Mays picked up some of the slack as well, recording a field goal, 14 PATs and 15 touchbacks.

In the return game, senior David Jones will once again serve as the team’s main return man. Jones gained an average of 7.8 yards on 12 punt returns while also averaging 20.2 yards per kickoff return. In all, Jones led the Ivy League with 498 kickoff return yards.

“I think he’s one of the best return men in the Ivy League,” Archer said of Jones.

While Cornell has failed to record a winning season in over a decade, its special teams unit has been a consistent strength in the past couple years thanks to the exemplary play from Null and Jones.

“Great specialists make great special teams,” Archer said.

The Red will hope to utilize both of its special teams weapons in Saturday’s season opener against Marist.