Cornell football is back, and as the Red prepare for this weekend’s homecoming game matchup against the Virginia Military Institute Keydets, Head Coach David Archer ’05 said he wants to start the season by building off the talent and momentum the team has held onto since the end of the 2019 season.
After dealing with injuries and personnel changes midway through the 2019 season, Archer, along with the rest of the coaching staff, implemented a new offensive scheme to finish the season, with two exhilarating wins over Columbia and rival Dartmouth. Their success toward the latter of the season helped convince 21 of the 27 eligible graduate athletes to stay as fifth-year players under the newly adopted COVID-19 eligibility rules.
These “super seniors,” as Archer calls them, will be a big part of the potential success of the team this upcoming season.
“Imagine having not one class of seniors to look to, but two of them,” Archer explained. “I think what you’re going to see is a lot more opportunities to mentor the younger players, and then going forward in the games this year, particularly on the away games when you’re limited with who you can travel and dress, you’re going to see a lot more older players making that trip making up that travel team.”
Fifty of the 62 travel team players this year will either be seniors or fifth-year players, meaning most on-field players will have had over three years of college playing experience. The team has a total of 137 players on the roster, ranging over six classes of student athletes.
Now, Archer said he decided to capitalize on the return of full-contact practices by splitting the team into two manageable sections.
“The coaches coach two practices a day, each player practices once,” Archer said. “That way we got maximum time for coaching, development, instruction, for the most number of guys.”
Still, preparing for the upcoming season while 18 months removed from regular season play is a tall order to. While coaches tried to implement at-home workout routines and socially distanced practices, nothing compares to actually being in the game.
“You just don’t know after a long break how people will come back,” Archers said of the other Ivy League opponents. “In some ways it feels like a restart. Thinking that things can and will just kind of pick up how they were, that’s just not what happens.”
While the Red have their share of experienced players, Archer said the coaching staff understands that all the teams within the conference have that same advantage. 2021 presents a unique opportunity for schools to start a new chapter, while also picking up with similar teams they had in the past.
For coach Archer, however, looking toward the future or reminiscing on the past will not lead to on-field success. This season, he is emphasizing playing in the moment.
“We’re just trying to stay super focused on the present, each play, each possession,” he said. “If all you’re doing is looking at the top as you’re trying to climb, you’re gonna stumble. You’re not taking care of what’s important right in front of you.”
Right now, the only thing in front of the team is their long-awaited homecoming game, where they hope to set an early winning precedent on Schoellkopf Field.
In addition to VMI, Cornell is slated to face off against all seven other Ivy League institutions, as well as Bucknell and Colgate. So long as the plan for coach Archer is followed through, he, along with his team, believe that there is no school on their schedule that they cannot beat.