|« Decker's turn at UNH||Love of the Valpo game pushes Wysocki »|
QB sees 'huge difference' in Cornell
With the doom and gloom of a 2-8 season nine months behind it, the Cornell football team emerged from its first fall practice on Tuesday with a sunnier aura – both figuratively and literally.
A red-clad army of 105 padless players and their coaches finished the session with the warm August sun breaking through clouds, building on what many around the program are calling a successful offseason that coach Kent Austin warned would be “pretty hard.”
If hope springs eternal naturally, then Cornell was going to at least give itself a reason for its optimism.
“There’s been a huge difference. I think that comes from confidence in the offseason and guys (improving) individually so we can be a better team,” said quarterback Jeff Mathews, who was unanimously picked as Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2010. “We had a very good spring, and we felt like … that translated into our summer workouts. And now we’re into real football, so it’s a lot of fun to get back.”
With Cornell’s first game still a month away – Bucknell visits Schoellkopf Field on Sept. 17 – there will be plenty of time to see what kind of progress is carrying over.
The list of necessary improvements covers more ground than reception from a cell phone tower. Without losing his breath, Austin mentioned improved line play, winning the turnover battle, creating more big plays while limiting the opposition’s big plays, and staying out of third-and-long situations on offense as areas of concern.
Yet a belief that the squad’s depth is drastically improved seems to make that laundry list less daunting.
“It’s hard. You just don’t ever really know when someone’s going to turn the corner,” Austin said. “Whether it’s physically or mentally, sometimes the light bulb goes on a little later for guys in their career. We’ve had some upperclassmen that have surprised us, that are back in better shape and are better understanding. Guys that are playing the game faster.
“Then I think we have some quality freshmen (who) are probably going to find themselves on the field this year.”
If one thing was clear in 2010, it was that job security for players was no more a reality than the tooth fairy. Only six starters don’t return to a Big Red team that was led by a freshman quarterback for the first time since the program’s inception in 1887.
To stay true to that expectation of constant competition, not even Mathews’ spot in the lineup is entirely safe – though Cornell is surely pleased with what he brings to the table. He zipped a handful of passes downfield to senior wide receiver Alex Johnson, an Ithaca High graduate, on Tuesday.
“He’s much further along,” Austin said. “He knows the offense, and he knows that he has to earn it. He has a chance to be a pretty good player. But we have some others that have a chance to be pretty good, too.”