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Cortaca Jug 2019. State University of New York at Cortland Red Dragons vs. Ithaca College Bombers at MetLife Stadium, Meadowlands, New Jersey, on November 16, 2019.

ITHACA, NY -- One of my most memorable interviews of 2020 was with Dan Swanstrom, the head football coach at Ithaca College. We talked about the fact that while some of the players he had recruited as a rookie coach would be able to adjust their lives and schedules and come back to play in 2021, many would not. Grad school plans were already in place, jobs awaited them, and it was just a cold, hard fact that their football careers were finished. When Dan told me that those conversations were some of the toughest he had ever had in his coaching career, I was impressed with the empathy and sincerity he emanated when recalling those interactions. When I brought up that interview during a conversation with Swanstrom about the upcoming season (the Bombers' 88th), he said, “Man, I can't look back. It's too painful. I gotta look forward.” 

We shifted gears quickly, and Dan's excitement level rose as our pre-training camp conversation progressed.  “Tuesday is move-in day,” the coach offered, “and it's always special to get your players back.  It's a thrill to see the level of optimism, to be in fall camp in Ithaca, New York...” Swanstrom laughed and added, “Sometimes I have to do breathing exercises to calm myself down!” 

We took the conversation into the standard pre-season format, and Swanstrom started reeling off the names of players he expected to return on offense, defense and special teams. Given the disruptions of last year, Swanstrom said, “It's probably not as clear as it usually is [who will play where], but we do have a lot of guys who saw a lot of playing time as sophomores, and we have a pair of fifth-year seniors that will provide some leadership.”  

He pointed out that some of his key components are in the “wait and see” stage, like the all-important quarterback position. “Wahid Nabi and Joe Germanerio are both gone, so that's one of our key areas to address.” 

I asked Dan if the process of choosing team captains is more complicated than usual, given the lack of opportunity to assess team chemistry, and he said, “That process is in the works, and while we were together in the spring, we were in groups, and clusters, and it was disjointed. We really don't know each other yet, and choosing four captains (the Bombers customarily have two from the fffense and two from the defense) will involve extra patience and a more thought-out process.”  

That process was made a little less complicated when the team had its spring practices. As the coach said, “We took a vote in the spring, and it was clear that Andrew Vito and Antonio Valle were frontrunners, and we'll sort out the other two.”

Asked if fans will see any unfamiliar opponents this year, Swanstrom said, “Yes, we will host Bridgewater State at home in week one.” (That will be on Sept. 4, which is 651 days after the 2019 Cortaca Jug season finale.) He also pointed out that Brockport is back on the schedule, while St. John Fisher is off.  

I circled back around to address the level of excitement that may require Dan to do breathing exercises, and when I said it sounded like more than just a job, the coach — sounding very grateful to his support system — stated, “That's true. My family knows it, my wife and kids — we chose it. It never stops.”  

When asked if the Bombers will play in front of 45,000 fans again (as they did in the 2019 Cortaca Jug game at MetLife Stadium), Dan said, “Probably not, but I will tell you this... we will put our team on display anytime, anywhere. This team has been through a lot more adversity than ever before, they have attacked the challenges, they have improved and you will see a very resilient group of young men take the field at Butterfield Stadium. Our fans will have a lot of reasons to be very proud.” 

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