Cornell football

The Cornell Big Red Sprint Football team competes against Chestnut Hill on Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, NY on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018.

ITHACA, NY -- Customarily, I talk to a coach when I write a season preview. This preview will offer a slight departure, as I spoke with a young man who has been connected to Cornell football since he was old enough to walk. In fact, when head coach Dave Archer stepped onto Schoellkopf Field as a freshman in the fall of 2001, the 2-year-old Turner was scampering around the facility. 

Turner DePalma's dad, Bernie, has been part of the Big Red's sports edicine staff for 40 years, and over the course of the past 20 years — give or take —Turner has gone from unofficial team mascot to team member, and he is looking to make the most of his last season.  

In Turner's words, “I have played on special teams throughout my career at Cornell, and I have gotten some reps at wide receiver. This year, I am hoping to get a lot more, and I'll be competing for a starting job.”  

DePalma is one of a dozen or so returning seniors who will be coming back with extra fire in the belly after sitting out the 2020 season.  

“The last game I played was in November of 2019,” Turner said. “While that is a long time for sure, it sure feels like a lot longer. We had some spring practices, but it's the longest I have gone without playing an actual game of football since I started playing when I was 6 or 7 years old.”  

Sounding very excited, he added, “The fact that we have approximately half our class choosing to re-work their lives so they could come back will definitely give us a big advantage, and we plan to turn that into an Ivy League title. We're just not ready to be done.”

I recall watching a youth football game a dozen years ago, and when I saw a fleet-footed kid average about a half a football field per rush, I wasn't surprised to learn that it was Bernie's son. I knew that the fact that the young athlete's mom — Mary Turner De Palma — was a DI runner (at Penn) would give him a big advantage, and I saw him light up the field again as a player at Ithaca High, where he was a three-time All-Conference player. Everything was unfolding as planned until about midway through his senior season at Ithaca High, when Turner went down with an injury and heard the dreaded words he knew his father had spoken to too many other athletes: “You have a torn ACL.”  

When DePalma arrived at Cornell, it was determined that his knee was not yet ready, so he took the year off.  He put in the rehab work, and in the ensuing years, has seen his playing time increase. When I asked him if it was a big decision to come back, he offered, “Because of my knee injury, I had another year of eligibility anyway.  Regardless of COVID, I was coming back.” 

While the cancellation of the 2020 season did not throw a major wrench into DePalma’s own plans, he feels a lot of empathy for some of his friends and teammates. He told me, “We had a few guys transfer and try to play elsewhere as grad students, but we also have a lot of guys who had their football careers end very abruptly. They won't get that year back, and we plan to win a ring for them, hoping it will give them some peace of mind, knowing they were a part of it.”  DePalma paused and added, “We see it as unfinished business.”

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