Cornell defeated Harvard 17-14 on Oct. 7, 2017 at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y. in an Ivy League contest.

When David Archer took over as Cornell’s football coach, it made sense that he was so fired up all the time. Archer grew up in nearby Endicott, NY, he played football at Cornell (class of 2005), he was an assistant coach at his alma mater from 2007-2012, and when hired as The Roger J. Weiss ‘61 Head Coach of Football in 2013, Archer was the youngest head coach in all of Division 1. Yes, Dave was fired up. 

Anyone who has attended one of the football luncheons (at which the coaches from Ithaca College and Ithaca High School also give a weekly update) knows that Archer’s enthusiasm has not waned, and when I sat down in his office last week, I asked him, “Coach, how many consecutive Augusts is this that you have been around this football complex and found yourself getting really excited?” Archer scratched his chin and said, “Let’s see… I arrived in 2005, I was gone for a brief time when I was involved in Teach for America, and then I came back…”  The wheels turned again and he said, “Now it is 12 consecutive years and 16 out of the last 18.  Wow.  I hadn’t thought about that.”

Every head coach brims with optimism every August, but this year there really are numerous concrete reasons to be… well… fired up.  “Last season was the first time in 18 years we were in first place in November,” Archer stated.  “I always explain it in weight-lifting terms… You have to really ‘feel the weight’ before you can finish putting it up.”

We also framed our conversation in terms of a golf tournament, and Dave said, “Being in the lead on a Sunday feels a lot different than it does on a Friday. You have to learn how to dig deep and finish it.”

Digging deep is a good metaphor for a team that returns so many starters. Archer told me “We return both lines of scrimmage, and that’s the foundation of it all. We have a lot of guys coming back with a lot of game experience. We were ‘there,’ and it’s not like we lost a big name star like a Jeff Matthews or a Bill Lazor. Almost all of our guys are back, and that experience is key.”

There was a legitimate four-man battle for the quarterback position in spring practice, and Dalton Banks, Mike Catanese, Richie Kenney and Richard Wagner are all competing for snaps.

Archer hopes for big contributions on defense. He has high hopes for sophomore cornerback Phazione McClurge, saying “He was heavily recruited, and we got him over North Dakota State.” He mentioned defensive back David Jones, and senior cornerback D.J. Woullard’s name came up as a seasoned player.

Archer likes what he sees from tailback Chris Walker, calling him “a marquee name,” and says Walker is at full strength after missing the last three games of this past season. The names of Harold Coles, S.K. Howard and J.D. Pickell were mentioned as potential game-changers, and given there are 117 players on the roster, we agreed that we would revisit who was doing what as the season progresses.

When asked if there were any new rules this year, Coach Archer said ‘Yes, we will now be able to fair-catch kickoffs,” and he said that this is one of the ways the NCAA is trying to limit high-speed collisions. The ball will come out to the 25 yard-line on such plays.

The Big Red will be at Delaware to start the season, and will follow up by hosting Yale, Sacred Heart and Harvard. Those early autumn games at Schoelkopf Field offer a great view of the surrounding hills and the beautiful campus, and Archer hopes that the view of what is happening on the field is just as compelling. He said “We start our season late compared to other schools, and by the time you get to the third week of practice, you just want to play. We’re very excited to get started.” For more info, visit www.cornellbigred.com

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