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Cornell Football on verge of first winning season since 2005

Big Red program attempting to change the narrative on Ivy League Football’s competitive balance problem

As the first flurries of the season flutter down onto Schoelkopf Field, the Cornell University football team finds itself on the cusp of its first winning season since 2005. The snow-coated turf provides ironic symbolism for a Big Red program that has been mired in a cold spell for almost two decades.

“We’re aware of it,” said senior linebacker Jake Stebbins. “We haven’t had five wins since 2011 and haven’t had six since 2005.”

Snow coated Schoelkopf Field during practice on Wednesday evening (via @BigRedEQ on Twitter)

Cornell tallied its fifth win of the season last Saturday against Dartmouth College to move to 5-4 on the season. A win (or tie) against 5-4 Columbia University this coming Saturday would officially finalize a winning record for the Big Red.

Fresh off nine-straight losing seasons, including a miserable 2021 slate, Stebbins said the team emphasized becoming more well-rounded during the offseason.

“Coming off a 2-8 season last year, we realized there was a lot we needed to work on,” said Stebbins. “We focused on discipline, togetherness, and working like a real team.”

Stebbins has been a major part of the turnaround according to junior wide receiver Nicholas Laboy.

“There’s definitely been a change over these last few years,” said Laboy. “We’ve grown as a team and had a lot of leaders come in with guys like Stebbins stepping up and holding people accountable.”

Laboy said accountability has been at the forefront of Cornell’s success this season.

“We’re straight to the point,” said Laboy. “Everyone knows their role and does their job confidently.”

Combatting inherent disadvantages

Five of eight teams in the Ivy League have won at least 13 titles since the league was formally organized in 1956. The remaining trio (Brown University, Cornell, and Columbia) has combined for just eight total.

Cornell has not won a title since 1990, and Columbia’s one shared title came in 1961. The Brown Bears emerged victorious most recently back in 2008.

Stebbins was named All-Ivy his junior season after amassing a league-most 95 tackles (via Ryan Griffith)

Scott Cordischi has served as the play-by-play voice of the Bears’ football team since 1998 and noted there are inherent recruiting disadvantages for Brown, Cornell, and Columbia due to a lack of prestige compared to the rest of the league.

“All of the Ivy League programs are fishing in a pond, recruiting the same players that are not just great athletes but great students,” said Cordischi. “When faced with a decision between choosing Harvard, Yale or Princeton versus Cornell or Brown, nine times out of ten,  [players]  are choosing Harvard, Yale or Princeton.”

Head Coach David Archer was a senior captain for Cornell the last time the team had a winning record (via Cornell Athletics)

Cordischi said coaches at Brown and Cornell have to be diligent in their recruiting in order to remain competitive in the league.

“You have to find under-recruited players,” said Cordischi. “Diamonds-in-the-rough that Harvard or Yale missed out on that are tough, have a chip on their shoulder and love football.”

Stebbins echoed this sentiment.

“We’re not going to get the big recruit guys,” said Stebbins. “But we’re going to get guys who have a lot of grit and are willing to fight and claw for every inch.”

Big Red looking ahead

Cordischi said Cornell’s newfound success has helped the Ivy League become more competitive in 2022.

Sophomore quarterback Jameson Wang has shown vast improvements in a starting role this season (via Eldon Lindsay)

“There’s more parody [this season],” said Cordischi.

The competitiveness of the league is a major part of what makes it so beloved according to Stebbins.

“One thing that I love about the Ivy League is I feel like on any given day, any team can beat any other team,” said Stebbins. “That’s encouraging as we move forward too because it’s the little things we can work on that can put us right at the top.”

Even with the historical significance of Saturday’s game against Columbia, both Laboy and Stebbins said that the team’s focus will be solely on the task at hand.

“We come and we fight,” said Laboy. “We’re not worried about records.”

No matter what the result is on Saturday, the future appears to be bright for a Big Red football program seemingly on the rise.

“The last few games, we’ve definitely demonstrated that we can be a top team in this league,” said Laboy. “I think we’re going to be a lot stronger going into next season.”

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