August 17, 2007
Red Dragon gridders begin prepping for fall
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland football head coach Dan MacNeill talks to players about agility training during practice Thursday. the Red Dragons are preparing for a Sept. 8 opener at home against Morrisville.
By ALAN BUTLER
Every collegiate player gets a bit antsy in anticipation of the first day of football practice.
For SUNY Cortland senior quarterback Alex Smith, that anxiety was mixed with a good dose of trepidation prior to stepping onto the field for Thursday afternoon’s opening practice session where some 95 players worked up a sweat for head coach Dan MacNeill.
After injuring his knee six games into the 2006 schedule while carrying the football in a road contest at Western Connecticut State, which knocked him out for the season and led to eventual ACL surgery, there were occasions when Smith was uncertain he would be able to return to be the starting signal caller for the Red Dragons for a fourth consecutive season.
Smith admitted to moments of depression while trying to bounce back from that setback. “There were a couple of times last winter where I would go a couple of weeks and there would be no progress in the knee at all,” he recalled.
It was pretty much a daily effort on the part of the versatile 6-foot, 195-pounder out of Niagara-Wheatfield High School in western New York, to get back on the field for his final season. It was only a month ago that he felt like he was all the way back — which was well ahead of the 12-month period of rehabilitation that an injury of this sort usually takes.
The experience of working his way back gave Smith a bunch of new friends in the medical profession at the college and in the Buffalo area. And that is not all he learned from the humbling experience.
“I appreciate the game a little bit more,” he said after the first practice was over on a humid, 80-plus degree day at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
Smith passed for 1,089 yard and 10 touchdowns, ran for 136 yards and three touchdowns and was directing a Red Dragon team that was undefeated before his knee gave way.
That is why his return is so crucial heading into the 2007 season that gets underway on Saturday, Sept. 8, with a rare 7 p.m. night game against visiting SUNY Morrisville.
THE RED DRAGONS had 15 senior starters move on from last year’s squad that finished 9-2, shared first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference with perennial power Rowan for a second straight season and defeated Ithaca College in overtime for the second straight season in the annual Cortaca Jug contest.
That’s why this year’s pre-season — where Smith, senior defensive end Brad Robison out of Groton, bruising senior fullback Mike Sveda from Smithtown and senior inside linebacker Kyle Pierce out of Walter Panas High School will serve as team captains — is so crucial for a Cortland team that will have a bunch of new faces starting on both sides of the ball.
“They’re all so important,” said MacNeill of pre-season drills, as his 11th season as head coach of his alma mater got underway. “Every team is a little different. Our first kids may not have been starters in the past but they’re chomping at the bit to be starters now.”
Folks like All-America defensive tackle Adam Haas, and other four-year starters like safety Stef Sair and linebacker Matt Montpetit, are no longer around. Still, the feeling is there should not be an appreciable drop-off in talent.
In fact, Coach MacNeill was overjoyed with the way the Red Dragons were flying around the field on opening day.
Robison thinks his teammates are capable of stepping up to the challenge. “There were guys who really didn’t play much last season, but they may have had more talent than the guys playing in front of them. In some cases, it was just a matter of seniority that kept them from playing.”
As a captain and one of the few players back on a defense that allowed only 15.4 points per game, Robison is accepting new responsibilities. Now in his third season since transferring from the University of Buffalo, Robison made 32 tackles and was in on four sacks a year ago.
Though he does look around and wonder where everyone has gone, heading towards his 22nd birthday the task is to teach the newcomers what Red Dragon tradition and pride is all about, to make this a close-knit family. Whereas he used to ask questions of veteran defensive tackles like Haas and Mike Connolly in the past, now he’s the won providing answers for his teammates.
“That’s the one reason why we really have been successful, we all feel welcomed and you’re not out there doing it all alone,” said Robison.
And moving closer to home has worked well for the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder.
“It’s a great position I’m in, and academically it’s everything I wanted,” he said, Robison a business economics major. “As far as the football team, I have had a lot of fun with them playing football, socializing and even with academics. It’s worked out so well for me.”
CORTLAND WILL PUT on pads for the first time Monday, will have its first two-a-day sessions on Tuesday. The annual Red-White scrimmage will take place on the second of two practice sessions on Saturday, Aug. 25, starting at 2:30 p.m. at the Stadium Complex.
The following weekend will be a scrimmage session at Hobart College in Geneva, with the 10-game regular season to follow with that non-league opening night hosting of Morrisville.
The Red Dragons were ranked second in the pre-season NJAC poll, and were among the “other receiving votes” section of the D2football.com pre-season Top 25 poll.
Morrisville is the first of five home games, capped by a Nov. 3 hosting of Rowan. The Cortaca Jug game at Ithaca College is the following weekend.
There are several familiar faces back on the MacNeill coaching staff — with Dan Lounsbury back as offensive coordinator along with Larry Czarnecki (tight ends), Kory David (safeties, special teams), Ted Hardenstine (defensive line), Nate Milne (offensive line) and Matt Steenberg (running backs). New to the coaching staff are Pierre Ingram (wide receivers) and Stephen Thomas (cornerbacks).
MacNeill is 61-41 in his previous 10 years, with Cortland coming off back-to-back 7-3 and 9-2 campaigns.
“I think winning begets winning,” said MacNeill, adding this team is more that capable of continuing that level of success.
NJAC PRE-SEASON POLL
1. Rowan (5 first place votes), 2. Cortland (3), 3. Kean, 4. Montclair State, 5. Western Connecticut State, 6. Buffalo State, 7. The College of New Jersey, 8. William Paterson
RED DRAGONS SCHEDULE
Sept. 8 MORRISVILLE* (7), 15 at Brockport* (1), 22 BUFFALO STATE (1), 29 at William Paterson (1)
Oct. 6 at Kean (1), 13 WESTERN CONNECTICUT STATE (1), 20 MONTCLAIR STATE (1), 27 at College of New Jersey (1)
Nov. 3 ROWAN (1), 10 at Ithaca* (noon)
* non-league games
NAPA ties B series
With two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, NAPA stayed alive in the Cortland Men’s Slow Pitch Softball League B Division championship series.
NAPA posted an 11-10 win over Red Jug Pub Thursday to even the best-of-three final at one game each. The deciding game will be played at 7:15 p.m. today at Dexter Park.
Red Jug Pub took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning and built a 7-1 cushion after the top of the third inning. NAPA rallied with five runs in the bottom of the third and added three more runs in the fourth for an 8-7 advantage. Red Jug answered with three runs in the top of the sixth inning to retake a 10-8 lead before the final NAPA rally in the bottom of the seventh.
Steve Phillips led the NAPA offense by going 3-for-3 with two doubles and one home run. Greg Zacek added a 3-for-4 effort with one double while Dick Coats was 2-for-3.
Steve Everle paced Red Jug Pub by swinging his 3-for-3 bat that included a triple and home run. Mike Browngardt was also 3-for-3 with a double while Kris Terwilliger added a 2-for-3 effort with a triple and home run.
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Playoff weekend set
The Cortland Women’s Slow Pitch League will conduct its playoffs Saturday and Sunday on fields around the city.
On Saturday at Dexter, the C Division slate finds Woodman’s Pub going against Gator’s at 9 a.m., Jack’s and Bob’s Riverside meeting at 10:30 and Paddy’s Pub going against the Woodman’s-Gator’s winner at noon.
At Meldrim, Millenium Marketing and Homer Logging go at it at 9 a.m., the winner to face Anecelle’s at 10:30.
Easy Street and Ivan’s meet in an E Division contest at 9 a.m. at Beaudry 1, the winner facing Palm Gardens at 11 a.m. on the same field. In another 9 a.m. game, King Sub and Ho-Beau’s play at Beaudry 2.
The starting time for Sunday games is 10 a.m., with each division at the same field as on Saturday.