August 19, 2010
Opening day special for two Red Dragons
Besides being named team captains for the second straight season, SUNY Cortland’s Lou Crispo and Dan Pitcher have another thing in common.
Both invaluable Red Dragons suffered early-season injuries that spoiled their 2009 football fun and made things harder for a Cortland squad that finished in third place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference and 7-4 overall.
Taking over the reins at quarterback after being a record-setting passer for Cortland High, and spending some time with the Colgate University program before transferring back home, Pitcher tore his Achilles tendon trying to scramble during a Cortland victory over Rowan just two games into last season.
Defensive tackle Crispo went down the following weekend in a loss to Kean, caught in an illegal (albeit un-flagged) double-team that not only tore the meniscus in his knee but fractured his tibia leg bone as well. The 6-foot-1, 270-pounder out of downstate Eastchester was fortunate that mishap arrived early in his senior season, as he became a red-shirt candidate and will now get a second chance to end his collegiate career on a much different note.
That’s why the opening of the 2010 campaign was a special occasion for both Red Dragons, who were among the 95 eager and energetic players— with one more due to arrive to pre-season camp — put through their paces as Dan MacNeill began his 14th season as the head coach of his alma mater on a warm Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s great to have kids back like that with experience, there’s no doubt about it,” said MacNeill. “We hated to lose them last year but now we’re reaping the benefits of getting them back. Danny would have been back this year, anyway, but Crispo would not have been, so good for us.”
The path back was a lot of hard work for both Red Dragons.
“The biggest part was getting some stability back in my knee and getting the strength back in my leg,” said Crispo of his off-season rehabilitation. “Since then I’ve gotten all my strength back, have gotten stronger, am just as fast and I’m hungrier now.”
As a junior in 2008, Crispo was in on 70 tackles including three quarterback sacks. Looked upon to anchor the defensive line last season, he had 11 tackles and recovered a fumble before being injured against Kean. Engaged with the opposing center on a pass play, the opposing right guard’s helmet slammed into his knee and “pushed it a way it’s not suppose to go” to use Crispo’s words.
“That was that,” said Crispo of the moment. “I got back into the game a little bit after that, finished out the half and the first drive of the second half, but then the trainers caught on that there was something wrong. I tried to stay in there, tried to help the team.”
That led to his recovery regiment that took a couple of hours a day, five to six times per week. “Whatever I had to do to get it done,” said Crispo, who now declares himself “stronger than ever.”
Pitcher completed 33-of-54 passes for 480 yards and four touchdowns, and ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run in a season-opening win over Morrisville State, before his injury arrived against Rowan. He had surgery the following week.
“It’s kind of weird being back here. It’s a great feeling, but it’s different,” said Pitcher after practice concluded. “I am tremendously excited and really just focusing one day at a time. If there’s one thing last year taught me, and my career thus far has taught me, is to take it one day at a time because anything can happen.”
The physical therapy required tacked an extra hour onto the usual Pitcher off-season workout load, those sessions including work in a pool added to the normal lifting and throwing routines.
“I’m about 11 months out (from surgery) and I’ve been given the full two thumbs up, okay to go,” said Pitcher. “I’m being smart around it. It reminds me that it’s there every now and then, but I feel very comfortable doing al the things that I need to do to go on the field and be successful.”
The Red Dragons expect to be successful, too, Cortland the pre-season pick to win the NJAC this coming fall. The season begins with a Sept. 11 conference visit to Kean in Union, N.J.
“This might be the biggest, strongest and fastest team I’ve ever played on and this team could be something special,” said Crispo.
“This season, you can’t convince me that it’s not going to be something special,” he added, Cortland with 17 starters back from a year ago. “There are too many signs pointing to this season, destiny almost. We have tremendous leaders returning as well as tremendous leaders returning who were there last year but not on the field, like Dan Pitcher and myself. Just more monkeys in the barrel.”
Crispo and Pitcher will share captain roles with two teammates, senior wide receiver Anthony Giuliano and senior defensive end Evan Wyler. Like Crispo, all-conference performer Wyler also earned red-shirt status to get another season in with the Red Dragons.
“I’m confident in my role on this team,” said Pitcher, who will be protected by an offensive line that includes younger brother and starting right tackle Matt Pitcher. “I feel great around these guys. I think these guys respect me and I have a lot of respect for them and all the work they put in in the off-season. There is good chemistry, I’d say, at this point.”
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