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August 26, 2008

 

Siwula savors second chance

Turns down Wall Street for Big Red

Siwula

Photo courtesy Cornell University
Former Homer Central standout Luke Siwula will return to the Cornell backfield for a final season of college football.

By TOM VARTANIAN
Staff Writer
ITHACA — This is the story about a second chance and the local boy who received it.
After three games of the 2007 football season, Cornell University senior running back Luke Siwula saw his season come to an end due to a hamstring injury. The former Homer Central star netted 217 rushing yards in those games, third on a Big Red team that finished a disappointing 2-5 in Ivy League play and 5-5 overall, and tied for the team lead in touchdowns scored with six.
His career numbers stood at 2,195 rushing yards, fifth on the all-time list, and 18 career touchdowns.
The NCAA has a rule that allows a player to red-shirt, or keep a year of eligibility, if injured and that player participates in a minimum number of games. Siwula met the criteria to be red-shirted and the next big decision came, whether to just graduate and move into his job on Wall Street in New York City or possibly take some post-graduate courses at Cornell and return for the fall semester to play out a full senior football season for the Big Red.
“It certainly has been a blessing to have a second chance to play my senior season,” Siwula said at media day last week in Ithaca. “I have been talking to some of my teammates that also graduated and are now into their 9-5 jobs. Most of them are pretty jealous that I get to come back and play one more year of college football.
“I did some great things during the off-season,” he continued. “I traveled the world a little bit. I came back during the summer and really worked out a lot. I am in the best shape of my life. This is the biggest (215 pounds), strongest and, I think, the quickest I have ever been. It was great being around a lot of my teammates this summer. A lot of guys stayed and worked out with Coach Howley. We really pushed each other a lot and that was much easier than trying to workout on your own.”
Tom Howley is part of the Big Red Support Staff and he is the strength and conditioning director for the 36 sports programs at Cornell.
Siwula also took some time this summer to get back to Homer and speak to the youngsters on the final day of the Youth Football Camp Aug. 14.
“It was fun to go back and see Coach P. (Gary Podsiedlik), some of my former teammates and to talk to the young players at camp,” Siwula said. “I had a great time playing football for Homer and it was nice to come back and share some of my experiences with them. It is fun to see the look of those young players’ eyes and remember what it was like for me at that age.”
Another person happy to have Siwula is Cornell head coach Jim Knowles.
“You have to turn the negatives into positives,” Knowles said. “Last season is over and behind us. We are very pleased to have Luke back with us because he brings a toughness to the field. He brings a certain attitude. He is confident. The other players look up to him.
“He is a productive player,” Knowles added. “He is not only a tough runner, but he can catch the ball. Two years ago, he made some big catches for us. We will use him the same way. He is a dual threat. He is a great athlete that gets you the tough yards and he knows how to find that hole. He can make those catches out of the backfield. It all equals a big plus for our team this year.”
As much as Siwula loves being a running back, he stills misses the chance to hit people regularly on defense like he did in high school. He was a valuable member of the Cornell special teams prior to his injury, does he believe that he will still have a role there or will he be more of just the punishing running back that he is?
“You need to have the chance for some payback after getting pounded every play on offense,” Siwula chuckled. “It’s fun to get out there on a punt or kickoff and just lighting someone up to let them know that they can’t just get shots at you the whole game.”
“Luke is a real valuable member of the special teams,” Knowles added. “We will try to protect him, but don’t be surprised if you see him out there. We need to use him in as many places as possible.”
One of the biggest concerns for Siwula was the job he had waiting for him on Wall Street. It was there in June, but would it still be there around in January of 2009?
“Everyone was really accommodating,” Siwula said of his future bosses, some being former players themselves. “They really gave me their blessing. They said that if they were in the same situation and had the chance for another semester of college that they would take it. They were very understanding and they all said that they would be looking out for me this season to see how I do and how the team does.”
With 33 seniors, the prospects look good for the Big Red in 2008. The Big Red season opens at Bucknell on Sept. 20. Siwula was counted on to be one of the leaders during the 2007 season, does that role still apply a year later?
“Absolutely,” Siwula replied. “I have been through a lot in my four years at Cornell. I have seen it all. I’ve been through the close games on the winning and losing side. I want to use my experience to help be a leader.”
“The nice thing about this team is there a lot of playmakers on the field and those playmakers are the senior class,” Siwula stated. “I hope we can pass this experience down to the underclassmen so they can learn and key off that. This team has a lot of possibilities this season. There is a lot of energy and a lot of hope this season. I am glad to be around and be a part of it.”
Cornell has been on the verge of turning the corner in the Ivy League since Coach Knowles took over the program in 2004. 2007 was the year the Big Red was suppose to contend for the Ivy League crown, but stumbled. Since a lot of people don’t expect as much from the Big Red in 2008, is this the year that they could surprise some people and make another big step forward?
“Yes,” Siwula responded. “We don’t really pay a lot of attention to what the media and some other critics are saying. Hands down, this is the most talented team I have been on at Cornell. With our offensive line, we could put 35 to 40 points on the board every game. We have the offense and, with Coach Knowles’ defense, we are going to be very sound. If we play up to our potential, the possibilities are endless. I am really excited to be around all these guys this season.”