November 10, 2011
Top Red Dragon tacklers rolling into Cortaca game
When SUNY Cortland linebackers pair off to do drills in practice, invariably seniors Cody Allen and Bill Smith choose to go up against each other.
That’s both a tribute to being best football friends as well as the competitive nature of the two inside linebackers, who are also the leading tacklers for the Red Dragons heading into the 53rd annual Cortaca Jug contest at Ithaca College that will close out the regular season.
“Both are really good football players, really competitive kids, best of friends,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill, who also tends to the Cortland defense. “What memories they are going to have working with each other every day in practice. They get into drills and they line up against each other. I mean, you can line up against anybody but they line up against each other. They get after each other and they’re close. It’s fun to be around them, fun to coach them.”
Both players would love to have fond memories of their final Cortaca Jug game, too. The Red Dragons (7-2) and Bombers (4-5) will square off at noon Saturday at picturesque Butterfield Stadium on the South Hill in Ithaca in one of the best small college rivalries played in the country.
Both linebackers head into the Ithaca game on a bit of a roll.
Two weekends ago in a win over The College of New Jersey, Allen and Smith were both in on 14 tackles. Allen also forced a fumble in that game. Last Saturday at Brockport, Smith was in on 14 tackles once again and picked off a pass, while Allen was part of 11 stops.
Smith has a team-high 70 tackles through nine games, 10 better than cohort Allen. On two occasions Allen was named to the D3football.com “Team of the Week” at linebacker, and both players earned that same honor on special teams during the season.
They are the main reason why opponents are averaging only 88.9 rushing yards per game, ranking the Red Dragons 15th best in the nation in that category among Division III schools.
For all those statistical similarities, these are two unique kids.
Smith is a sturdy 6-foot-2, 255-pounder from downstate Nanuet, who followed his older brother to Cortland. Jim Smith was an all-conference inside linebacker during his days as a Red Dragon.
Allen is a 5-foot-11, 215-pound whirlwind out of Medina in Western New York, who also played a little lacrosse at Cortland before concentrating on football matters. His gung-ho attitude will serve him well when he enters the military after college concludes.
“THEY ARE TWO totally different kids,” says MacNeill. “Cody is, I’d say, that gunfighter. Bill is an analyzer. He wants to know everything. Bill’s a very smart, very intelligent kid. Big, physical, right where we need him right in the middle of that defense.
“Cody is a play-maker. He might miss a read, but he’ll make the play,” the coach added. “I don’t think there’s anything instinctive about linebacker play, but I think Cody has great vision. He probably has better vision than Bill does. Billy needs to analyze it and see it. Cody just figures it out and gets around things. You say (in watching film), ‘Cody what are you thinking about here? You know you were wrong, but, hey, good play.’”
Smith says this about fellow inside linebacker Allen: “He’s very smart and he’s in the right place at the right time. He knows what the overall scheme of the defense is and he has great athletic ability.”
Allen says this about fellow inside linebacker Smith: “He’s a really smart guy. He is one of the strongest, no he is the strongest kid on the team. His bench numbers, his squat numbers, his clean numbers.. Bill’s a freak athlete. Other than his athletic attributes as a strength, it would be his smarts. He’s the play-maker in our defense.”
Both were returning starters from a defense that had to replace its entire front line and outside linebackers heading into this season. And while the Cortland offense has been scoring 37 points per game this season, the Red Dragon defense has continued to thrive despite the new faces — thanks in part to Smith and Allen.
“We kind of took it upon ourselves last year to really step it up, me and Bill, always constantly coming in and talking to coaches and knowing what we had to do in practice,” says Allen. “Everyone really looks to the inside linebacking corps, as it’s always been at Cortland. The linebacker corps is always the center of the defense at Cortland.”
And despite having a bunch of new faces, despite giving up a big play from time-to-time, the defense has had some stellar moments.
“Every week this defense prepares as hard as any defense I’ve been a part of at Cortland State. And each week we’ve progressed, so I’m really excited about this weekend,” said Smith. “It’s to the point where everyone on the defense really is a leader. Even earlier on, the new guys wanted to be leaders right away. They saw how we existed as starters on the defense and they caught on very quickly.”
LAST SEASON SMITH earned some national notoriety for being a two-way performer, seeing duty as a fullback on offense for the Red Dragons besides being the starting linebacker.
“Of course I miss it,” says Smith of pulling double-duty. “I want to be on the field as much as possible, but I’m doing what’s best for the team and I’m happy with how it’s going so far.”
“We could do it, obviously last year he did it well, on both sides of the ball. This year, being able to get that little extra breath by not being on offense or special teams has especially helped him,” said Allen.
It has helped the Cortland defense, too.
“Everyone knows defense has always been a staple here at Cortland State. Our offense is putting up great numbers this year, that’s obvious, but our defense has always been a staple here,” says Allen. “Being able to put up great numbers against offenses that are doing things to other teams that they can’t do to us, that’s really our main focus week in and week out.”
And though Ithaca has had some offensive troubles heading into the Cortland game, Smith — who watched his brother play in three Cortaca Jugs before following in his footsteps — knows the challenge that awaits the Red Dragons.
“They’re a great team. We definitely respect them,” said Smith of the Bombers. “It’s a rivalry game so anything can happen. So we’re going into it thinking this is the best team we’re going to play all year.”
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