Cornell Football Boasts New Field

Tools

By K.J. PILCHER AND JOSH CHRISTENSEN

MOUNT VERNON – It is brighter, sharper and maybe long overdue.

Cornell College’s Ash Park received a much-needed facelift.

The Rams will open the 2013 football season on a new Prograss playing surface, trying to improve on a 4-6 record from a year ago. The new field is the first of extended renovations planned for the school’s athletics complex.

Cornell Coach Vince Brautigam heard rumblings of this goal when he stepped in four years ago. Now, he enjoys being able to step on the finalized upgrade.

“It’s a long time coming,” Cornell Coach Vince Brautigam said. “It’s been talked about since I arrived on campus.”

The players have enjoyed the transition to better surface, especially returning quarterback Juan Flores.

“I love it,” Flores said. “I didn’t play that much on grass until I came here. My first game on grass was freshman year here. I played high school on turf.”

It could be a factor in attracting more players to the program. Facilities can be a major influence. It is another selling point Brautigam can present to recruits.

“It’s awesome,” Flores said. “Anytime you get a beautiful field like this you know there are more things to come.”

Synthetic turf allows the Rams to catch up with other programs that have already made the switch. Incoming athletes will learn more changes are in development.

“Turf fields are becoming more common,” Brautigam said. “We’re just getting on a level playing field with that. The great thing is here I can sell that now and this is phase one, moving on to phase two. We have three or four phases for the whole athletic complex.”

It doesn’t just benefit the football program, who will eventually share the field with school’s new lacrosse teams. The impact extends beyond the fences that surround Ash Park.

“It’s a big lift,” Cornell Athletics Director John Cochrane said. “It changes the culture of our athletics programs.”

Cochrane said final figures were not available but the first stage was expected to come in under the approximately $800,000 project. Permanent lights are expected to be the next addition to the football field. The baseball field will be overhauled, including permanent fencing, new sod, a new drainage system, scoreboard and dugouts. The focus will return to the football venue, improving the grandstands, fencing concessions and restrooms.

“It’s a continuous work in progress,” Cochrane said. “We know the vision is there, the plan is in place and we’ll work to reach it as rapidly as we can.”

Plenty of praise was passed around during the team’s media day Wednesday. Players and Brautigam complimented Cornell President Jonathan Brand for his support, making the improvements. Cochrane said Brand has been devoted to raise the level of success of Rams’ athletics and provide the tools to make it happen. The efforts of Cornell alumnus, Barry Boyer, to reconnect with other former Rams to gain support from donors, which funded the entire project.

“They have done things and got out with the alumni in the community to make this happen,” Brautigam said. “We all know how great Cornell academics are. President Brand has put an emphasis on making our program better.

“Not only do I appreciate that, but our players do. They recognize it. They hold him in high esteem because of it.”

The players have worked harder to improve the Rams program under Brautigam, which has won more games each of the last two seasons. Last season, Cornell tied the most number of wins since 2001. The roster has grown to 76 players nearly doubling where the program was in Brautigam’s first year. The players appreciate the changes.

“I think they recognize our hard work we’ve put in the last couple years and reward us for that,” Cox said. “It’s a good feeling to know that you have people supporting you outside of coaches, players and parents.”

The number of wins could be on the rise again. Cornell returns 18 total starters, including nine on offense with its entire starting line back. It will protect Flores, who set a school record with 2,800 passing yards. His top two targets - second-team all-Midwest Conference wideout Justin Cox and sophomore slot receiver Ben Knake, of Lisbon – will return.

The defense will be anchored by linebacker Geoffrey Miller and free safety Nick Brautigam. Both earned all-conference honors last year.

The Rams have had to counter their opponent’s size and power advantage in previous seasons. The new turf will help their cause, complementing the strengths of depth and experience.

“With this turf, we are going utilize our speed and athleticism,” Nick Brautigam said. “It should even everything out.”

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