MOUNT VERNON — The goal was to rebuild a winner at Cornell College.
In three years under head coach Vince Brautigam, the Rams won more than it lost, and the class that earned his first victory looks to keep constructing a successful football program.
“Last year’s group laid the foundation and this group is the cornerstone,” Brautigam said. “Early on when we weren’t successful, them working hard, not giving up, believing in me and the coaching staff showed and last year we had success. Now, it’s their job to carry on and continue that success.”
The Rams went back to work, starting practice for the 2014 season Thursday at Ash Park. Cornell finished 7-3 last year, recording its first winning season since 2001. The Rams will attempt to post consecutive winning campaigns since 1996-97.
Cornell won four of its last five games in 2014. As important as it might be to extend that trend, it is key to focus on the future, which begins under the lights at home against Coe on Sept. 13, starting at 7 p.m.
“We had good momentum, going into the last games,” First-team all-Midwest Conference offensive lineman Sam Cluck said. “We are continuing it into this year, but not dwelling on last year.”
This season could be what puts the program over the hump, proving last year is the new expectation and not the exception. This senior class has been crucial to Brautigam’s plans. The seniors and Brautigam have a mutual respect after resurrecting the Rams.
“I think all the seniors have a connection with coach Brautigam,” Senior Myron Seabrook said. “My freshman year we went 3-7. We struggled a lot. Every year since then we’ve made progress.
“Coach Brautigam always said the next year is going to be better. I believe him. We’ve done what he said we were going to do.”
Fifteen starters return, including eight on offense, for Brautigam’s fifth season. The Rams will have a new signal caller leading the offense with the graduation of Juan Flores, who threw for 2,070 yards last season and ended his career with 9,109 yards of total offense and 68 touchdowns.
“We have to find our quarterback in camp,” Brautigam said. “Everybody surrounding him is back with experience.
“We’re going to have to limit our turnovers before we ask our quarterback to do a lot. I don’t know how much we’ll ask them to do early on in the season.”
The new starting quarterback has plenty of weapons. Cornell has talented receivers and leading rusher Ethan Thompson, who almost 800 yards on the ground and nine scores. Running back Preston Ritchie had 673 rushing yards and five TDs.
Wideouts Ben Knake and Justin Cox could eclipse 2,000 career receiving yards, sitting at 1,663 and 1,368, respectively. Knake was a first-team all-conference pick, while Cox earned second-team honors. Receiver Brit Connor had 374 yards on 30 catches last year and was named to the USA College Football Preseason All-America second-team. Knake received third-team honors.
“It doesn’t matter who we have behind center because we have a good group of receivers returning,” Knake said. “I think we’re going to be able to help him.
“They’re coming into a good situation and we’ll be able to help them out.”
Cornell is stacked up front. Most of the starting line is intact, including preseason All-America picks Cluck and senior Troy Bedard, who was a second-team all-conference player as a junior. Bedard has made 28 straight starts and Cluck is just one behind him. Tuli Leota has started 18 of 20 career games. T.J. Gray, Mike Faison and Andrew Joseph will lead the way on the defensive line.
“We have a lot of guys who can step up and make good plays,” Cluck said. “I think it’s going to be good on both sides of the ball.”
Defense and special teams will be led by Seabrook, a four-year starter from Oceanside, Calif. Seabrook was a first-team all-conference return specialist and second-team pick at defensive back. He was named first-team Preseason All-American as a returner. Seabrook and linebacker Alex Latow, who was second in tackles last year, spearhead the Rams defense. Seabrook has embraced his role as a senior leader.
“I guess I’m the role model in the secondary and on the defense, “ Seabrook said. “I look forward to it.”
Brautigam said the goal is to contend for the Midwest Conference title, elevating the program to the next level. He said wants the potential became reality.
“I want to see them have fun and succeed,” Brautigam said. “We’re going to work real hard to do it.”
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