116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOUNT VERNON — They’re referred to as the “Big Nasties.”
A group of veteran players with a penchant for physical play and an approach to do their job so well they actually go unnoticed. They are built for grunt work and embrace that role.
“We’re big in the trenches and just want to be nasty in there,” D3football.com all-region center Andrew Corley said. “We want to put people in the ground and deliver, make holes for our running backs and protect our quarterback. We like to get the job done.”
Cornell College returns four starters from last season’s 4-6 team. Their shoulder pads are broad enough to carry expectations to lead the way — figuratively and literally — for the Rams and third-year head coach Dan Pifer. Cornell opens its college football season Sept. 3 at rival Coe.
“We’re going to be as good as they’re going to be offensively and how well they execute,” Pifer said. “They’ve done a great job in camp. They’ve been really good, so we’re excited where we’re at right now.”
The offensive linemen have been pillars in the lineup for more than just one season. Corley and his twin brother, Matthew, have made 19 straight starts. Offensive tackle Nathan Phillips has started 18 total games, while tackle Jacob Baggs started every game on the other end.
“Our goal is to set the tone for practice and games,” Phillips said. “Just keep grinding and work our tails off. We work hard up front and trying to inspire guys in the back, too, and working together as a team.”
A Cornell assistant deemed the unit the “Big Nasties” and it became a permanent mantra. They yell the moniker each time they break a position huddle. It has become their rally cry.
“As an offensive lineman, our pride and joy is to move a person against their will,” Corley said. “You’re in my way so I’m going to move you. I’m imposing my will on you. I’m protecting our quarterbacks and making holes for our running back.”
Brevin Hahn is expected to step in at guard to fill out a line that averages 294.2 pounds. Baggs stands 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds, while Phillips is 6-1 and 320. Matthew Corley is 5-10 and listed 1 inch taller than his brother. He weighs in at 280, which is 20 pounds heavier than his sibling. Hahn rounds out the “Big Nasties” at 5-9 and 271.
Who is the biggest and most hard-nosed of them all?
“I’d probably say the Corleys at center and right guard,” Phillips said. “Those guys are really nasty. They bring it.”
Andrew Corley deferred to Baggs, a junior at left tackle.
“Baggs is a big guy and he loves to block,” he said. “Seeing him in his element is something else.”
The quintet put in the effort since closing last fall with two straight victories. Phillips said they spent four to five days a week in the weight room, working on strength and agility.
“A little bit of both,” Pifer said. “They got better in the offseason. They’re definitely stronger, for sure. I don’t know if they got more athletic, but they know where they’re going now, so it looks like we’re more athletic. Now, they can react and play.”
Unity and cohesiveness is key for the offensive front. The senior-dominated bunch has built chemistry. Interestingly, they come from all over the country. The Corleys are from Las Vegas, Baggs is from Jesup, Ga., Phillips hails from Colorado Springs, Colo., and Hahn is a former Marion prep.
“Offensive line is five positions working as one,” Corley said. “If one messes up, the whole thing can crumble so that camaraderie and unity has to be there. You have to trust the guy to the left and right of you.”
The offensive line will be blocking for some fresh faces. The Rams will have to replace their top skill players, including their leading passer, rusher and receiver from last season.
Trey Birdsong returns as one of their top playmakers, tallying more than 400 offensive yards a year ago. He caught 22 passes for 366 yards, averaging 16.6 per reception. He will be joined by Aaryn Hailpern (8-87) and Fred Tavernier (3-31) as top targets.
Cornell has a whopping eight quarterbacks on the roster. Denver Wilson is the only returner with in-game repetitions, passing for 326 yards and two touchdowns in 2021.
Running back is still unsettled. Pifer said last season was “running back by committee” and could be much of the same this year.
“There is a lot of competition with the running backs,” Pifer said. “That’s the one good spot. So, who is going to emerge out of that group to be the guy? Four or five guys are competing at running back. That is kind of an interesting dog fight right now, as far as position battles. We’ll see what happens.”
Senior linebacker Thomas Horne was second on the team in tackles, tallying 46 total and adding two interceptions. Former Mount Vernon prep Sam Adams is back at defensive back after recording 36 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and an interception last year. Defensive lineman Landon Lockington had 30 tackles and an interception and ranks third in program history with a 37.6-yard average per punt.
“We have a lot of young guys and people who are really fast,” Lockington said. “This year, our strength is going to be flying around and having fun as a defense. Being able to move across the field from sideline to sideline. Everybody to the ball.”
The Rams roster is in the mid-80s with strong recruiting classes the last two years. Pifer said he expects to be close to his goal of 100 players next season and the program is on pace with his rebuilding plans. He has enjoyed working with the current players, who have become more acclimated to his system.
“It is exciting,” Pifer said. “It’s a good team. It is fun going to work, being with these guys. They do work hard and know when to have fun.”