MOUNT VERNON — Cornell College football coach Vince Brautigam said recruiting efforts have included bolstering the offensive and defensive lines.
The emphasis on the guys up front seems to have worked, as the Rams brought in some talented young players to mesh with seven total starting linemen back on both sides of the ball.
“The young group of offensive linemen that we brought in, if they stay together, I think have an opportunity to be very good,” said Brautigam, who is 38-51 in 10 seasons as Rams head coach. “I think we’re actually two-deep on offensive and defensive line, barring injury, and that’s the first time since 2014 or so.”
The players in the trenches will play a key factor for the Rams, who are looking for their first winning season since that 2014 campaign. Cornell will attempt to improve last year’s 5-5 mark, opening against Iowa Wesleyan on Sept. 7 at Ash Park.
The offensive line returns three starters, including seniors Tim Monfils and Chris Chapman. Monfils was a second-team all-Midwest Conference pick last season. Chapman, a former Mount Vernon prep, has started 30 straight games at right tackle. Sophomore Brock Flack started the last five games a year ago.
“The effort is there every snap we are out there,” the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Monfils said. “Overall, we’ve made so many steps from last year that I think, especially in the run game, we have a chance to be a force this year. It’s going to be good. I’m excited for it.”
Brautigam said the linemen has shown some “grit” in the opening days of fall camp and they have a nasty streak to them.
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“We just like to hit,” Monfils said. “We’re going out and making contact with our guys. The (offensive) and (defensive) line has done a great job challenging each other in one-on-one, team sessions and whatever other drills we’re doing. We’re looking at a real physical group this year.”
The defensive line returns all four starters from a squad that allowed 26 total points in the final three-game win streak to end the season. Sophomore Kale Kuhiiki and George Ziama played defensive tackle, while Alex Rupe and Ben Brassard manned the defensive end spots.
Added depth allows them to rotate more players, keeping everyone fresh.
“We have numbers this year,” Kuhiiki said. “Last year, we had six on offense and six on defense. I think we’re going 12 deep on offense and nine deep on the D-line.”
Kuhiiki tallied 41 tackles, including 7 1/2 for loss. He had 28 solo stops, earning MWC South Division Newcomer of the Year. Although he is more concerned with team success, he received a boost from the honor. He said it also means he will be on the opposition’s radar, now.
“Now, I have to work twice as hard to get the same result or more of a result than last year,” Kuhiiki said. “I’m trying to be better than last year.”
The Rams have some holes to fill in the skill positions, especially quarterback. Isaak Hahn is the lone returner and he has completed just nine college passes. Freshmen Kyle Claiborne, from Las Vegas, and former South Tama prep Drake Crawford are also in the mix.
“We have options,” said Brautigam, praising Hahn’s improvement from offseason work. “We may use those options the first couple games, because they’re non-conference and just to see who is going to make plays when the time calls. I feel very good about that.”
They will have Trevhon Porterfield in the backfield. Porterfield led the Rams in rushing, amassing 724 yards with nine touchdowns.
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A healthy Blake Langhurst provides a good passing target this season. Langhurst, a Lisbon prep who transferred last year after running track at Northern Iowa, is Cornell’s top receiver, despite playing in only five games. Langhurst had 302 receiving yards and four scores before a broken ankle sidelined him the rest of the season.
“It has carried me and motivated me this year,” Langhurst said. “Hopefully, I can get a full season in and see what I can do.”
Cornell has hovered around the .500 mark the last four years, going 5-5 in three of them. With 22 freshmen and 15 sophomores comprising most of the lineup, Brautigam expects the program to continue to grow.
“I don’t know what this season has in store,” Brautigam said. “We’ll find out every game as we go, but if these kids stay together we’re going to get back to our old ways where we were a few years ago.
“I haven’t been this excited for a while, being able to deal with the present and look toward the future.”
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