Rams rely on lettermen to lead way in 2017
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Football - Tue, Aug. 22, 2017

MOUNT VERNON – Cornell's football program has compiled a solid 17-10 record in Midwest Conference play over the past four seasons under head coach Vince Brautigam.

The Rams look to remain competitive this fall with the help of 32 returning lettermen, highlighted by 13 total starters on both sides of the ball.

"I'm excited to see our guys progress each practice," said Brautigam, entering his eighth season on the Hilltop. "The guys have been working extremely hard. This has been one of the most coachable groups I've had in a long time."

Leadership from Cornell's experienced players will be key as the Rams strive for their fifth consecutive season with at least five wins. The team returns the nucleus of its back seven on defense. Four starting offensive linemen return, along with capable playmakers at the skill positions.

Brautigam also knows there are some holes to fill, in particular at quarterback, the interior defensive line and in the kicking game.

"Every year we have different types of challenges," Brautigam said. "We have to get some young guys ready to play. A lot will depend on how well we jell as a team. If we continue our great work ethic and avoid key injuries, I like our chances."

Cornell opens the season under the lights for the fourth year in a row, hosting Iowa Wesleyan at 7 p.m. on Sept. 2 at Ash Park Stadium. The Rams visit rival Coe Sept. 9, and then after a bye week, face MWC North Division foes Beloit (Sept. 23, homecoming) and league newcomer Chicago (Sept. 30, away).

The South Division schedule features home games with Lake Forest (Oct. 14), Monmouth (Oct. 21) and Grinnell (Nov. 4). Cornell travels to South foes Illinois College (Oct. 7) and Grinnell (Nov. 4).

Cornell will play a sixth home game Nov. 11 against the same-place North Division team on MWC Championship Weekend. The Rams are picked fourth in the six-team South. Monmouth is the favorite, followed by Lake Forest and Illinois College.

"We'll see how well we can grow and be consistent in all facets of the game. Our goal is to win the division," Brautigam said. "I'm excited to be around this group. We've had some great leaders in camp."

OFFENSE
"Everyone surrounding the quarterback has game experience, which will help tremendously," Brautigam said. "Eighty percent of our entire offensive line has game experience."

Bryson Whistance (SR/Hudson, Colo.) and Chris Chapman (SO/Mount Vernon, Iowa) started every game at the tackle positions a year ago. Robert Madole (JR/Arvada, Colo.) was a regular at guard. The unit also welcomes back two-year starter Christian Perez, sidelined in 2016 with an injury.

Riley Bell (SR/Portage, Mich.) led last year's receiving corps with 614 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 39 receptions, averaging 15.7 yards per catch. Track standout Blake MacDowall (SR/Phoenix, Ariz.) netted 25.4 yards per reception in 2016.

Devan Clark (SR/Upland, Calif.) and Mickey Hines (SO/Mount Vernon, Iowa) head a deep group of running backs. Clark, a 2015 all-MWC pick, has netted over 1,200 rushing yards over three seasons. He is the top returnee with 413 yards and four TDs last fall. Hines rushed for 209 yards, averaging 4.8 per carry during an impressive freshman campaign.

Patrick Brown (JR/Vicksburg, Miss.) (49-for-187 yards) and Adam Bond (JR/Stevenson Ranch, Calif.) (25-for-66 yards) add depth to the backfield.

The Rams will have a first-year starter at quarterback in the absence of Daniel Brown, who led the MWC in total offense (296.6 ypg) and broke Cornell's single-season record for TD passes (22) a year ago. James Douglas is a candidate to take the job, making the switch from receiver.   

DEFENSE
Fifth-year defensive end Andrew Joseph (SR/New Orleans, La.) is the anchor on an experienced defensive unit. The two-time all-MWC standout is closing in on program records for career tackles for loss (needs 1.0) and sacks (needs 9.0). He totaled 4.5 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss in 2016, raising his career marks to 15.5 and 41.5.

Jordan Hardman (JR/Chicago, Ill.) brings experience to the other end position, playing 10 games last year.

The Rams return three starting linebackers in Zachary Yankovich (JR/Cape Coral, Fla.), Stephen Ruiz (SR/Sanford, Fla.) and Milton Spradley (JR/Sorrento, Fla.). Yankovich led the team with 85 tackles and ranked fifth in the MWC with 12.0 tackles for loss. Ruiz, a two-year starter, registered 70 tackles while Spradley contributed 47.

The secondary brings back both corners in Malek Folston (SO/Melbourne, Fla.) (48 tackles, team-high 9 pass breakups) and Trever Greene (JR/Stanwood, Iowa) (6 pass breakups). Both players recorded four interceptions. Strong safety Colter McMenimen (JR/Bayfield, Colo.) started all 10 games, ranking fourth on the team with 63 tackles.    

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Rams graduated all-MWC punter Gabriel Noyce (38.1 ypp) and four-year starting kicker Kaleb Whiting, who left as the program's career leader in PATs made (138), field goals made (24) and points by a kicker (210).

Aaron Nicoll (SO/Longmont, Colo.) is expected to take on kicking and punting duties this fall.

Cornell should be strong in the return game. Folston (540 yards, 21.6 ypr) and Hines (503 yards, 22.9 ypr) combined for over 1,000 yards on kickoff returns in 2016. Bell averaged 8.3 yards per punt return.