Prep Football

'This is my dream': Cornell takes over as QND football coach

Jack Cornell is congratulated by QND athletic director Bill Connell before Cornell was announced as the next Quincy Notre Dame football coach during a press conference in the school library on Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2018. Cornell previously played for Connell as an offensive lineman before going on to play at the University of Illinois and briefly in the NFL. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 13, 2018 9:20 am

QUINCY -- Had it been any other circumstance, Jack Cornell would have left his cell phone behind or at least turned it off.

Yet, when he and his wife, Lauren, were seated for a performance of "Hamilton" on Broadway during a recent weekend getaway in New York City, Cornell put his phone on silent and tucked it into his pocket. He anticipated a call could come from Quincy Notre Dame athletic director Bill Connell at any moment.

"I had my phone with me and close to me at all times," Cornell said. "It was a phone call I was looking forward to getting."

It came in the middle of the show.

Connell reached out to set up a meeting where they could finalize the details of naming Cornell the next football coach at QND. They made it official Tuesday, introducing the 28-year-old Cornell to the players at 8:30 a.m. and holding an introductory press conference at 9 a.m.

Cornell, a 2007 QND graduate, played at the University of Illinois and briefly in the NFL before spending last year as an assistant at Culver-Stockton College. He replaces the man he played for in Connell, who resigned in February following 26 years as the Raiders' head coach.

"This is my dream and ultimately where I want to be," Cornell said. "I have no aspirations at this point of going anywhere after this. I'm so, so deadset on being here and knowing this is where I'm going to be for the foreseeable future.

"That part of it that is so special to me because I don't have to bounce around and look to move from one place to another. I'm going to be able to settle in."

It's a place he calls home.

Cornell played three seasons on the QND varsity, helping the Raiders to a 26-9 record from 2004-06 with a state semifinal appearance in 2004 when he was a sophomore. He signed with the University of Illinois and started six games as a junior at guard and tackle and all 13 games as a senior at right guard.

He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 by the Baltimore Ravens and spent the season on their practice squad. The Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII that season, and Cornell was on the sideline for the 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

He was cut by the Ravens the following August, then picked up by the Oakland Raiders a month later and assigned to the practice squad. Cornell was activated to the 53-man roster later in the season and made his NFL debut against the New York Giants in November 2013.

When Cornell was cut by the Raiders during training camp in 2014, his professional career came to an end. He shifted his focus to coaching.

"It's something I always wanted to do, even when I was in high school," Cornell said.

He insists there is no better place to do that than at QND. Connell agreed it was the right place for him, too.

"Jack is a natural fit," Connell said. "He knows our building. He knows our teachers. He knows some of the head coaches from the other programs. It's a natural fit that you stay within the family, stay within the program.

"I know a few things will change, but I think a lot of the goals of one day having the opportunity to play for a state championship will continue."

Succeeding Connell had been Cornell's hope, even if taking a full-time job in 2017 as the offensive line coach at Culver-Stockton College seemed to change his trajectory.

That was just the outside perception.

"It was a personal decision for me and my family," Cornell said. "After I got out of the (NFL), I really didn't have a job. I was doing some odds-and-ends stuff. I knew I wanted to coach full-time and had the time. So when the position opened up at Culver, I reached out and (C-SC coach) Tom Sallay was gracious enough to bring me on.

"For me, it was strategic. It gave me the chance to learn in a full-time setting at a different level and get hands-on experience and learn from different coaches and still be here in the area and make a difference."

It also gave him the opportunity to maintain close ties with QND and develop an additional skill set.

"I understood how the Division I recruiting worked," Cornell said. "But small-school recruiting is a different game. It's a different level of organization and understanding the rules. It's going to help me help the kids so much more."

Making the players the priority is Cornell's job.

"It's always about the players," Cornell said. "The players come first. When you build relationships with the players and you form these bonds with these guys, you're impacting young people. That's the most gratifying aspect of coaching."