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This ‘N That

Dartmouth College safety Garrett Waggoner has landed on NFL scouts' radar with his intense play. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Dartmouth College safety Garrett Waggoner has landed on NFL scouts' radar with his intense play. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

One of the notable things to me about Dartmouth College’s male athletes is how many of them can play so hard and aggressively while remaining good people. It’s not easy to try and knock the daylights out of an opponent one hour and transition to a coed, philosophy study group the next.

The Big Green performers you meet in sports like football, hockey and lacrosse generally don’t come with that nasty edge more common among higher-level Division I teams. There, coaches don’t have to be as focused on academic performance and rough-around-the-edges social skills are more often tolerated.

Still, Dartmouth has had a few players the past several years with that very edge and whom you’d allow to date your daughter. Former hockey captain Mike Keenan was one of them. Opposing forwards knew where he was on the ice at all times and tread more carefully when they went into a corner or scrapped in front of the net with No. 27.

On the Big Green’s current football roster, two such players stand out. One is sophomore defensive end Cody Fulleton, whose every fiber screams “warrior”. He cracked the lineup as a freshman and could be an All-Ivy choice down the line. Get a good look at his eyes during a game or up-tempo part of practice and you’ll be tempted to step away slowly.

Also in that vein is senior free safety Garrett Waggoner, who’s being closely watched by NFL teams and is likely to be in a pro training camp next July.

It’s hard to explain why exactly, but the Floridian gives off a sense of genuine glee the harder the hitting becomes, the more is on the line and the thicker the trash talk. All football players are willing to deal with collisions, some of them like them and there are those like Waggoner who seem live for them. It also doesn’t hurt that with his unruly locks, hair bandana and narrowed eyes, he resembles Guns ‘N Roses front man Axl Rose, a truly twisted human being.

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Eyebrows around the Ivy League and throughout the national men’s lacrosse community shot up late last week when Cornell announced the firing of third-year coach Ben DeLuca. A former Big Red standout who was honored for his citizenship and play during his undergraduate days, DeLuca appears to have been brought down partly by a hazing incident two months ago. He was 37-11 and kept Cornell in the national title hunt during his tenure.

Although the press release announcing DeLuca’s firing didn’t give a specific reason for the move, it’s hard to believe a school investigation into the incident wasn’t a large factor. Cornell found that upperclass players had hazed younger team members, goading them to drink alcohol until some vomited. While this kind of behavior was widely accepted on college sports teams and in fraternities during decades past, the tide has clearly turned and playing careers and coaching and administrative jobs are now on the line because of it.

Andy Towers, Dartmouth’s fifth-year men’s lacrosse coach, has fought to improve his team’s image on campus and its internal culture, but it’s a tough battle. For a year or two, he seemed to have his players’ behavior under control, but suspensions last season and the recent arrest of standout sophomore Cam Lee for simple assault have undermined whatever progress had been made. The squad has an extraordinary five captains for the upcoming season and athletic director Harry Sheehy is keeping a close eye on the program.

“The lacrosse team, it needs work,” Sheehy said last month, before Lee’s arrest. “But I think we have a group of kids now and a coaching staff that are willing to do it. While we’re not there yet, I think we’re a heck of a lot closer than we were.”

Sheehy was discussing leadership and behavior, not victories and losses.

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Football kickers are a strange breed. Critical to their team’s success, they’re often viewed as pseudo players, because they rarely block and tackle. They also tend to be a bit eccentric. Dartmouth’s new starting placekicker, Alex Gakenheimer, appears to be no different from that norm, at least to judge by last week’s game at Brown.

I was moving up and down the Dartmouth sideline to take photos during the game and had parked myself at one end of the bench area when I heard singing behind me. It was Gakenheimer, who would later score his team’s final three points during a 24-20 victory.

The freshman from North Carolina was singing the Doobie Brothers’ 1973 hit “China Grove”, only he was inserting the name of teammate and running back Brian Grove into lyrics.

Well, you’re talkin’ ‘bout the Brian Grove, wo, oh, oh, Brian Grove!

“I’m just trying to have fun,” Gakenheimer said. “Me and (punter Ben) Kepley, ever since high school, we’ve been known as guys who don’t take things too seriously.”

Kepley and Gakenheimer attended Charlotte Country Day School together and the latter was a guitarist and singer for a band before coming to Dartmouth.