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Not-So-Freshman Feature: Quarterback Rob Pannullo Fulfills a Lifelong Baseball Dream
In the current world of sports, the new generation of athletes is constantly pushed to specialize in just one activity, a belief that is enforced through recruiting, off-season practices, tournaments, and weight training. The nature of playing a sport has become a year-round endeavor. Kids are often pressured into picking their favorite game to pursue growing up, resulting in less multi-sport athletes. However, this concept of versatility isn’t completely gone.
“I definitely think that having that experience of playing more than one sport is invaluable,” stated Big Red sprint football quarterback and baseball pitcher Rob Pannullo, a model multi-sport athlete. “A lot of people try to specialize in one sport. Obviously, that’s been something that’s happened more over time, but having that competitive experience from playing two different seasons is truly invaluable,” he elaborated.
Pannullo has been a very talented asset to the sprint football team, playing as both a wide receiver and a quarterback throughout his freshman season. By the end of his rookie year, Pannullo took over the reigns as starting quarterback and emerged as a promising dual threat option.
During his first full fall under center, Pannullo experienced a breakout sophomore campaign, tallying 982 passing yards, an additional 408 on the ground, and 16 total touchdowns through all seven games to earn All-CSFL honorable mention. He set career highs of 23 completions for 295 yards in the air and four passing touchdowns against Navy and concluded the season with 266 all-purpose yards in a 38-21 victory over Mansfield. In 2015, Pannullo continued his success, racking up 440 yards rushing, 605 passing, and 10 total touchdowns.
Despite his achievements on the gridiron, Pannullo had a dream that needed to be fulfilled. “I’ve always wanted to play baseball here at Cornell,” he said. “I always had, in the back of my head, a hope that I could walk on to the varsity team.”
When former Big Red head coach Bill Walkenbach left Ithaca for his hometown Claremont-Mudd-Scripps baseball program following last year, Pannullo saw a golden opportunity to realize his goal with the hiring of new Ted Thoren Head Coach of Baseball, Dan Pepicelli.
“Once the coaching change was made, it definitely helped out because Coach Pepicelli was open to taking in players that he necessarily hadn’t known yet,” described Pannullo.
He was no stranger to the game, as Pannullo grew up a two-sport athlete in high school and eventually served as captain to both teams. He arrived at Cornell still wanting to be involved in each sport, so Pannullo has played club baseball for the past two seasons. In addition, he spent all of last summer playing in the Collegiate Baseball League of Europe in the hope of walking on to the varsity team this fall.
“There was a Cornell baseball alum, Forrest Crawford, who graduated in 2013, and was already going out there to play,” explained Pannullo. “I knew him through club baseball, and he asked me if I was willing to play with him since they needed pitchers. It was an incredible experience, and playing out there definitely helped me to stay in baseball shape to have me ready for the fall.”
Pannullo was very gracious of Coach Pepiecelli, who allowed him to try out on a day during the fall when there was no sprint football practice. “Baseball was my first love growing up, and it’s an honor to be here playing Cornell baseball now,” he acknowledged.
However, Pannullo hit a sizeable bump in the road in the form of a devastating injury sustained in the second to last sprint football game of the season. He scrambled from the pocket and began to run downfield, yet Pannullo made one cut, and his knee popped – a torn ACL. A common timeline for this type of injury is eight months, but Pannullo believed that he would be able to return to the diamond in five because baseball requires less stress on the knee, which would mark his comeback for mid-April.
“I’ve never had an injury like this in my life,” said Pannullo. “But, it’s been a humbling experience to see what it’s like to come back from this.”
There is no doubt that Pannullo’s hard-working attitude, versatility, and natural athleticism will allow him to return strong, in which being a two-sport athlete certainly helps. In high school, he geared up as both wide receiver and quarterback with the football team and played shortstop, centerfield, and pitched on the diamond. Despite his unique athletic ability, enabling him to excel in each sport, Pannullo made a decision to play sprint football in college due to the circumstances, but he doesn’t regret this choice.
“Football is a game I grew up playing since I was five years old, so it’s definitely something that I love,” stated Pannullo. “Having the opportunity to play sprint football here has been one of the best experiences in my life.”
With that being said, Pannullo still excitedly looks forward to the prospect of suiting up for Big Red baseball and realizing a dream of playing this sport at the Division I level, even if that means waiting a few weeks.
“It’s been tough, especially with my knee, but it really is an honor to throw the ‘C’ on when I put on the hat everyday for practice,” expressed Pannullo. “I think my athletic experience playing sprint here at Cornell has given me some sort of edge to where I didn’t feel like I was at a disadvantage compared to a lot of the other players. I’ve still had a lot of college athletic experience, so playing sprint definitely helped me in being prepared for baseball.”
Even with Pannullo’s prior involvement with collegiate football, he admitted that the transition to baseball was certainly not easy. “Practices are very high tempo, and very well organized,” mentioned Pannullo. “In high school, it can be a little disorganized sometimes, but, here, everything is put in the right place for us to succeed, especially with the way Coach Pepicelli coaches.”
Pannullo was fairly functional after his injury, participating in practically every activity except actually pitching. He joined the squad in lifting and worked on a separate conditioning plan that involved no cutting. Just this week, Pannullo was finally cleared to play – almost one month ahead of schedule. He has enjoyed practicing with the team on Hoy Field for the first time, and will be able to step on the mound for game action in only a few weeks. Unfortunately, the weather has been poor recently, resulting in added time indoors in the Ramin Room. However, Pannullo remains content, understanding that they must only worry about the factors they can control, and the weather isn’t one of them.
“I think the team has the right mentality to succeed this year, especially with the way Coach Pepicelli has prepared us,” described Pannullo. “I’m happy to help the team in anyway I can, whether it’s as an injured person grabbing foul balls or helping them on the field when I can get back on the mound.”
Although he can’t officially suit up in the red and white for game days yet, Pannullo relishes this treasured chance to achieve a lifelong goal. “Playing baseball here is such an honor for me. It’s really special to be apart of this team right now, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”