Cornell Craig set the gold standard for receivers at Southern Illinois.
Craig, who played for the Salukis from 1996 to 1999, established numerous career receiving records at SIU, including most receptions, most receiving yards and most touchdown catches.
As a senior, he caught 77 passes for 1,419 yards and 15 touchdowns, earning him national recognition as the Division I-AA Player of the Year. He was an All-American in 1999 and a three-time All-Conference honoree.
Today, Craig — a 2008 inductee into the SIU Hall of Fame — serves as the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
According to a Hofstra release that announced his hiring in March 2019, “The CDIO, who will report directly to the president, will work collaboratively with academic and administrative departments, and with students and the surrounding community. Among the key responsibilities of the role are establishing and chairing a University Diversity and Inclusion Council that will develop and implement a diversity strategic plan, developing diversity and retention plans for faculty, administrators and staff, and creating education and training programs on diversity and inclusion including bias, sensitivity and cultural competency.”
Prairie State Pigskin wants you to get to know Cornell Craig in today’s Moving the Chains Q&A.
What do you remember from your days in Carbondale at SIU?
I really miss the community aspect of it. Even though when I was there it was a large institution, approximately 20,000 students, it felt like a tight-knit community, very supportive in the aspect of what a college town is supposed to be. I look back on those memories fondly, not only athletically but just overall my college experience. It just felt comfortable and supportive.
What game is freshest in your memory?
My very first game as a true freshman. We played against Central Arkansas at McAndrew Stadium (in Carbondale). It was more than I could have imagined or dreamed. My first reception came on the 20-yard line going in; I caught a slant pass and took it into the end zone with defenders on me. First catch. Touchdown. I was floating on cloud nine. Then on Monday the Daily Egyptian had my photo on the front of the sports page. That really stands out because it was an introduction to college football, to SIU football and it gave me confidence to realize that maybe I could be pretty good on the college level.
You mentioned old McAndrew Stadium, which was built in the Great Depression. Have you seen Saluki Stadium, which opened in 2010?
I have (chuckles). I’m glad that the program has it and is progressing and continues to progress with the facilities that they have. Saluki Stadium is beautiful. I appreciated McAndrew Stadium, of course it wasn’t the most modern of facilities. It’s good to see that the current and recent players have had an opportunity to play in an updated, upgraded, state-of-the-art stadium like they have now.
Which SIU record that you hold or award that you received means the most to you now?
I was always into stats growing up. I flipped baseball and football cards over and read the backs. I looked at where the players were from, what their career averages were, so when I got to SIU I looked into the book of statistics and saw they hadn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver. I told the coaches as a freshman that I was going to be the first 1,000-yard receiver, but it wasn’t just about me. You set a goal and worked hard to get there. It was a team effort as far as the offenses that we had, the coaches putting me in the game plan, and then the way we were able to execute.
Now, I look forward to the opportunity for someone to join me in that group. My goals and my records were mine, but I’m not protective of them in the sense that I don’t want company and I don’t want records broken.
[Note: Craig twice recorded 1,000-yard receiving seasons. A third time, he missed by just 73 yards. No one else has accomplished the feat for a single season at SIU.]
What challenges has the pandemic created for you in your role at Hofstra University?
Before the pandemic, there were inequities within our society. Historic inequities and current inequities. Any time a crisis comes, it’s going to exacerbate and highlight some of those inequalities. It’s something that institutions, not just Hofstra, but higher level institutions across the country are battling and strategizing ways to be efficient and stay afloat in this environment. Oftentimes we focus on the mainstream and narrowing down and trimming the fat and focus on profits. Sometimes we neglect those who are on the margins . . .
. . . We have to understand that serving the community involves all in the community. We need to do all that we can do at our higher ed institutions but also at our middle perspective to help those who are most vulnerable and most at risk, not just having a decline in profit but having health outcomes and other longer-lasting outcomes that are more existential. More so than just financial.
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to working in New York City?
It was good, but it was a bit of a shock, a culture shock so to speak. You work in an international city. You have people from all over, and I grew up primarily Midwestern in the United States where lines are a little more clearly defined and clearly drawn. Some of those assumptions, some of those stereotypes that I carried with me had to be destroyed and torn down and reformed into new knowledge and new information. There are people from everywhere (here) from all walks of life. That’s the beauty of this metropolitan area.
But, as crowded as it is and as densely populated as it is that’s also one of the vulnerabilities that’s showing up in this current crisis, this pandemic. In its best sense, it’s very beautiful and very full of opportunity to learn and engage other cultures from the superficial such as food to the more substantial as far as understanding challenges and other struggles that people have within our state but also internationally as well.
I really embrace the city. I always tell people that if you don’t love and hate New York City, then you’re really not in New York City because there’s always something to love about it and always something to hate about it. I really enjoy the time I spend here.
What is something that you have rediscovered or gotten back into during this pandemic quarantine?
My father (Neal) played professional football. He was drafted by the Bengals in ’71. He played for the Bengals, the Browns and the Bills in the ’70s. I’ve been searching You Tube and finding old NFL Films clips and sending them to him on text messages in the evenings. He stopped playing in ’76, so he was done playing by the time I was born in ’78. It’s been fun to watch the old footage and talk with him about what was going on with him when he was in his early 20s playing professional football. That’s been fun, but I’ve been taking advantage and appreciating family. I don’t have any family in the New York City area, so as much as we can we try to talk and have Zoom conversations. There’s a new level of appreciation that I have now that previously I didn’t have. This isolation and this quarantine has refocused and put things in a different perspective.
What is something that would surprise your old SIU teammates if they found out about it now?
A hobby that was burgeoning while I was in Carbondale that not a lot of people knew about is poetry. I like writing. I’ve written a lot of poetry over the years. I’m yet to be published, I haven’t attempted to be published, but I have a large collection of my own writing. It’s really a hobby of mine that I really enjoy. I participate in open mic and spoken word and then hearing other perspectives. It’s just the art of the written word. I really enjoy that.