Monday, May 14, 2007

High School Not So Confidential

The Great Rory Wilfork Came out of a Strong Public School Conference in Miami (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

Princeton's list of incoming freshmen football players came out this morning and I was struck by the number of kids from private schools. It looks like 13 of the 27 recruits hail from prep or Catholic schools. It's hard to tell if all of their recruits are purely private school products, because many Ivy athletes do a post grad year at a prep school after graduating from public high schools.

But I thought it would be interesting to look back at the most successful football players in the recent Ivy past and find out if any one type of high school is more likely than another to produce an Ivy star.

The answer was pretty clear: if you want to recruit a great football player in this league, go to a Catholic school or a public school in a football-rich part of the country.

The best Lions since 1980 fit this trend to a "t." Most large high schools on my home of Long Island are not the big football powers that they were in the 70's and early 80's, but QB John Witkowksi came out of Lindenhurst High School at a time when Suffolk and Nassau County schools produced quarterbacks like Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testeverde and Jay Fiedler.

Next up is Matt Sodl, who came out of another public high school in perhaps the most high school football-rich section of the country: rural Pennsylvania. Matt played All-America-level football at CU. Current Columbia stars Andy Shalbrack of Doylestown and Justin Masorti of State College are Pennsylvania natives, and Shalbrack is also a Catholic school graduate.

Des Werthman went to the Catholic Loyola Academy just outside of Chicago in Wilmette.

Marcellus Wiley and Rory Wilfork were both products of good urban high schools in tough urban high school football leagues. But Wiley's urban high school was also a Catholic school; Saint Monica's in Santa Monica. Wilfork came out of Miami's Norland High School.

Some notable exceptions are Mike Cavanaugh, who came out of a competitive but relatively small high school in Troy, Michigan. And Jonathan Reese, who played for the prep St. Louis Country Day School.

Basically, it seems that the kids from top flight public school football conferences excel in the Ivies because they're flat out good athletically. Most of those kids are probably playing something pretty close to Ivy League level football when they reach their conference playoffs and championship games.

Many Catholic School football leagues are as good or even better than their neighboring public high school conferences, but I think the Catholic schools are just better at producing student athletes who can handle the academic pressures in the Ivies. I don't think religion or religious rigor play too much of a role, but I think this young man, currently playing at Yale, would beg to differ.

I suppose at one time, Ivy football was dominated by the Exeter and Andover grads, but that time was probably running out even at the turn of the 20th century. It seems like the best Ivy stars since the 1920's have either been from tough high school conferences or Catholic schools. It will be interesting to see if the coming seasons continue that trend.

At first look, I would say about 11 of Columbia's incoming freshmen come from either tough public school conferences or Catholic schools. Some, like Nathan Lenz of Clearwater, Florida, come from Catholic schools in areas where the public school football is quite good too. That would put Lenz in that Des Werthman/Marcellus Wiley/Andy Shalbrack category at least for now.

Mike Stephens from Flower Mound, Texas is probably coming from the best overall public school football conference for this incoming class. His background reminds me of Philip Murray, the great Columbia safety who hailed from Mesquite, Texas.

I'm sure I've left out a lot of names of kids from the incoming freshmen class who fit my above criteria. And I will try to give everyone their due at some point during this long offseason. But like all things at this early time concerning the class of 2011, it's all speculation.


At Tue May 15, 03:03:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Stephen said...

Thanks for the link, Jake.

Ivy footballers deserve support any way they can get it- even if you are a Lion.

See you at Baker's Field

At Tue May 15, 03:11:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


My pleasure. I'm a hard-core parochial school grad myself... but from a different religion.

Let's hope for a better Columbia-Yale game this season and better weather!

At Tue May 15, 06:50:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...


One of our most exciting players in recent years came from a small high school in Nebraska which played in a 7 on 7 league. If you saw him run back a punt against Fordham for 93 yards a few years ago you will concede the point that we can find great players anywhere.

At Tue May 15, 07:04:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Yep, Travis Chmelka was a unique find... one of the fastest Lions in memory. Of course we can find players anywhere, but it seems like the formula I discuss in the post works more often than not. Perhaps to win, Columbia needs to find more Travis Chemelka's and break the mold.

At Tue May 15, 09:42:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are your sure Travis Chmelka played in a 7 on 7 league in Nebraska? Freemont is a pretty big place of about 25,000 and I believe it plays some of the Omaha city schools. With his speed and moves, Chmelka must have been unstoppable returning kicks in a seven by seven high school league. I wonder how Chmelka was recruited by Columbia and if he is still in the New York area. If so, the Columbia coaching staff would be smart to try to get him to volunteer to help the current group of punt and kickoff receivers. I say that because Chmelka was the rare punt and kickoff receiver who not only outran defenders but outsmarted them as well.

At Tue May 15, 11:47:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's some tidbits for you, Jake: (1) Freshman Wide Receiver Nico Gutierrez is literally back on track from his injury as he ran both the 100 meters (11.92)and 200 meters(23.52) at the Loucks game this past weekend; (2) Freshman tailback Zach Kourouna has been selected to participate in the Massachustetts Shrine Bowl Game in June; (3) Considering that Freshman Joe Stormont was chosen as the First Team All-State placekicer in Minnesota last year, it makes sense to list him on the Columbia website as a kicker, but keep in mind that he was also one of the best defensive backs in Minnesota with nine career interceptions. Stormont also had registered some nice stats as a punt returner. He ran the 200m recently in 23.23. Maybe he'll be the new Chmelka; and (4) The two running backs from California, Leon Ivery and Augie Williams could compete with California soph Josh Williams to be the starting kickoff returners. Of course, Kourouna, with his great speed, is another possiblity.

At Tue May 15, 07:39:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was searching for videos of new the recruits on YouTube and I found this video of OL recruit Ian Quirk competing in the 2007 USA Weightlifting Junior National Olympic Weightlifting Championships. You can find the video at this link:
or you can simply enter his name in the YouTube search box.

He looks very explosive and really strong.

At Tue May 15, 08:35:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Thanks for all the info on Gutierez, Kourouma, Stormont, etc! It's great to have this kind of buzz early.

At Tue May 15, 09:04:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am a long time Columbia fan, class of 1969, who was on the varsity squad for sophomore year and then played on the lightweight squad in my junior year. I love the information you provide as well as the historical prospective. You are a gem and I wish you the best in your quest for the radio spot.

What prompted this email was the reference to Travis Chmelka and his punt return against Fordham. As he took that ball and the hole opened up, it was clear that he was on his way to paydirt. I looked over at my good friend and former roommate Bill "Max" Carey and commented, "Well, there goes your old record." He set that record against Princeton in 1967 and I stood next to his dad when he made that run.

Your sense of history is wonderful. I look forward to reading your blog daily. Thanks for your hard work and your passion. We will be there when the Lions take that championship.


At Tue May 15, 09:16:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


Thanks so much for your comments. When Chmelka made that run against Fordham all I could think of was how well he fielded the kick while looking into the sun.

You should also mention that Carey's nephew Chris was on the field as the captain of that Columbia team that day!

At Tue May 15, 09:32:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am pretty sure that Travis played 7 on 7 hs ball, as did some other great cornhuskers who went on to glory for Nebraska. As for speed, 100 meters is now the benchmark for sprinters; some of our competitors have recruits in the sub 11 range. The old benchmark was the 100 yards; if you ran a sub 10, you were fast. A great college back is usually capable of around 10.6 in hte 100 meters and sub 4.5s in the 40s. the benchmark in the 200 is below 22 seconds (Hurtault is a 21.1 man)

At Wed May 16, 12:01:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, I couldn't agree with you more about the private's and the public's that play in tough leagues.

Current Columbia players, Ray Rangel and Taylor Joseph played in the Serra League. The Serra league was comprised of private schools. The Serra League was arguably one of the best high school leagues in the country and was the best high school league in California hands down. I say was because they changed to name of the league to the Trinity 2007. The teams in the old Serra League were Mater Dei, Santa Margarita, Loyola, Servite, Bishop Amat and St. John Bosco. Notable alumni from this league include Matt Leinert and Carson Palmer.

In 2006 Rangel's Servite team won the Serra League Championship and defeated Long Beach Poly in the playoffs. Long Beach Poly year in and year out is a national football powerhouse. Long Beach Poly a public school was quarterbacked by M.A. Olawale. Joseph's Loyola team finished third in the Serra League but won the Southern California Division 1 high school championship. That tells you how tough that league was.

Joseph and Rangel also played in the prestigious Southern California Shrine game.

Joseph played well last season. Rangel was never 100%. M.A. Olawale when he gets his chance will show how special he is. These kids are studs. Look for these kids to tear it up.

At Wed May 16, 12:13:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Yes, the best Ivy players seem to come from these top-flight Catholic school leagues. Those kids are uniquely qualified both athletically and academically. It's interesting that schools that still focus more on the basics of educating both body and mind and less on weird new curriculum projects tend to churn out the best college students and human beings. Yes, there are a lot of negatives and things can sometimes seem repressive, but these kids graduate knowing who they are.

At Wed May 16, 03:07:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your site Jake. Just wanted to say, I've seen your recruit Augie Williams play several times. He is a heck of a player on both sides of the ball and picks up tough yardage with little help from his o-line, which was rather weak. This kid plays with a lot of heart and has a great motor. Plays with class too.

At Wed May 16, 03:12:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Thanks so much. Augie is definitely one of the players who could click for CU relatively soon. We've have good success with a lot of the Southern California players.

At Wed May 16, 03:22:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Just read that Zach Kourouma was offered a scholarship to play at West Point, (well, everyone goes to Army for free... actually you get paid to go there). I think we may start hearing about a lot more recruits who we beat others to get now that the list is out.

At Wed May 16, 03:48:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did Marcellus Wiley play in high school?

At Wed May 16, 04:53:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcellus Wiley played at St. Monica's High School in Santa Monica

At Wed May 16, 07:51:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to see us do better at the Big Three Catholic high schools in Bergen County, Don Bosco,Bergen Catholic and St. Joe's. These schools recruit their football players from all over Bergen and Rockland counties. We do not do well at these Catholic powerhouses, especially at Bergen Catholic, where the head coach, Fred Stengel, has supposedly discouraged his players from thinking about Columbia.

At Fri May 18, 05:04:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are already 3 or 4 players from southwest ohio on the roster, and another (Gross) from the dayton area is being added this year. 2 of the captains are from this region, which is certainly a big time high school football area.

At Mon May 21, 12:04:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous 494949 said...

firstly, looks like a pretty good class on paper

more importantly, i think you hit the nail on the head, Private schools force one to focus on academics and athletics.

finally, everybody knows the midwest has the best football in the country and if one just recruited there ivy league championships would come by the bundle.

At Mon May 21, 09:18:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


I wonder if the push for geographical diversity in overall admissions ties the coaches' hands when it comes to recruiting in the Midwest? In other words, do we need to pass over some good-looking kids in Illinois and Western PA because of a unmentioned quota? If so, that would be bad.

I also wonder hoe many of the top Catholic school coaches have relationships with Ivy recruiters. Do they steer their sub-Notre Dame quality kids to us or to Fordham, Holy Cross or Georgetown?

At Tue May 22, 02:35:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about the midwest claim. Too many great players come out of Texas-Oklahoma-Florida and Cali. to make that claim. Anyway, I'm sure the school likes to see kids from a variety of states coming in to CU, but I don't think the coaches are held to any kind of quota.

At Tue Jan 11, 09:06:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just came across this in a Google search about Travis Chmelka. He played regular 11-on-11 football for Fremont High School. The 7-on-7 league was a summer passing league the team participated in to get ready for the season. There are, however, teams that play 8-man football in Nebraska, but they are at much smaller schools than Fremont.


Post a Comment

<< Home