Yeah it's small, but it's fast and strong!
Maybe this has happened to you: You're driving along in the left lane of the highway at what you think is a very fast pace, and then you notice that someone is tailgating you big time. You move over to the right, only to see that the speed demon who overtook you was an elderly lady in a mini Cooper!
That's what it must have felt like for a lot of Columbia's opponents last season as the Lion employed speed in places where you just don't expect to see it on a football field.
Finding quicker and more aggressive interior linebackers than Justin Masorti, Drew Quinn, and Lou Millerk would be a difficult task, but team speed at the linebacker position is nothing new in college football or the Ivy League.
What was so surprising was the speed Columbia's defensive linemen exhibited last season, and even though starters Darren Schmidt and Todd Abrams have graduated, the coaches are clearly favoring speed over size when it comes to the leading candidates to replace them.
Schmidt and Abrams were both converted linebackers, and while Abrams bulked up to fit his new position, Schmidt really didn't. Both had outstanding seasons in 2006, although a lot of their success was due to then-sophomore Phil Mitchell doing more than his share of the work on the left end of the line.
Most anyone who watches Ivy League football and major D-1 college football regularly will tell you that the Ivy games are just as competitive and exciting, (if not more), but that the main difference between the Ivies and the Big 10 is size and speed. Most star players in the Ivies are smaller and just a bit slower than their counterparts at the big programs. And overall team speed in the Ivies is usually lacking as well.
The coaches can't exactly make their players grow taller, but they can encourage them to get leaner and quicker. This is the summer assignment a lot of returning Columbia players are working hard to complete by training camp. (Is their a Jenny Craig for linemen?)
The leading candidates to fill the slots left open by Schmidt and Abrams are all much lighter than you would expect, even in the Ivy League:
Matt Bashaw So. 248 lbs.
Conor Joyce Jr. 250 lbs.
Mack Loughrey So. 220 lbs.
Eli Waltz Jr. 244 lbs.
Lou Ferrari's 3-5-3 defense is based on speed and everyone on the team being able to pursue the ball carrier no matter where they are on the field. With very few Ivy opponents able to simply run the ball up the gut with a powerful back, this strategy has worked well against most rushing schemes and short passes. Only equally quick players at somewhat unexpected positions, like the speedy scrambling former Dartmouth QB Mike Fritz, really hurt Columbia's defense last season. I expect that trend to continue in 2007, as speedy offensive skill players remain rare in the league.
On offense, Columbia seems to be a little more interested in creating speed and size mismatches. Jamal Russell is much faster than your average tight end, and the coaches expect to see him and more the traditionally-sized tight end Troy Evangelist terrorize opposing defenses this year.
And now the coaches seem very high on sophomore Derek Jancisin at wide receiver. Derek could use his 6"3, 195 pound frame to dominate opposing defensive backs. Jancisin was known as a physical player in his high school days at Mount Lebanon HS in Pittsburgh, and he could help out considerably as a blocker on running plays and when the Lions choose to use one of their tight ends as a receiver.
Jancisin has an interesting pedigree. His father David was a player on the top-notch Pitt teams of the early 70's, (the Tony Dorsett years), and one of his teammates who would become his best friend was none other than current Pitt Head Coach Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt even bought a house near the Jancisins in the Mount Lebanon neighborhood.
Jancisin has something in common with Masorti and incoming freshmen Bruce Fleming, as their fathers also played for big-time college football powerhouses. And the Ivy League has a great tradition of attracting the sons of great pro athletes and coaches like Jack Kemp's son Jef, Steve DeOssie's son Zak, John Madden's son Joe, and the list goes on.
We're just two days away, (it's on Saturday), from the Columbia Alumni Association BBQ right on South Field on campus beginning at 11:30am and running through 4pm. The latest weather forecast says it's going to be a beautiful day, so I'm looking forward to going and talking football or almost anything else with interested alums. My four-year-old daughter Jordan is coming too, but she just wants to do the face painting. You can register for the barbeque here.
Tad Crawford and the 3-0 B.C. Lions defend their undefeated record at home tonight against the 0-3 Hamilton Tiger-Cats at 7:30pm, (that's 10:30pm Eastern Time). B.C.'s starting QB Dave Dickenson is out with a concussion, so the game may not be such a blowout after all. You can catch the action online on the Team 1040 radio stream.