Friday, March 30, 2007

The Great White North


It's been two good days in a row for the Columbia Spectator, which has a nice piece on a few of the graduating football seniors trying to make a go of it in the European pro football leagues. The article also mentions the fact that Ontario native Tad Crawford is a likely first-round draft pick for the Canadian Football League.

This is a good choice for these guys, who will not only learn a lot by living abroad, but they'll also get a chance to delay the inevitable "life behind a desk" most of us have been sentenced to since graduation.

But I find Crawford's future to be the most compelling. Hopefully, he will emerge as a legitimate CFL star and that could really help Columbia's recruiting fortunes in Canada. Recent big Ivy stars like Harvard's Clifton Dawson came from up north, so the talent pool is there.

Canada's "grade 13" system for high schools was relaxed about 10 years ago, allowing young athletes to explore the U.S. postgrad prep scene and raise their stock as collegiate prospects. Seeing someone like Crawford playing well in the CFL could encourage more kids to give the Ivies, (and hopefully Columbia), a try.

And some of Columbia's best stars have come from the oddest of places. Guys like Michael Quarshie who grew up in Finland, for example. In the fiercely competitive world of Ivy League recruiting, where the pool of talented players with academic chops is shallow indeed, you have to exploit any advantage when and where you can.

In the 1990's, then Head Coach Ray Tellier was the first Ivy coach to really focus on California before the rest of the league caught on. That short-lived edge produced stars like Marcellus Wiley. I wrote a little more about this in my "Open Letter to Coach Norries Wilson" post before the beginning of last season.

While most of metropolitan Canada is well-known to most Ivy recruiters, I wonder if the same is true of the so-called "prarie provinces" where you often have to drive for hours before you see more than one telephone pole. Maybe Columbia's next big star will come from one of these remote areas, where a kid watching a CFL game on TV hears the name "Columbia" for the first time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Diamonds in the Rough

Jeff Otis in his 1st Collegiate start, at Fordham, 2003 (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Department)

Former Lions quarterback Jeff Otis '05, had a tremendous 2003 season and established himself as the best passer at Columbia since John Witkowski. Columbia finished 4-6 that year and looked primed for a great 2004 season.

It didn't happen. Otis' best target, Wade Fletcher injured himself in the pre-season. missed a few early season games, and Columbia never really recovered. The result was a 1-9 season that left a lot of us scratching our heads.

But the top players from that '04 team have distinguished themselves as NFL prospects. Otis, who has spent his post-Columbia years in the Arena League and NFL Europe, has just been signed by the Oakland Raiders. He'll join his former Lion teammate Michael Quarshie and QB coach John DeFillipo, who I assume had a lot to do with this signing decision. Wade Fletcher made a gallant attempt to make the New York Giants last pre-season and fell just short.

Of course the obvious question is: how could a team with so much NFL talent and near-NFL talent do so poorly in Ivy League competition? A big part of me would just like to blame all of this on former Head Coach Bob Shoop and leave it at that. But I think the biggest culprit was, and is lack of depth.

No one can deny that Columbia has had its share of superstar players over the last 35 years. They include people like Witkowski, Des Werthman, Jonathan Reese, Marcellus Wiley, etc. But Columbia only has two winning seasons to show for themselves in this period. And that's mostly because the Lion roster is routinely too small to really compete or make the mosts of its top assets. Actually, roster size has been an issue for Columbia since the 1920's.

And this should all act as a reminder as to why CU absolutely needs to make keeping the roster at or above 90 players a priority this year and in the future. I don't envy the coaches this added job of team continuity. But it must be done.

Point Counterpoint

I've been travelling across the country a lot these last few days, so I've avoided commenting on a terrible opinion piece in the Columbia Spectator that bashed the athletic department and the recruiting/admissions process. I'm glad I didn't get a chance because I'd rather spend my time publicizing the great rebuttal by Jon Kamran, also of the Spectator, that came out today. Kamran really tears the original screed apart journalistically. In fact, I'd like to invite him to come to speak to my journalism students at NYU! My congratulations to him.

Movie Time

And finally, check out the faster-loading trailer for THE LEAGUE, a new movie about Ivy football written, directed and produced by Columbia football alum George GianFrancisco '88.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Show Me Something!

We're about two weeks away from the start of spring practice, and the Columbia coaches must be beside themselves trying to cram in as much as possible during the quick two-week session.

Focus, Focus, Focus

The Ivy League's strict rules about practice time are intended to keep the young players' minds on their studies, especially during the spring semester when there is no football. But like so many rules, this regulation seems to have the opposite effect. Most players and players' tell me it's easier to focus on classes during the season when they have to be much more efficient with their time. The more relaxed spring semester often leads to a lack of focus, and you know what the devil does with idle hands. Perhaps the fact that spring practice wraps up so close to final exams is an advantage instead of a distraction.

And there will be no time for distractions as the Lions will need to use these practice sessions and the intrasquad spring game on April 21st to answer a number of questions and address several problems that will need fixing sometime before the opener at Fordham on September 15th.


In the past, a lot of spring practice has been about identifying the rising sophomores and juniors who have improved the most and will most likely make an impact on the varsity in the coming year. But so many freshmen and sophomores made a huge impact on last year's squad, that much of the mystery is already taken out of the equation. Freshmen Andy Shalbrack, Justin Masorti, and Austin Knowlin were all big stars for the team in 2006, as were sophomores Drew Quinn, Phil Mitchell, Jordan Davis, and Jon Rocholl.

That said, there were a few freshmen and sophomores who made smaller contributions last year who will need to step up in 2007. I think the players who need to make a good case for themselves in practice next month are:


1) Quarterback: M.A. Olawale. No matter how quickly senior QB Craig Hormann recovers from his ACL tear, (and I keep hearing great things about his rehab), the chances are good that Olawale will have to step up and play a lot more this season. I've been watching Ivy football for 20 years, and I have never seen a QB as fast as Olawale was in the brief playing time he had last season. Olawale is clearly very talented, but he's the exact opposite physically than the slower, non-scrambling Hormann. That poses some tough questions for the coaching staff. Should they retool the entire offense to match Olawale's running skills? If so, they'll need to start preparing for that right now. It might be easier to have Olawale and the other QB's mimic Hormann's play for now and then introduce a new offensive playbook in summer training camp depending on how well Hormann is coming along by then. Remember that spring practice is often a lot more about getting these players used to football after a five-month layoff. It might be wise not to confuse them with anything too new right now.

But Hormann or no Hormann, Olawale's quickness is too valuable to keep on the sidelines. Columbia must find a way to get him on the field more in 2007 either as a flanker, kick returner, or whatever. Real speed is a rare commodity in this league, and calling his number on just a few plays a game could make a big difference. All this means M.A. Olawale will probably be the most-watched Lion in spring practice. One certainly hopes he will rise to the challenge.

2) Wide receiver: Taylor Joseph. Joseph only started making a real contribution later in the season, but I liked what I saw. He grabbed 12 passes for 154 yards and a 15.4 average per catch. Joseph looks like he might fill the shoes of short-range target Nick DeGasperis and he could do much more than that. I think the #2 wide receiver starting spot for next season is Joseph's to lose right now.

3) Fullback: Pete Stoll. Stoll seemed to really make an impact in the final two games when he served as the blocking back for Jordan Davis. While it would be great to see him reprise and perfect that role, you have to wonder if Stoll will get the chance to shine as a ball carrier in his own right. Perhaps we'll get a chance to see what he can do in short yardage and goal line situations as Columbia needs to improve on the four rushing TD's it scored in 2006.

4)Running Back: Ray Rangel. Rangel impressed the coaches in training camp last summer, but a high ankle sprain kept him off the field for much of the early season and he finished 2006 with only five carries. Rangel needs to show what he can do when he's healthy, especially before some of the freshmen backs start upping the ante this summer. The coaches seemed to want to use Rangel a bit as a receiver coming out of the backfield on screen plays, so it will be interesting to see if we see any of that in the spring game.

5) Offensive linemen: Moose Veldman, John Seiler, and Evan Sanford. It's really unrealistic to expect offensive linemen to contribute much at all as freshmen as it is clearly the most difficult position to take from the high school to the collegiate level. But there are only five offensive linemen in the rising sophomore class, and at least one of them will need to step up and contribute this season. I'm putting the spotlight on Veldman, Seiler and Sanford because they seem to have the best body types and overall size right now.

And for those of you who think Mr. Veldman is the first "Moose" in CU football history, I direct your attention to this article from the NY Times in 1946:
NY Times, (incidentally, Columbia DID win that game against Navy, 23-14 and went on to a 6-3 record that season).


1) Defensive Lineman: Matt Bashaw. Bashaw was that rare freshman who made an impact as a defensive lineman. He played in nine games, had two tackles for a loss, including one sack, and forced a fumble. With two out of the three starting defensive linemen graduating, Bashaw needs to prove he's ready to go as a starter himself. Bashaw is the only rising soph with game experience on the line, so it's up to him to represent the class of 2010 up front.

2) Linebacker: Lou Miller. Miller lost his starting job to Justin Masorti in midseason, but he kept contributing all the way through. Miller needs to make his case for one of the three open starting spots in Columbia's five linebacker set, (Adam Brekke and Justin Nunez are graduating, and it looks like they're moving Andy Shalbrack from spur to defensive back). But Miller will have some added competition now that rising senior Bayo Aregebe is back on the team, (see below)

3) Defensive Backs: Drew Abeyta and Kirk Weller. Abeyta and Weller didn't get much playing time last season, but they still looked like the most promising rising sophomores in the defensive backfield. Even with Shalbrack's shift to DB and the return of senior Ryan Metee this coming season, this entire unit still looks a little thin. Abeyta and Weller can be a big help if they step up.


1) Offensive Linemen: Ralph DeBernardo, Mike Brune, Pat DeFazio, and Gene Kaskiw. One or more of these young men must step up to not only replace the graduating Matt Barsamian, Usche Osadebe and Daniel Palmer, but they must also eclipse them in some way. DeBernardo and Brune got a lot more playing time than most offensive linemen could ever dream of as sophomores. As juniors they need that experience to pay off.

2) Tight End: Troy Evangelist. Injuries kept Evangelist from playing as big a role as the coaches hoped last season. If he emerges as an impact player the Columbia offense could truly shift into a higher gear.

3) Running back: Jordan Davis. The starting tailback position is still his to lose, but he may need to pick up his game a bit even during spring practice before the freshmen running backs come in to raise the stakes this summer. Davis played pretty well last season, but now is the time for him to show the dividends of his extensive playing time as a freshmen and sophomore.

4) Fullback: Gary Mesko. Mesko came to Columbia in 2005 as a pretty highly-touted recruit. This may be the beginning of his last chance to prove what he can do.


1)Defensive Lineman: Cory Cameron. He has as good a shot as Bashaw to grab one of the open spots on the line. He was surprisingly effective as a backup last season despite weighing just 220 pounds. He still has a lot to prove.

2)Nose Tackle: Eli Waltz. He joins rising soph Matt Bashaw as one of the few returning players with game experience on the defensive line. It will be interesting to see if he has been able to add to his 244-pound frame.

3)Spur Linebacker: Clark Koury. With Shalbrack's move to the defensive backfield, Koury could make a run at one of those two opening spur positions. He only got into three games last season, but I liked what I saw.

And let's keep a close eye on rising junior kicker Michael Siebold. Obviously, Jon Rocholl is the incumbent for all the kicking jobs, but Siebold needs to show he's ready, especially when it comes to kicking off.


Just 13 seniors return to the Lions this coming season, and that includes the unexpected return of Mettee and Aregbe. (Hopefully this will be the last time Columbia ever fields fewer than 20 seniors).

Mettee and Aregebe will provide instant help as Mettee helps to shore up a depleted secondary, and you can never have too many linebackers like Aregebe in a 3-5-3 defense. Columbia fans will remember Mettee as the man who made an instant impact in his first game as a freshman in 2004 when he returned a blocked punt for a TD in Columbia's opening game 17-14 loss to Fordham at Wien Stadium. Aregebe impressed as a junior in 2005 before deciding to sit out last season.

Besides those two, there are two other seniors who need to use spring practice to boost their stock before it's too late.

The first is tight end Jamal Russell, who had an up-and-down, but mostly down season in 2006. He suffered from the dropsies in a few early contests, fell off the radar in the middle of the season, but then made solid contributions in the final two games of the season.

Another "on the bubble senior is wide receiver Tim Paulin. Paulin's speed and body type are still a plus, but he too had some trouble holding on to the football at times last season. Eventually, Paulin started losing playing time to freshman Taylor Joseph. Nevertheless, Columbia needs to establish a deep threat, and Paulin is uniquely qualified to fill that role. It will be interesting to see what he can show us next month.


Was they anything sadder than Columbia's kick returning game last season? I guess the best you could say is the Lions didn't fumble away too many kicks. But I can't think of one effective kickoff or punt return last season. With an offense that still seems likely to struggle somewhat next season, field position will again be crucial. It will be interesting to see who gets a shot as a kick returner in the spring game and how they perform. I would list some of the leading candidates, but no one has emerged yet.


And finally, spring practice usually yields one complete surprise of a player who comes out of nowhere and emerges as an instant lock as a starter. Just about every player I DIDN'T mention above has a chance to be that surprise contributor this spring. Feel free to use the comments section below to make your predictions.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Andrew Kennedy Profile

An anonymous reader sent in a link from the Westport News to a nice article about incoming freshman Andrew Kennedy.

Kennedy may be the top prospect in this recruiting class, but we can't forget how tough it is to make the transition from high school to college for linemen. Usually you can't expect very much until junior year. But the Columbia coaches could throw Kennedy into the mix as a linebacker first and see how he develops.

In any case, I'm still very concerned about the loss of Todd Abrams and Darren Schmidt from the front three. Replacing them may be defensive coordinator Lou Ferrari's biggest challenge for 2007.


And some eagle-eyed Columbia fans have pointed out that Ryan Mettee and Bayo Aregbe are back on the Columbia football roster. This is great news as total participation is always a problem for the Lions and we'd like to keep the total number of players as close as possibe to 90-to-95 all season.

Most fans will remember Mettee as the man who returned a blocked punt against Fordham in the 2004 opener at Wien Stadium, (Columbia almost erased a 17-0 deficit in that game before falling, 17-14). He's been out the last TWO seasons mostly due to injury, but if he if is truly healthy again he will be a big help in a secondary that lost Tad Crawford to graduation and Chad Musgrove, (presumably for personal reasons).

I think a combination of injuries and other reasons kept Aregbe off the team last season, but he played in all 10 games in 2005. If he bulks up a bit, he has the speed and the height to be a big contributor in the linebacker corps.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Interview with Des Werthman!

Des Werthman, 1992 (credit: Columbia University Athletics)

It's hard to describe just how much former Lions star Des Werthman meant and still means to Columbia fans. Des was a defensive standout at linebacker, but he also chipped in as a running back on short-yardage situations, and even helped out as a kicker from time to time. That all made Des a throwback-style hero years before people started selling old jerseys for five times the retail price.

Werthman was a part of Ray Tellier's first recruiting class, playing on the freshman team in 1989 and then on the varsity from 1990-92. He made an impact in almost every game he played and Des' career stats are simply breathtaking. I don't think any Columbia player will ever top his 449 career tackles in just three years on the varsity. And what he meant to the team overall during those years can't be quantified.

But nothing can match his heroics in the final two games of his career against Cornell and Brown... both at home.

Against Cornell, Des helped shock the 7-1 Big Red with 16 tackles, two fumble recoveries, two rushing touchdowns, a 2-point conversion, two extra points, just missed a field goal attempt, and even threw a pass, which went incomplete. (There are also unconfirmed reports that at halftime, Des sold game programs in the stands). The final score was 35-30, and the loss eliminated Cornell from the Ivy title race.

But Des was just warming up. The next week against Brown, he rushed for 114 yards, scored 19 points - three rushing touchdowns and an extra point - and had 15 tackles. With the Lions leading 34-28, Des missed a field goal that would have iced the game, but on the very next play he made an interception to end it.

Des went on to a short career in the Arena Football League, something that suited his 5"11, 225-pound frame a little more than the NFL.

For some crazy reason, Des was not included in the inaugural class of the Columbia sports hall of fame last year. It's a controversial decision to say the least.

Thankfully, he was named a part of the CU football team of the 20th Century and he was on the field at Homecoming in 2000, (when Columbia crushed Dartmouth 49-21),

Des' playing exploits are never far from the minds of longtime Lion fans, but when Justin Masorti joined the Lions last year, his build and style of play reminded many of us of old number 49.

Des contacted me via the comments section of this blog a few months ago, and kindly agreed to do an interview.

JAKE: Walk us through the highlights of your post-Columbia life since you graduated in 1993, both personal and career-wise.

Des: Well, I lived in NY until 1998 and then moved back to Chicago. I came out of school and tried to play professionally, with a brief stint in the Arena League and some NFL try outs, but nothing ever materialized. I went to work in the investment field in late 1994 and have been there ever since. On the family front, I got married in 2001 and have two daughters, ages 4 and 2. Neither seem to be big sports fans, but I am trying to convert them.

Jake: Did your time as a Columbia football player play a positive or negative role in your personal life or your career? Did it ever directly hurt or help you?

Des: I don’t think it ever played a negative role. It didn’t produce any jobs when I came out of school, but I met with a whole bunch of Alumni which is interesting and hopefully Columbia alumni will help more with hiring others in the future. I think the years as a player at CU are a constant reminder that one is only as good as the weakest link. A great team can be a thousand times better than a great player. This carries into the real world as well.

Werthman as a member of the Loyola High School Ramblers (Wilmette, IL), where he also excelled in Track and Field.

Jake: You were one of the first players to shine during the Ray Tellier era. Did he and his team recruit you, or were the last group brought in under Larry McAlreavy?

Des: It was interesting, I was originally contacted by one of McAlreavy’s coaches. I met him and then never heard from Columbia again. Several months passed and then one of Ray’s coaches came to see me, Sean McDonnell, now head coach at New Hampshire. I visited some other schools, but had pretty much decided on Columbia once I went to the campus.

Ray Tellier

Jake: What were your impressions of Tellier and why do you think he was eventually able to find success at Columbia after so many had failed before him?

Des: Ray was very good on several fronts and this led to his success. He had been a winner at Rochester and brought several coaches that had been successful as well. I think Ray was very good at several facets of the game. He was a good recruiter, knew the X’s and O’s, and could also motivate people. I think what ultimately led to his success was that he was organized and stuck to a plan of action that ended up working. I think a lot of the success is based upon diligence, focus and planning.

Jake: How did it come to pass that you had to play so many different positions for Columbia, (sometimes in the same game)? Did you take the initiative, or were the Lions so shorthanded that they had to call on you so often?

Des: I never initiated playing any other position except for linebacker. It is funny, but I tried to hide the fact that I kicked extra points and field goals in high school. I was like the super jock character toy with the straight shoe and you would slam the guy's head down to kick. Unfortunately one of the coaches remembered film of me kicking. It was the saddest day of my life…(laughing).

In all honesty, Columbia had good talent, but lacked depth. I think this was the real reason I played several positions. Once the first guy or if we had a second guy, (highly unusual), went down, we would look for options at positions. I started playing running back as a junior in short yardage situations and then more frequently as a senior. This was a lot of fun and I think that was because I was kind of winging it on offense and the guys in the huddle were so serious that I would just start laughing and they would eventually loosen up. There were some really good players on offense; like Mike Sardo, who was a great possession receiver.

Jake: Give us your overall impressions of what it was like to be a Columbia athlete in the late-80's/early 90's. Were the non-athletes friendly or overly hostile to you? How about the faculty and the administration outside of the athletic department?

Des: My experience may be different than others, but I had a blast. I never looked at it as "non-athletes vs. athletes," but to answer your question, the non-athletes were very cool. Sure you had some people who didn’t see eye to eye with you, but that is pretty par for the course. The student body was always friendly and never gave me any hard times about being on a team that lost more often than not.

I never noticed the faculty treating me any differently. But I can recall my senior year asking one of my teachers to let me take the final exam early so that I could attend football camp for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena League. The guy shot it down immediately and didn’t seem to comprehend what football was. There was no language barrier so I'm not sure why he opposed. In hindsight, maybe he was right to stop me. But it would have been fun to have been there.

Jake: Did you live in the dorms or did you join the large segment of the football players who pledged and lived in the Sigma Chi house?

Des: I lived in the dorms. I never understood why you would join a fraternity when the parties were largely open anyway. I lived in Carmen, Ruggles for two years, and then Wallach.

Jake: How often have you been able to return to Columbia to either see the team play or just to walk around campus? During your visits, what changes have you noticed if any?

Columbia Football's Team of the Century, October, 2000. Des is the back row, third from the right. (PHOTO CREDIT: BEN ASEN)

Des: Honestly, I have been back to 2 Columbia games since I graduated. The last being when the Team of the Century was inducted. I honestly doubt I will ever see another game in person.

Jake: Columbia fans will forever remember you as the guy who seemingly defeated Cornell and Brown singlehandedly to finish out the 1992 season. What are your memories of those games, and what do you remember about the efforts of some of the other players who many of us have forgotten over the years?

Des: I remember the Brown game the most and this makes sense since it was the last game we were going to play. The Cornell game was fun to remember because it was one of the first and last times I got to see some of our players actually smiling on the field. When you lose a lot, smiling doesn’t come easy.

Brown was a really memorable game. My fondest memory combines two plays; the first was when we were trying to ice the game and they sent me in for a field goal. You have to understand that I just hated kicking these things. I would sit there cursing myself for ever having sent a film that had footage of me kicking in it. Needless to say that I missed the field goal, no surprise here right? The next play I pretty much knew the play they were going to run. Call it intuition or whatever, but they had been trying the whole game to run a shallow cross with a deep cross and for most of the day I had played the shallow cross. This time I just knew the QB was going deep and that was exactly what he did. We picked the ball off and the game was over.

We had some great players. Mike Sardo was one of the best receivers I have ever played with, Kevin Robinson was a great running back and moved to defensive back to help the team on defense. The defensive linemen Jim Daine and Bob Wolcott, were key reasons why I was able to do the things I was able to do. Others during my tenure that I got to play with were Galen Snyder, who was a very good linebacker, Bob Kent, Gary Comstock... there were a lot of very good players.

Jake: You were one of the last classes to play freshman football. Do you think abolishing it has helped or hurt Ivy football and what are your memories of playing in your freshman year?

Des: Freshman football was an easy way to get acclimated to the school and the program. That being said, we lost most of our recruiting class during freshman football as a ton of people quit. I think that getting rid of freshman football has been a good thing. I think you mature faster as a player and then you avoid having to endure two years of a acclimating, where you get used to playing your first year and then the next year you have to acclimate yourself to the next team and summer camp.

Jake: The best Columbia ever did during your three varsity years was 3-7. How tough was it to play for a team that never really contended for a title?

Des: I guess it was hard since I am going to say that we were much better than our records, which means I still struggle with the fact that we didn’t win more. It was very hard to get up and go on those teams as the constant losses and heartbreaks made it hard to want to win. This is what happens when you loose, it debilitates your desire to win and wears you down a little more until you become apathetic. I don’t think we ever became apathetic ,because we had a lot of guys that just loved to play the game, but it certainly wasn’t easy. We went up to Cornell my junior year and we threw for a touchdown only to have the refs call it back for the QB being over the line of scrimmage. Our QB wasn’t even close when you looked at it on film, we should have won that game, but didn’t..those were the worst.

Jake: Do you think that Columbia was at some kind of unfair disadvantage during the time you played there? Did things like the long ride to practice, the administration's seeming indifference to athletics, or the quality of the facilities play as big a role as many long-time fans like me think they do/did?

Des: I think Columbia will always be fighting an uphill battle as long as the practice field is so far away. You would barely make it back for dinner. I think people quit just because of that bus ride. I recall one game day when the buses didn’t even show up. We had like 70 guys hailing Gypsy cabs down on Amsterdam in order to be able to afford the ride and get to the field. Imagine playing a game after you did this and got to the field late!?

The facilities were, and maybe still are, just dated. You just can't compete with other schools if your facilities are so poorly kept up and don’t offer the same things that a Princeton or Harvard can offer.

And how can an administration be taken seriously when they have 3 head coaches on the payroll at the same time? I think when I was there they had Garrett, McAlreavy and Tellier on the payroll at the same time. The practice field was used as a parking lot during games, so you would come back to the field on Monday and be picking up glass and stuff like that.

If you want to win there has to be a commitment to the program and I don’t think that was ever there for football. If you aren’t paying to win then you shouldn’t even field the team. This isn’t high school where you are trying to get kids involved in different things so that they try new stuff. This is a college where you had a Rose Bowl championship team and a QB named Cliff Montgomery. Have a little respect and pride.

Jake: If you could do it all over again, would you come back to Columbia?

Des: I loved going to school at Columbia. You have to look at the whole package and Columbia was a great place to be. I almost transferred out after my freshman year, but didn’t. So, I thought long and hard about this and stayed then and wouldn’t change my mind now.

That being said, I look now at the school and think that things could and should have been much better. It still bugs me to this day that there was such a lack of commitment by people at the University and in the Athletic department. I would classify them as dead weight and they are probably still there at the school. I have a sour taste with a lot of these people and some of the people today.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Matt Fox Update: Oh, Lighten up Francis!

Here's all that's wrong with today's Ivy college kids in a nutshell: Today's Columbia Spectator features a staff editorial criticizing the choice of actor and former CU football player Matt Fox as the Class Day graduation speaker. The gist of the editorial is that Fox is just an actor, and not really important enough to speak to the distinguished graduates. Yuck!

Let me let the folks who wrote this piece of elitist junk in on a little secret: Matt Fox is a very successful Hollywood actor... and while that is far from making him a good or even wise person, it means he is 1) hugely talented and 2) has more perseverance than most people will ever even see in a lifetime. And with today's job market the way it is, hearing from a successful and resilient graduate might do a lot of you a lot of good. In other words, 90% of you will never be as successful or work as hard as Matt Fox is and does.

And something tells me that his "perseverance training" got a big boost while he was playing on that Columbia Lions football team during the infamous 44-game losing streak. I suppose the years of getting doors slammed in his face while auditioning for parts were easier after spending his late teens and early 20's getting ridiculed in the national spotlight as part of a perennial loser.

And something else tells me that if Fox hadn't been a football player, the writers wouldn't be so quick to sneer at him in public.

Listen, I've seen the alumni contact rolls for many of the recent Columbia College classes. The overwhelming majority of them work as lawyers or at brokerage firms. Do those jobs involve hard work? You bet. Are they risky? Not really. Are most of the people working at these jobs extremely unhappy despite their financial success? Hell yeah. Welcome to your future.

If I learned one thing after spending four years with a bunch of kids at Columbia who were obviously smarter and more motivated than I, it was humility. I put on my cap and gown STILL not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, and that made me feel pretty pathetic next to my friends who did know and were also ready to work very hard for it.

I don't idolize actors or celebrities. In fact, I often enjoy making jokes at their expense in my other life as a comedy writer. But that's just joking around. The many years I've spent trying to break into Hollywood as a writer have taught me that ANYONE, and I mean ANYONE, who makes it in that business has probably busted his ass and taken tons of lumps just to get a decent chance.

Matt Fox came to Columbia by way of Wyoming, fulfilling what the University has always hoped to do: open the eyes and minds of young men and women who otherwise would not get exposed to higher learning in a place like New York City. Somehow, I don't think Columbia wants to be the college where a bunch of smart ass kids seek and get confirmation that they really are better than everyone else.

And the kicker of all of this is that there was a similar elitist controversy about the man chosen to be the Class Day speaker when I graduated in 1992.

I was not on the student selection committee, but a good friend of mine was. Unfortunately for him, all the really "big names" turned Columbia down and he did his best to scramble and get pollster Lewis Harris. The attacks my friend had to endure from our fellow students over the next several weeks were horrific. He used to play some of the nasty phonemail messages he would get on his speaker phone for me. (One of my favorites came from one male student who informed us that his parents were coming to the ceremonies at, "considerable expense," and thus deserved a much higher quality speaker than a, "glorified elderly bean counter.")

Well, poor old Mr. Harris took the podium that warm day in May, 1992 and shocked the crowd by saying that his research showed that a long-shot candidate from Arkansas not only could win the presidential election in six months... but WOULD win it. That man was Bill Clinton of course. And when Clinton did win that November it became clear that Harris had retroactively given one of the most memorable speeches any of us would hear in our lifetimes. Too bad many of my classmates decided to deliberately ignore him.

Matt Fox is an articulate guy who's beaten the odds, (he's also a cancer survivor by the way). The Class of 2007 should be honored to listen to what he has to say.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My Message to the Graduates: Don't Fumble!

The Columbia Spectator says "Lost" star and former Columbia football player Matthew Fox, (class of 1989), will speak at the Columbia College "Class Day" graduation ceremony. Perhaps Fox will spend some time defending the good things athletics and athletic programs do for Ivy League schools, including bringing kids from Wyoming like him to New York City when they otherwise would never have left their hometowns.

I don't watch "Lost," but I used to check out "Party of Five" years ago and I always though Fox was a good actor. The fact that he regularly talks of his experiences as a Columbia football player is gratifying to say the least.

Fox joins other actors like Brian Dennehy and Ed Harris who have a connection to Columbia football. Dennehy is a pretty visible supporter of the program, and I hope someone from the athletics department has the smarts to grab Fox during graduation week and convince him to make some appearances as well.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Updated Recruits/Newcomers List

Below are the names of the 23 incoming freshmen we know about for next season. Brian England is included, even though there is some confusion about whether he's headed to CU or Brown.

Considering Columbia will probably only bring 30 or so freshmen onto the roster, this might be as complete a list we'll see until the team releases the official list in May.

1. Ben Britzius C Wheeler (GA)

2. Corey Claire QB South Plantation (FL)

3. Mike Egley DE Ford City (PA)

4. Brian England DL/TE Raritan (NJ)?

5. Greg Fontela LB Belen Jesuit (FL)

6. Alex Gross RB/LB Fairmont (OH)

7. Nico Guitierez WR (CT)

8. Paul Havas QB St. Paul's School (NH)

9. Marc Holloway LB West Catholic (PA)

10. Shane Kelly QB Temple U. (transfer)

11. Andrew Kennedy DE Staples-Westport (CT)

12. Bryan Kipp OL Xaverian Brothers High School (MA)

13. Zack Kourouma RB Minnechaug (MA)

14. Nate Lentz, FB Clearwater Catholic (FL)

15. Adam Mehrer WR/DB Clover Hill (VA)

16. Matt Moretto RB/LB Cornwall (NY)

17. Michael Murphy S St. Joseph by-the-Sea (NY)

18. Calvin Otis S Lawrenceville (NJ)

19. Clifton Pope TE Iona Prep (NY)

20. Ian Quirk OL Tuscarora (MD)

21. Joe Stormont K/S Stillwater (MN)

22. Matt Stotler DE/TE Yorktown High School (VA)

23. Augie Williams WR Grossmont (CA)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Get Better Craig... Fast!

(Credit: Columbia Spectator)

Okay, it looks like the story of Columbia QB Craig Hormann's ACL tear is all true and he is now recuperating from surgery on campus. I was trying to keep the element of doubt in the unconfirmed story partly to be responsible and partly because I was hoping it wasn't true.

Nothing changes from yesterday's post about Columbia's other options, although I did fail to mention some of the other QB's on CU's roster, like Jason Pyles, David Brekke, and incoming frosh Paul Havas.

Most doctors say the recovery time from an ACL tear is six months, and six months from now, it will still be two weeks before the Lions season opener at Fordham. The added challenge for Hormann is whether he'll be ready about 3 weeks ahead of that 6 month period so he can participate in summer training camp. If he can't, Columbia's coaches may want to consider buying him some extra practice time by starting another QB for the first two non-Ivy games of the season.

Any way you slice it, (and that wasn't a surgery pun), Craig Hormann is young man with a lot of weight on his shoulders right now. As he recovers from major surgery, he's also facing midterms and whatever responsibilities he'll be asked to fulfill for spring practice next month.

(Credit: Columbia University Athletics)

I've been mostly a big supporter of Craig's for a long time. I was very happy when former Head Coach Bob Shoop named him a starter as a soph in 2005, and who wasn't impressed with his super performances in the last three games of last season? I did call for him to be benched in the middle of the season when the offense was sputtering, but I'm glad no one listened to me.

(Credit: Columbia Spectator)

Run, Run, Run!

But regardless of who is playing QB for Columbia and how healthy he might be, this injury should be yet another strong bit of motivation for the Lions to improve the running game. The Columbia running attack over the last two seasons has been nothing short of an embarrassment. Again, there was some noticeable improvement in the last two games and that was a big reason why the Lions won both of those contests.

Columbia went 5-5 last season with a running game that averaged less than 70-yards a game. Imagine what a 90, or 100 yards+ average could produce!

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover... Example #243

I don't want today's post to be all about the sad injury news. So here's another lesson in humility, and reality, for a lot of Columbia students and kids at the other Ivy schools.

The cheerleader at the top of that pyramid in the picture above is a woman named Christine Herron. The picture doesn't do her justice as she is/was even prettier than that. (No, I never dated her, and we didn't actually know each other at Columbia... but it turns out we had 2-3 good friends in common).

But I knew Christine's name and face quite well during my years on campus, and I hope I'm not giving myself a free pass by saying that I don't ever remember making any snide "dumb blonde cheerleader" jokes at her expense or anyone else's. However, a lot of the people I know did... A LOT!

Well, fast forward to today and Ms. Herron is one of the leading VC tech geniuses in Sillicon Valley. Listen, I mean she really is a genius. I've been to her website a few times, and I am too much of a moron to understand more than about 40% of it. This woman is living at a level way above my pay grade. I imagine that for Ms. Herron, the "hey, look at this successful and smart blonde woman!" stories about her are just boring and basically insulting by now. But I keep hearing this kind of ignorance coming out of the mouths of current CU students... and I'm hoping some of them will see this and think again.

Obviously, there are a million stories out there like this. There are people we all thought were dumb jocks, ditsy cheerleaders, etc. based just on their LOOKS or how they were labeled publicly.

Believe me, this hits close to home for me. My best friend in high school, and still a dear friend today, was someone who everyone, including our clueless teachers, wrote off as a bit of a dummy. He is now a managing partner of a huge hedge fund and sitting on a personal fortune that's probably more than $100 million.

The CU football team is full of a lot of guys who have gone on to career and intellectual greatness that many of us could only dream of. Current Columbia Board of Trustees Chair Bill Campbell comes to mind, but there are many others.

Hey, I wasn't a college athlete or a cheerleader, and I don't idolize them either. I just appreciate them for what they do and give them the same benefit of the doubt I give everyone else when it comes to sizing up their other abilities.

So, if there are any doubting Columbia students reading this blog who still like to write off athletes, cheerleaders, or anyone else you think is beneath you... cut it out. Not only are you wrong, but you might end up blowing your chance to get a really good job working for one of those people one day!

This Post May Disappear

(Credit: Columbia University Athletics)

I am starting to find credibility in the tips I'm getting about Lion QB Craig Hormann possibly tearing his ACL last week. Further, it's also being said that he had surgery today and could/should be recovered in time for training camp in late August.

Where to begin? Well, I want to make it clear that this post and all traces of it will be erased if it turns out this is not true. If this were an actual newspaper or commercial website, I would still not publish these rumors... but since no one could possibly think I mean Mr. Hormann any harm, I'm going to discuss this report for now.

First let's talk medicine. Here's a quick look
at what a torn ACL is and a little about treatment/recovery.

M.A. Olawale (Credit: Columbia University Athletics)

If this is a true story, it's a scary one because we all know how depth is not one of Columbia's strong suits. Rising sophomore QB M.A. Olawale has a lot of talent and speed, but his abilities as a passer are far from 100% established. If Hormann is healthy next season, Olawale may be much more valuable at another position.

The other option is transfer QB Shane Kelly, a rising sophomore from Temple. Kelly is a completely unknown quantity at this point, (in fact he may not be 100% enrolled or pre-enrolled at Columbia yet). It would be impossible to handicap the Lions upcoming season very well if he were thrust into the starting spot.

On the bright side, Hormann was not a running threat and even a somewhat gimpy ACL may not be all that noticeable for a guy whose best talents are in his arms and his ability to avoid throwing interceptions . On the other hand, an injury like this has to affect the way a guy throws the ball at least indirectly. So hopefully, the recovery will be quick and complete.

On the dark side, Hormann was just beginning to show his true potential under offensive coordinator Vinny Marino's admittedly complex system. I shudder to think how long it might take Olawale or Kelly or anyone else to get to the point where Hormann is mentally with this offensive scheme. If Hormann can't play, CU's scoring problems from last year may multiply in 2007.

It wouldn't be football without a little adversity. And it wouldn't be Columbia football without a lot of adversity. For those of you new to this blog... welcome to Columbia football!