Johnathan Reese was the greatest Columbia freshman (CREDIT: Columbia College Today)
1993 marked a huge change in Ivy football as freshman were finally allowed to play in varsity games, (nitpickers will point out, however, that during World War II and the 3-4 years following freshman were also allowed to suit up in varsity games).
Since '93, Columbia has probably played the most freshmen of any Ivy team. Most of the time this was due to necessity, but a number of these pure freshmen have made a nice impact right off the bat.
Not including the WW II era, here now are the top five freshmen players in Columbia history:
5) Travis Chmelka 2000
The Fremont, Nebraska native burst into training camp and immediately became the fastest man on the squad. Chmelka saw action in the very first game of his freshman season as a kick returner and played a nice role in a 43-26 win over Fordham. He wasn't much a part of the regular offense until 2002, when he became a speedy pass target over the middle. But he just got better and better as a punt returner, and by his senior season of 2003 his returns were making the difference in game after game.
4) Alex Gross 2007
The Ivy League Rookie of the Year burst onto the scene in week against Princeton by leading the team in tackles in an tough, but exciting 42-32 loss to the Tigers. Gross ended up getting the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award four times, the most in league history. As the season wore on, Gross became more of key part of the Lions defense as they desperately tried to plug up a weakness up the middle. By season's end, that weakness had improved decidedly thanks in great part to Gross.
3) Andy Shalbrack 2006
You really could argue that Shalbrack should have been named the 2006 Ivy Rookie of the Year. His stunning freshman campaign that included leading the league in interceptions and putting up 55 tackles, five of them for a loss. Shalbrack made an impact right away by forcing a fumble against Fordham in the first game of the season, then he followed that up in week 2 with 11 tackles versus Georgetown. Won the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award twice.
2) Austin Knowlin 2006
Edged teammate Andy Shalbrack for the 2006 Ivy Leagye Rookie of the Year Award by bursting on to the scene as a key receiving threat. Scored on a catch-and-run 62-yard TD in the opener versus Fordham and finished the season with 44 receptions for 553 yards and four touchdowns. Knowlin upped the ante in his sophomore campaign, with 74 catches for 988 yards and 11 TD's. He has an inside track to shattering just about every receiving mark in the Columbia record book.
1) Johnathan Reese 1998
The exciting 1998 season was the launching pad for Reese's extraordinary Columbia career. He won the Rookie of the Year award despite fighting injuries for much of the season. But he made a strong showing in the opener, with 72 yards rushing in a 24-0 shutout of Harvard. By the final game of the season, Reese was the go-to guy, getting carry after carry in a valiant drive against Brown in the final moments that came up just short. Reese now owns just about every rushing record in the Columbia books.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Roy Hanks 1994, Hashim Dalton 1995, Ryan Kiernan 1997, Philip Murray 1999, Adam Brekke 2003, Tad Crawford 2003, Jon Rocholl 2005, Matt Bashaw 2006, Taylor Joseph 2006, Justin Masorti 2006, Lou Miller 2006, Brian England 2007, Nico Gutierrez 2007, Calvin Otis 2007