Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 69 and 68: Full Backfield

Harper and Oluwole looked liked Mack trucks to most defenders

I was unable to keep up yesterday with the 100 Players in 100 Days pace, mostly because it was just too nice a day not to get outside.

So, you get two players today for the price of one.

Both were big backs who played big roles in surprisingly good seasons for the Lions.

First off, we look at John Harper '96 who came from Cleveland's Garfield Heights High School just in time to play the final year of freshman football in the Ivy League. He caught everyone's eye as a Lion Cub, with some long TD runs against Brown and Penn.

John only had 11 carries as a sophomore, but averaged a hefty 4.7 yards per carry and had a 38-yard run vs. Dartmouth.

As a junior, Harper became the featured fullback in the Lions shuttle offense that alternated passing QB Jamie Schwalbe '95 and running QB Mike Cavanaugh '96.

Somehow Harper didn't get lost in that shuffle and he ran for 417 yards on just 104 carries and score 3 TD's. Combined with the 622 yards Cavanaugh racked up that season, the two made for a formidable backfield.

In 1995 the 6-foot 2-inch Harper bulked up to 240 pounds and kicked it up a notch, running for 526 yards and 11 TD's and landing a spot on the All Ivy Second Team. A highlight for him that season had to be scoring the winning TD with 19 seconds left at Harvard to defeat the Crimson, 28-24. Harper was also a key cog in the 24-14 win over Penn which remains the last time the Lions defeated the Quakers at Wien Stadium.

Harper became so popular that they even made a "Harper Trucking Co." banner on the old electronic message board at Wien and showed it everytime he ran the ball.

Ayo Oluwole '05

One of the most pleasant surprises Columbia has ever had at the running back position came after an unexpected disaster.

Columbia's 2002 leading rusher Rashad Biggers suffered a bad injury in a preseason scrimmage, pushing Ayo Oluwole, a man who had actually quit the team a year before, into emergency starting duty.

Ayo started out nicely with a 61 yard, 4 yards per carry, one TD performance against Fordham in the opener. Then he exploded for 110 yards on 21 carries with another TD in the week 2 win at home against Bucknell.

Ayo played well almost every week in 2003, but his two standout games other than Bucknell were a 166-yard performance in a tough loss to Lafayette and a 138-yard day in a great win over Cornell.

He finished the season with 903 yards rushing, still 4th all-time in Columbia history, and 5 TD's. He was also named to the All Ivy Second Team.

In 2004, Oluwole had to share time with the returning Biggers, and he wasn't able to get back into a rhythm. He finished his senior season with just 304 yards rushing and 2 TD's.

But the exciting 2003 season was due in large part to Ayo's fantastic job coming off the bench and making an impact.


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