Monday, August 31, 2009

Welcome Freshmen!!!

Freshmen Ahoy!

The 1st years started to move on campus yesterday, and so it's once again time to acclimate them to the world of Columbia football and this blog. Here are 10 FAQ's:

1) "Hey, are you an idiot? Don't you know the title of our fight song is "Roar LION Roar?"

Yes, yes I am aware of that. I'm doing something called, "a play on words." I like to pass myself off as a witty writer. I also like to pass myself off as Kaiser Wilhelm I, but a lot more people seem to go for the writer thing.

2) Why are you such a crazy Columbia fan?

First of all, let's define "crazy fan." Do I go to just about all the games? Do I get happy and depressed based on the team's performance, and then write about it online?... yes to all of the above. Do I wear a rainbow wig, paint my bare chest light blue, and beat up opposing team mascots... no, (well there was that incident with the Dartmouth kid who dresses up like a keg back in '79, but the charges were dropped).

Actually I never really realized it until after the fact, but I was pretty much destined to be a Columbia football fan even before I set foot on campus as a freshman in 1988. My grandfather was a close friend and pinochle buddy of Columbia and Chicago Bears great Sid Luckman. Wien Stadium is named after a distant relative of my grandmother's, Lawrence A. Wien. And I'm pretty sure, my mom, who isn't much a sports fan, was dragged to the Ivy League championship-clinching win over Penn at Baker Field in November, 1961 by her then-boyfriend when she was a first-year at Barnard College.

3) You Columbia fans make me sick. Why do you talk so much even though you haven't won a title in 48 years? You should just be quiet and leave us alone.

Yes, die-hard loyal CU fans tend to dominate Ivy Internet chat boards and the like. But we're usually not boasting; we're just talking about our team and the sport we obviously love. This was the same reason why the Red Sox fans were so dominant on the Web pre-2004 and also why Cubs fans follow their team so closely all over the world. Fans of super-successful Ivy football teams like Harvard and Penn just aren't battle-tested enough to take things to obsessive levels. We are.

I follow just about all the pro sports and "big-time" college football and basketball too, but those sports have lost a lot in my eyes over the years. The average pro team has more turnover than a second-term White House administration, and many of the BCS football teams are filled with young men who work hard, but can't really be called "college students." Every Ivy football player is a true student-athlete. It's damn nice as a father to take my kids to a game where they can see players who have their priorities straight.

I am sick of spors anchors on ESPN getting all high and mighty about college athletes and leagues that are corrupt and then they don't spend even a minute focusing on the players and leagues who do it right. It's hyprocritical and cynical and I won't have it.

Anyone who says that the Ivy League "isn't real college football," should be reminded that BCS college football, for the most part, isn't really college.

4) Okay we get it, you love the team. But why spend so much time writing about it on the Internet, and what are trying to accomplish here?

Writing is what I do anyway. It's the way I make my living and I actually enjoy it. The Internet gives you a built-in audience, however small sometimes, so if you don't hate your writing, why wouldn't you post it on the 'net?

And the point of all this is to create a virtual meeting place for CU fans, players, etc. I wanted to prove that there is a large and vibrant Columbia fan base, it just needed a sounding board. As President Reagan once told his speechwriters in 1981: "The choir needs music."

Everyone is welcome of course, but so far not ONE person has left a nasty personal attack-type comment on this blog or via email to me. Not ONE. By Internet standards, I think that's a record.

5) When do you sleep?

I'm a dad, so I still don't exactly bank on 8 hours of sleep each night. But since I don't kill myself with as much meticulous editing as I should for this site, it doesn't take me too long to get these posts online. Seriously don't worry about me, this is not as time-intensive as it looks.

6) How will the Lions do this season?

Most years, football optimism at Columbia is based on the "they can't do much worse than last year" philosophy.

The year, most inside and outside observers see a tremendous shot for the Lions to move way up the ladder in the Ivies. The defense looks especially good and deep and is building off a huge improvement last season.

The offense has some serious weapons in the best-running QB in the league, (Millie Olawale is his name), and one of the best wide receivers in CU history in Austin Knowlin, who doubles as the most dangerous kick returner in the league. Combine that with the best-looking offensive line Columbia has had in years and you have the ingredients for a good unit that just needs to be able to put it all together. Specifically, they need to score points! They figured out how to get yards last season.

7) All my orientation leaders and upperclassmen make snide comments about athletics. What's with that?

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 athletes, even the student-athletes at Columbia who work much harder than the guys at big football factories.

But I do really admire the fact that a lot of these guys on the football team represent TRUE diversity and the ability to overcome adversity. They are kids coming from parts of the country where most people don't even know about Columbia. Many of them even have... GASP!!!... a different point of view about politics, religion and life in general than most Ivy students, (I kinda thought diversity was supposed to be about more than race, but that fact is lost on a lot of people, and presidents).

For example, guys like actor Matt Fox came to Columbia to play football 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.

Okay, I know I'm ranting, but this is just one token shot against against the avalanche of anti-athletics sentiment you're likely to hear from your peers in the coming days. Do me a favor and find out for yourself.

8) Okay, but it's not like any of these guys are going to the NFL or anything.

Columbia has some former football players on active NFL rosters right now. Former All-Pro, Marcellus Wiley '97, recently retired, but now he's doing NFL coverage on ESPN. Think he gets that job without an Ivy degree? As for the here and now, Austin Knowlin has a shot at playing on Sundays in the future.

9) What about the fact that the stadium is so far from campus? I heard about the free shuttle bus, but I might have to take the subway... UPTOWN! My mommy told me that was dangerous.

Okay first off, you're still calling her "mommy?!?" We'll get back to that later, but there's a good chance your "mommy" either a) hasn't ridden the subway in 25 years, or b) is a vicious racist. Either way, let me give you a little glimpse of your future. Within a year or two of graduation, you're either going to be working at a job that'll keep you cooped up inside for 10-12 hours or day, going to a job that requires you to sit in traffic for two hours each way, or both. So think a bit before you whine about a 15-minute subway ride or a 25-minute free bus trip. When I was an undergrad, I wanted to join the crew team but I balked because of those 6AM practices. Then I graduated and ended up working a graveyard shift in TV that required me to come into work at 2AM every day for seven years. What a dope I was in college!

But I'm here to help. Stay tuned for my guide to Wien Stadium coming up a few days before the home opener on September 26th.

For now, just remember that tickets for students are FREE! And for you adult students over the age of 21... there is FREE BEER for God sakes! Get up there!

10) I'm too broken up that Harry Potter star Emma Watson isn't coming to Columbia to watch football.

Pretend football is a quidditch match... you know with helmets instead of flying brooms. Now you've got it!

Fall Preview, in more ways than One!

This evening in New York City it will actually be cold. I don't mean that as a joke or a metaphor... I mean it's going to be kinda chilly, with temps getting into the 50's! Right now at midday it's only 66 degrees.

That's good news for practice conditions. I always get nervous when I remember those terrible heat stroke-caused football training camp deaths at Northwestern and Minnesota Vikings camp a few years back. Also, this is a fall sport and more fall-like conditions in practice should help.


Incoming, non-football, students have started moving in on campus this week... so stay tuned for an updated, 2009 version of my annual intro to Columbia football for new students.

Fordham Getting Props

The answer to the annual question of whether Columbia will have to face the "good" Fordham or the "bad" Fordham in the season opener seems to be leaning towards the "good" Fordham these days.

Based on all the hype about the team from the pollsters and the super attention starting senior QB John Skelton is getting, this could be a great challenge for the Lions on September 19th.

Fordham gets its season underway this Saturday at Rhode Island at 1pm. If you want to do some "scouting" of your own, you can tune in to the game online at WFUV.

Week two opponent Central Connecticut State heads to Lehigh for a 12:30 game in Bethlehem while week four foe Lafayette doesn't get started until Sept. 12th at Georgetown.

Day 19: Ralph DeBernardo '09

Ralph DeBernardo was this blog's first interview with an active player, and he didn't disappoint. He was one of the biggest reasons why the Lions running game took such a giant leap forward last year, even though he battled some tough injuries all year.

Below is a reprint of that 2007 interview with Ralph. Things did not turn out as well as he hoped for that season, but his enthusiasm and leadership were not disappointing to anyone associated with the program.

Ralph, (#73), Protects Craig Hormann Against Fordham (CREDIT: DeBernardo Family)

Playing on the offensive line at Columbia the last two seasons has been a little like being on riot control duty... with no gear or reinforcements. The Lions began the 2005 season with just one player who had any game experience on the line, forcing Columbia to start sophomores and even some freshmen at almost every front line position.

The results were predictable. Columbia gained less than 50 yards on the ground per game, and gave up 33 sacks in the 10-game season. The problems on the offensive line were the key factors in a 2-8, (0-7 Ivy), season.

But one of those freshmen who got some starts was Ralph DeBernardo. And as a sophomore in 2006, he emerged as a rising star on a line that showed marked improvement. Columbia gained about 68 yards a game on the ground last season, and only allowed 16 sacks, (and if you subtract the five sacks allowed in the Harvard game, the o-line allowed barely more than one sack per game).

But none of the Lions is satisfied with those numbers, least of all DeBernardo. And since I still think the continuing improvement of the offensive line is the biggest key to success in 2007, I wanted to talk to him about his thoughts.

Ralph was gracious enough to agree and thus become the first current player on the Lion roster to be interviewed on Roar Lions Roar!

Jake: Let's find out a little about your background first. My New
Jersey geography is bad. Where the heck is Washington Township?

Ralph DeBernardo: Washington Township is in Bergen County, about 15 miles west of Manhattan, I attended Westwood Regional High School.

J: What was your high school experience like, both in an out of
the classroom?

RD: I would have to say that high school was a great experience for
me. Westwood is a small public high school, and I did very well there. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. As for football, it was also an awesome experience, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything else. Westwood is a perennial playoff team, and we were state champs my senior year. So losing isn’t exactly something I’m accustomed to.

J: Walk us through the highlights of your college recruiting process. What other schools came after you, and why did you choose Columbia?

RD: The recruiting process started for me my junior year, however I
wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, or really what all my options were. My high school coach, Joe Gambardella, did a great job keeping my recruiting in check.

Columbia started lightly recruiting me my junior year, however I was not that big for a linemen at the time, (around 240 pounds), and needed to have a good senior year. With a lot of hard work, I managed to have a great senior year, playing center and defensive end, earning all-state honors as a center. I was recruited by a handful of Ivy and Patriot League schools as well as New Hampshire, Duke, Villanova, and Vanderbilt. My final three choices came down to Vanderbilt, Columbia, and UPenn. I was recruited by former o-line coach/offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky. Although my decision came down to the wire, I was 100% certain I wanted to play for the Lions.

It was a hard decision at first to pass up the opportunity to play in the SEC, but I really loved CU. In the end, my decision came down to the people here at Columbia. By "people," I mean the whole team which I met on my recruiting trip as well as other guys that were committing to CU the same year as I was. You really can’t go wrong with the education anywhere in the Ivy League, however I felt CU was the best fit for me because I really was convinced that I was going to be part of something special in turning the program around, a goal that is well on track as you know. So for any current recruits, I would say that if you are choosing between two schools of the same caliber, you really need to imagine yourself with the people who you are going to be around for 90% of your college career; your fellow players and coaches.

J: How surprised were you to see yourself starting a few games as a freshman in 2005?

RD: I wouldn’t say that I was surprised, but I was fortunate enough that the coaching staff back then saw I was working hard in practice and had earned the starting role. Looking back now, I realize I definitely wasn’t physically ready to be a starter, especially on the o-line. But going against guys who were in the league 3, 4, some even 5 years gave me an invaluable experience for my future playing career. I was made aware rather quickly of the speed and strength of the game in the Ivy League, something that helped me a lot this year as a sophomore on the o-line.

J: What are some of the biggest differences you've noticed between Bob Shoop's coaching staff and style and that of Norries Wilson?

RD: The biggest difference is definitely the attitude and discipline
that all the coaches instill into the players. With Coach Wilson’s staff, expectations are much higher, and losing is no longer an option. We go into every game knowing that we can, and expect to win.

J: You have a new offensive line coach in Cheston Blackshear; has it been hard adjusting to his style?

RD: Not at all, although Coach Sweet was an extremely good coach, (hence his move to the CFL), Coach Blackshear is right up there with him. They collaborated a lot with each other during this past season on o-line techniques, so that has made the transition a very easy one. We use all the same terminology and line calls as we did with Coach Sweet, making little confusion. Coach Blackshear’s playing experience as a starter on the national champion Gator’s team brings a lot to the table because he has first hand knowledge of every single technique that he teaches, and they are all proven and game tested.

J: We heard that Coach Wilson started to focus personally on the offensive line as last season went on. Did this serve as a motivational tool only, or did he bring some new techniques to the table?

RD: Coach Wilson did spend time with us at certain points last year,
but he does the same with all positions. Although he lets his coaches do their jobs, he is a very hands-on coach, and certainly has the knowledge necessary for helping out the o-line. There is so much that goes into coaching the o-line, that sometimes a different perspective can help someone better understand a certain scheme or technique. When Coach Wilson speaks you listen, and it definitely was a motivational tool when he entered into our drills and practices, even if he didn’t say a word.

J: What were your impressions of spring practice, are things coming together?

RD: I thought spring practice went very well, especially since there
were no major injuries. Everyone on the offense has a better understanding of Coach Marino’s system, and look for offensive production to improve greatly this year, with a number of playmakers in the skill positions and a stronger o-line. The spring is a great time for the team to improve, especially for the offense because every time we line up in practice we are going against the best defense in the Ivy League.

J: The offensive line has been to Hell and back since 2005. With more experienced players going into this season, do you expect to see some more improvements, particularly in the run blocking?

RD: Yes, absolutely. While we lost some very good linemen to
graduation, the o-line as a whole will be much stronger this year. We have 3 returning starters, and more than enough talent and size fighting for spots on the line. The running game should be much improved from last year with the o-line working more closely together this year, and also being bigger and stronger from our improved lifting program won’t hurt either.

Protecting the QB's Blind Side vs. Dartmouth (CREDIT: DeBernardo Family)

J: The running yardage per game was up slightly in 2006, but the number of sacks allowed was down noticeably, (16 in '06 from 33 in '05). Was pass blocking more of a priority for you guys last year?

RD: As you know, we were a very pass heavy offense in 2006 (and in
2005 for that matter). Coach Sweet worked with us endlessly, improving not only our pass blocking techniques, but schemes as well, something we are continuing with Coach Blackshear. With us passing so much, it was simply not an option to let up any sacks at all, and we now take it personally to protect our quarterback, whoever is behind center.

DeBernardo, During that Tough Day in Cambridge (CREDIT: DeBernardo Family)

J: What opposing defense gave you the most trouble last year?

RD: The best defense we faced last year was definitely Harvard’s.
Their d-line was outstanding with a lot of strong, fast players. We had a few rough breaks against them, and too many turnovers to win any game, especially against a team with that much talent. But we all know that we can move the ball and score on anyone, so our improved confidence will without a doubt help us this coming season.

J: Is there a leader among the offensive linemen, a unit captain so to speak?

RD: After the winter and spring seasons I would have to say that the
unit looks to me as their leader. However, we have a lot of experience with our upperclassmen, who are also good leaders. Mike Partain will be a 3rd year starter as one of two seniors, and Mike Brune is also coming off a sophomore season in which he started all 10 games at guard. Gene Kaskiw and Nate Walcker are also rising juniors who are looked up to by the younger linemen. The o-line has become a very tight-nit group, something I feel is necessary for any team to be successful. During the off-season the o-line lifts together and gets extra workouts in, doing everything as a unit.

J: Looking back at last season, what were the best and worst moments for you personally?

RD: The best single moment I would have to say was definitely the dramatic win at Brown. It was a huge step for our team, to go into Providence and beat the defending Ivy Champs, sealing our .500 season. Ending the year on a two game winning streak was just what we needed heading into the off-season. The worst would have to be the loss at Penn. The entire team fought to the end in that game, and if a few plays go our way we are in the winner’s circle for that one.

J: What have been your best experiences off the field at Columbia?

RD: My best experiences off the field, I would have to say, are just
being in New York City. It’s an amazing place, and although I grew up so close, I never really ventured into the city much before I came to school here.

Ralph and Mom Pat After the Spring Game (CREDIT: DeBernardo Family)

J: A good number of players, (and their parents), have told me that the fall semester actually produces better academic results for them because the football season forces them to be more disciplined with their time. Is that true for you as well? And what do you think that says about the strict restrictions on spring practice that are there for supposed "academic reasons?"

RD: Well, I would credit the better grades to two main reasons: (1)
The fact that we take fewer classes in the fall, usually 4 compared to 5 in the spring, and (2) yes, the strict in-season schedule forces you to get your work
done, and not procrastinate. During the season I was asleep every night by 11 (relatively early compared to the regular college student), so I had to get all my work done as soon as I got back from dinner. You are also in a different mindset during the season; you are trained everyday to do things right now, on time, so I think that carries over into school work.

J: Do you live in the dorms or in a fraternity?

RD: I live in the East Campus Dorm.

Ralph in his Financial District-Appropriate Attire (CREDIT: Columbia Athletic Dept.)

J: What are your plans post-Columbia?

RD: Once I graduate I am hoping to get into the financial world. I am unsure exactly what form of banking I would like to do, and am currently searching around for the field that interests me most within the financial realm.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 20: Randy Murff '97

CREDIT: Courtney A. Kjos

The biggest challenge of writing about offensive linemen is that there are no stats you can really use to gauge even a somewhat objective view of their value to the team.

But if you have to rely on topics like leadership, character and courage, the late Randy Murff is a pretty great subject to begin with.

On the field, Murff was a team leader as he was voted Second Team All Ivy honors his junior and senior seasons.

Off the field, Murff went from an extremely homesick young freshman to the man who encouraged his teammates with his upbeat manner. He was voted one of the team's captains for the great 1996 season.

After his senior season, Murff decided to dedicate himself to his country as he lost more than 100 pounds in a stunning six months in order to qualify for the Air Force. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, and nothing was going to stop him.

Murff's tragic death in service to his country, and the details surrounding his life at the time are best told by this fantastic story by the woman who would have been his wife.

May his memory serve as an inspiration to every football player and true patriot in this country.

Day 21: Lou Miller '10

Lou Miller pressures Brown QB Michael Dougherty in 2007 (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Lou Miller begins this season as Columbia's first returning All Ivy First Team Defensive End... well, ever. Sean Nichols was a First Team All Ivy player, but he switched to defensive tackle the following year.

It can be said without hyperbole that Miller has an excellent chance to go down as one of the best defensive ends in Columbia history. If he duplicates the job he did last season, he's at least in the top three.

Miller was a no-brainer pick for top honors after last season as he dominated the statistics for player at his position. 68 tackles, an incredible league-leading 19 and a half tackles for a loss, a league-leading eight sacks, and a fumble recovery.

All of this from a converted linebacker who had a more modest 26 tackles and one sack in 2007 as he acclimated himself to his new position.

An impressive off-season competing on the wrestling team has Columbia enthusiasts hoping Miller will have an even better senior season as a pass rushing and run-stopping force.

Coming to Columbia in 2006 from the football power St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Miller got into nine games as a freshman and made 24 tackles. He was immediately "one to watch."

Lou's younger brother Evan Miller '12 is a rising sophomore linebacker and his older brother Dave was an offensive lineman who graduated from Yale in 2007.


I received my season ticket package in te mail yesterday, and that's always a happy occasion in my home. Eve though I'm in the broadcast booth for each game, I always have the tickets ready for the friends, family and co-workers I bring to the home games. Consider buying a couple extra yourself and doing the same thing this year if you can.

The tickets again feature nice "in-action" pictures of current players. The five players featured ar Millie Olawale, Taylor Joseph, Adam Mehrer, Alex Gross, and Austin Knowlin... three seniors and two juniors.

See you at the games!

Getting Their Feet Wet

So the rains have finally come to New York City, as we're getting some of the tangential storms connected to Tropical Storm Danny. The forcast calls for more of the same tomorrow and Sunday.

We've had so many rainy fall seasons in the Northeast the past few years that I consider rain during training camp an essential experience, especially for the players from Arizona and California who need to get used to it.

Today's and yesterday's latest updates on practice include some photos from camp. Be sure you click on the photo gallery icons at the top left of the pages.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Household Name

Zielinski is now the Head Coach at NBTHS

Day 22: Mark Zielinski '89

Mark Zielinski's name entered millions of American kitchens and living rooms on October 9, 1988, the day after the Lions historic streak-ending win over Princeton. Just about every newspaper article about that game emphasized Zielinski's key contributions to the 16-13, especially his two sacks that snuffed out Tiger drives.

Zielinski came to Columbia in 1985 as part of Head Coach Jim Garrett's first, and only, Lions recruiting class. He was first grouped with the tight ends, where he made a big splash at East Rutherford High School in New Jersey, but he eventually stood out at defensive end.

New Coach Larry MacElreavy experimented with Zielinski at linebacker in his first varsity season in 1986, but by '87 he was with the front line of the defense. In that 1987 season, Zielinski recorded 35 tackles and five tackles for a loss.

1988 was an even better year for Zielinski, as he had 57 tackles and made All Ivy Honorable Mention.

All along, Zielinski was a top notch student, entering Columbia as a John Jay Scholar and a National Merit Finalist.

Today, he is entering his seventh season as head coach of the North Brunswick Township High School football team. He has sent several players to college football programs, including the Ivies.

Mark was my halftime guest at the Princeton game in 2007 and he had some great stories about his life before and after Columbia, (including a stint he did as a teacher in South Africa!).

More Updates!

The Coach's Updates are Back!

The official athletics Web site now has some of Coach Wilson's impressions from the first days of practice. These updates are always fun to read and they sure help pass the time until the season finally starts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Better Showing

Dave Coulson's Ivy League preview for The Sports Network predicts Columbia to come in fourth... about the highest I've ever seen us picked since the glory days of the mid-1990's.

Coulson makes some good arguments, and he seems to be pretty well informed about the league overall. His focus on the Lions defense and the return of all the elements of an improved running game were spot on.

Still, his pick of Princeton for 3rd place was a surprise, though he makes a decent case for the Tigers.

Daily Weather Report: 100% Awesome!!

The weather today for day four of training camp is about as good as it can possibly be in New York City. It should be very nice out on Kraft Field today.

Day 23: Tim Coleman '83

Tim Coleman is one of those names that gets lost in the shuffle for even hard core Columbia fans. It may have something to do with the fact that he never made All Ivy, or perhaps it's because he played defense when John Witkowski '84 and pals were making history week after week on offense.

The funny thing is, Coleman could have cashed in on that offensive juggernaut because after his freshman year, Head Coach Bob Naso wanted to move him to Tight End.

But Coleman, who came to Columbia in 1979 from nearby Westwood High School in New Jersey, was a speedy force at defensive end and racked up big stats anyway. Game after game, he used his 6-3 210-pound frame to get into the backfield before the blockers could stop him.

In 1981, Coleman had an excellent junior year with 63 tackles, five forced fumbles, five recovered fumbles, and three sacks. He was the key to the 20-9 win over Penn that season with a sack and two fumble recoveries, and he was named All-Defense by ECAC for that week.

As a senior, he had 65 tackles and two fumble recoveries. But 1982 was about the dozens of passing records broken by Witkowski and Coleman was mostly forgotten.

Not anymore.


The construction is finished, and they're open!

So it turns out I buried the lede as they say earlier this month when I went up to the Baker Athletics Complex.

As I walked up to 218th Street I noticed that the Twin Donut is BACK OPEN FOR BUSINESS!!!

All last season, the new storefront was in evidence, but it was never open.

Now it's open.

Our sugar fix will be met this coming season.

As for parking in the Twin Donut lot, (something the store allowed for football fans in return for $15 or $10 depending on the game), I'm not sure.

Of course, since Twin Donut first closed a couple of seasons ago, a number of real parking lots have cropped up between 210th and 218th, so you really don't need to rely on that option anymore.

But hey... we got our donuts back!!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hump Day

Teddy in his playing days

Kennedy Honored

In addition to his long career in politics, Ted Kennedy is being remembered today as a pretty decent end for the Harvard football team in the mid-1950's. He was better on defense, but he did catch a TD pass in the Crimson's 1955 21-7 win over Columbia and grabbed another score in Harvard's 21-7 loss to Yale later that season.

Harvard has placed Kennedy's old #88 jersey hanging alone in the locker room.

Still Hot and Sticky

This Wednesday is a hump day in more ways than one for the Columbia football players as the weather here in NYC is expected to cool off noticeably starting tomorrow. That should make practice more bearable for everyone. But with the pads going on now, today's high of 89 degrees and about 55% humidity will be tough.

One more day to go, guys.

FCS Yearbook

Writer Chuck Burton predicts Columbia to come in 6th in the Ivies in this year's College Sporting News FCS Yearbook. The entire magazine is worth downloading.

Incidentally, my own "predictions" for the upcoming season will be ready to go next week. I will go team by team with capsule-sized analyses of their prospects. Of course, an extensive outlook for the Lions will follow after I dispense with the other seven Ivy teams.

Here's I hint: I think we're better than a 6th place team.

Day 24: Jeff Roether '04

It seems like the Connecticut-area recruits have exploded here at Columbia ever since Head Coach Norries Wilson came to Morningside Heights from UConn.

But Head Coach Ray Tellier was a Connecticut native and one of his better pickups from his homestate was defensive end Jeff Roether from Plantsville.

Roether was a standout defender at Southington High School, where he eventually became an All-State player.

He made an immediate impact as a frosh in 2000, getting a rare chance to play on the defensive line in a couple games as a first year. But he made his real breakthrough in his junior year of 2002, leading the team in sacks and coming in second in the Ivies with three forced fumbles. He was even named Ivy Defensive Player of the Week in Columbia's heartbreaking last-minute loss at home to Cornell. By season's end, he had 37 tackles, six tackles for a loss, and four and a half sacks. Roether was named Honorable Mention All Ivy.

In 2003, Roether was elected co-captain and he had an even better season as Columbia went from 0-7 in the Ivies to 3-4. He finished with 39 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and another four and a half sacks.

Camp Continues

2009 will be a 100% Field Turf season

Day 2 of real practice on the field is a little more humid of a day here in New York City. It is expected to cool off soon, but rain is also on the way. With the amount of rain Columbia has seen in its regular season games over the last couple of years, more practice in wet conditions is probably a good thing.

A couple of tidbits I just figured out about the upcoming season:

1) The first day of classes this fall is Sept. 8th and the first game of the season is on Sept. 19th. That's a very short 11 days between the start of the semester and the start of the season. Usually, it's almost a three week gap. I wonder if that will help jack up student interest in the team as they won't be too far under the burden of new readings and fear of midterms before the season begins.

2) This will be the first season that the Lions will play all 10 of their games on artificial turf, Fieldturf to be exact. The two teams in the Ivies with natural grass, Yale and Brown, both come to Wien Stadium this season.

DAY 25: Brian Lysiak '02

Brian Lysiak was another one of the Lion defenders who made the most of a position change midway through his career at Columbia.

He came to Columbia from Canisius High School in 1998 where he starred in football and lacrosse. He had a quiet first couple of years with the Lions.

Then, early in his junior year he made the move from linebacker to defensive end and he had an immediate impact, recording 21 tackles, including a sack.

Lysiak's improvement during the 2000 season and the following spring was impressive enough that his teammates elected him co-captain for the following season along with the great Johnathan Reese and Sloan Joseph, (older brother of current Lion co-captain Taylor Joseph).

The 2001 season was an emotional one for the Lions, interrupted at the start by the 9/11 attacks, made challenging all season by Reese's nagging injuries, and thrown for a loop by the Matt Stary eligibility controversy.

But the season did have its high points and Lysiak was a part of many of them, especially the 28-14 win over Yale where he recorded two sacks and helped hold the Elis to less than three yards per carry.

The week before at Dartmouth, Lysiak led the line in holding the Big Green to just 251 yards of total offense in the 27-20 Lion win.

He finished the season with 43 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two and a half sacks. He was named to the 2002 Honorable Mention All Ivy team.

Brian currently works for Barclay's in the Bay Area as a trader in the fixed income department.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On the Field!!

The Proving Grounds

The Columbia football team is back on the field and practicing today for the first time since spring practice wrapped up several eons ago. It's hot, but not so humid at all today in New York City and I'm guessing the breezes up by Wien Stadium are making it a lot better for the players.

I'm starting to see some changes in the weights on the Columbia roster. I don't think every player has been updated yet, but here are some highlights SO FAR:

OT Jeff Adams up 5 pounds to 290

OL Sam Cecil up an inch and 16 pounds to 6-5 and 266

RB David Chao up 14 pounds to 199

OT Dan Cohen up 10 pounds to 290

OL Carl Constant down 10 pounds to 305

OL Ben Evans up 26 pounds to 295

DL Chris Groth up 11 pounds to 300

LB Vaughn Hodges up 11 pounds to 226

LB Marc Holloway up an inch and down three pounds to 6-0 and 230

K Tai Izawa up 13 pounds to 168

WR Austin Knowlin up an inch and three pounds to 5-11 and 193

OT Will Lipovsky up 16 pounds to 290

DE Lou Miller up 10 pounds to 230

CB Ross Morand up 12 pounds to 182

QB M.A. Olawale up four pounds to 224

FB Nico Papas down 10 pounds to 220

DL Micheal Poage up 10 pounds to 300

DL Ben Popeck up 10 pounds to 250

OL Ian Quirk up 19 pounds to 298

CB Neil Schuster up an inch and 15 pounds to 6-0 and 200

WR Mike Stephens up an inch and eight pounds to 5-11 and 188

DE Matt Stotler up 15 pounds to 258

CB Kurt Williams up an inch and nine pounds to 6-1 and 189

SS Augie Williams up and inch and eight pounds to 5-11 and 200

LB Josh D. Williams up 10 pounds to 235

Again, I'm not sure these are at all the final updates for training camp. But these are the notable changes I've seen so far today.

Day 26: Darren Schmidt '07

Darren Schmidt came to Columbia from the respected University School in Cleveland in 2003.

While he was here shattered a great big handful of stereotypes in his years at Columbia. Here's a list of the biggest myths he debunked:

1) You need to be at least 240 lbs. to be an effective defensive lineman, even in the Ivy League.

WRONG! Schmidt came into his senior season somewhere between 213 and 220 lbs.

2) You can't just emerge as a defensive or offensive lineman, it takes years of practice to "get there."

WRONG! Schmidt was a lightly-used strong safety his first three seasons with the Lions before moving to defensive end his senior season and exploding for 50 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in 2006.

3) Lineman are big dumb guys who grunt more than study.

WRONG! Schmidt was a stellar student all four years at Columbia, winning several scholar-athlete awards and the Class of 1913 Cup for the best GPA on the team in 2006.

The swarming defense that really defined the exicting 2006 season for the Lions needed Schmidt to help put the exclamation points on a number of big plays throughout the season. Time after time, he was there to make the stop when a big rush forced an opposing QB or tailback to try to find daylight off-tackle.

After a very quiet first three years, Schmidt provided the final piece to the puzzle as the Lions made a respectable 5-5 run in Coach Norries Wilson's first season. For his efforts, Schmidt was named to the Honorable Mention All Ivy Team... but some people thought he deserved more.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day 27: Rashaan Curry '99

Curry is now scouting for the Bills

Rashaan Curry came to Columbia in 1995 hoping to carve out a spot for himself on a varsity defensive line that was unusually deep with stars like Marcellus Wiley '97, Eric Keck '96 and Charlie Bettenelli '97.

Curry was a rare Georgia native for a California-dominated team at the time, but he was an All State star for Atlanta's S.H. Archer High School here he also starred in basketball, baseball and track.

Curry had only two tackles in his freshman year, but Head Coach Ray Tellier was impressed with his progress in practice, and by 1996 he was a speedy 6-2, 260-pound force at defensive end.

After Wiley and the others graduated, Curry helped the Lions defense stay strong in 1997, and then in the exciting 1998 season he kicked it up a notch with 32 tackles, six and a half sacks, and nine tackles for a loss. For his efforts, he was named to the All Ivy First Team.

Today, Curry is a highly-regarded scout in the NFL who has worked for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Arizona Cardinals, and now with the Buffalo Bills.

Day 28: Mike Evans '74

Mike Evans was a force on the field and the weight room

Heavy rains and thunder in New York City will be welcoming the returning football players along with the coaching staff today at Columbia. Training camp sort of begins today with check-in. Tomorrow is equipment day, and Monday the guys get on the field to really practice. Watch for weight updates on the roster sometime in the coming days.

Mike Evans '74

When people talk of sophomore stars on the great 1971 Columbia football team, they usually just mention defensive back Ted Gregory '74, who stood out from day one.

But one guy who sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is standout defensive end Mike Evans, who also made an immediate impact and helped the Lions make an Ivy title run in an era dominated by Cornell's Ed Marinaro and Dartmouth's legendary defensive wall.

Evans came to Columbia in 1970 from Classical High School in Springfield, MA. He took a leadership role on the freshman team as the play-calling middle linebacker, but varsity Head Coach Frank Navarro wanted Evans to move to defensive end and the switch worked.

For the next three seasons Evans was one of the best defensive ends in the Ivies, winning a spot on the All Ivy First Team in '71, an Honorable Mention All Ivy in '72, and Second Team All Ivy in '73.

He was quick and hard hitting, terrorizing running backs and QB's alike.

And he was just a fantastic physical specimen as well. Back in the 70's, Columbia used to enter all its varsity athletes in a series of competitions designed to determine who was the best all-around athlete. Evans won that title, (taking it from teammate wide receiver Jesse Parks '73), in early 1971.


Training Camp is Nigh!

Tomorrow, 110 Columbia football players will return to campus to prepare for 2009 summer training camp. The waiting is over, at least for the players. But for the fans, we can take solace in knowing we're really close to gameday.

The real on the field practices begin on Monday and as far as conditions go here in New York City, it's going to be hot. Not as hot as it has been most of this week, but still over 80 degrees. Later in the week, the forecasters are predicting cooler weather, but we will see.

Day 29: Mario Biaggi '80

When Mario Biaggi first came to Columbia from Fordham Prep in 1976, he was hardly an unknown name. He was the son of then-Bronx Congressman Mario Biaggi Sr., the hero cop-turned politician who was a icon in New York City in the 1970's. Of course this was before Congressman Biaggi's indictment and conviction, which did not come until the late 1980's.

On the field, the younger Biaggi was an immediate terror. He often played out of control, but the results were immediate. He dominated the line in the freshmen teams opening two wins over Army and Princeton.

In the 1977 season, he made an impact on the varsity with 23 tackles and a key fumble recovery in the win over Penn.

Biaggi kicked it into higher gear in the '78 season, getting 15 tackles, two sacks, and a big fumble recovery in the homecoming win over Princeton. He finished the season with 83 tackles, six sacks and was named Honorable Mention All Ivy.

Biaggi's senior season was another stellar year, as he finished with six sacks to lead the team again.

During all his four years at Columbia, Biaggi was a super student. He was rewarded for that effort by winning the rare Ivy postgraduate scholarship. He eventually became a successful attorney.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 30: Greatest of All Time?

Marcellus Wiley on the job at ESPN

First off, please notice my first-ever sponsors and their ad & link on the lower right side of the homepage. Please remember that this company is NOT a Columbia-affilliated entity in any way, but I did check out the outfit and they seem very reliable. Please consider their services, and I thank them for their support.

Second, a bit of a follow up to my story earlier this week about how Coach Wilson visited a training camp practice session at his old school, UCONN.

Here's what Coach Wilson told the Hartford Courant about what he saw:

"They flew around and competed...[Linebacker Greg] Lloyd is an impressive looking player... looks like good competition at RB [running back]...I thought the Oline protected well...There's only four or five guys on the team I know but I tried to stuff them in the truck and bring them back with me."

The '96 Roster

A number of readers have asked me to post the roster for the splendid 1996 Columbia team that finished 8-2.

I have it below, but there is an important disclaimer:

This is the roster as of training camp in the summer of '96. (Finding a reliable roster for the actual games is a bit rough). Thus, some names may be inaccurate. Heights and weights may be a bit off. Positions may have changed, etc.

Okay, here goes...

1) Abed Abusaleh TB Fr. 6-0 210 Harvard-Westlake School Encino, CA

2) Jay Aitken DB Fr. 5-8 185 Menlo-Atherton High Atherton, CA

3) Jim Armstrong DT So. 6-2 290 Dixon High Sneads Ferry, NC

4) Mike Atkins TB Jr. 5-8 170 Chadwick School Hawthorne, CA

5) Cellou Ba WR Fr. 6-1 185 Southwestern Academy Flint, MI

6) Dan Badurina OT So. 6-4 300 Cresskill High Cresskill, NJ

7) Derik Baker TB So. 5-11 170 Bendle High Burton, MI

8) Shant Barsoumian FB So. 5-10 210 North High Lawndale, CA

9) Michele Bellanca CB Jr. 6-1 190 Abraham Lincoln High San Jose, CA

10) Mark Bernstein TE So. 6-4 220 Wayne Hills High Wayne, NJ

11) Charlie Betinelli DE Sr. 6-2 225 Sonoma Valley High Sonoma, CA

12) Jason Bivens TB So. 5-7 185 St. Mary's High Richmond, CA

13) Chris Blakely TE Sr. 6-5 220 Maumee High Maumee, OH

14) Matt Bloodgood OG Fr. 6-2 240 Mansfield High Arlington, TX

15) Chandler Bocklage OT Fr. 6-2 255 The Blake School Mound, MI

16) Joey Bolder ROV Jr. 6-1 210 El Segudo High Los Angeles, CA

17) Bert Bondi FB So. 6-1 225 De La Salle Collegiate Sterling Heights, MI

18) Greg Bowman DE Fr. 6-1 230 Exeter Township High Reading, PA

19) Cie-Jai Brown TB Fr. 5-9 170 Elmont Memorial High Elmont, NY

20) Brett Bryant DT Sr. 6-3 260 El Dorado High Placentia, CA

21) Anthony Caffiero ROV Jr. 6-2 200 Woodbridge High Port Reading, NJ

22) Billy Campbell TE Fr. 6-4 210 Huntington Beach High Huntington Beach, CA

23) Mark Cannan WR Fr. 5-9 180 Waubonsie Valley High Naperville, IL

24) Paris Childress QB So. 5-11 180 Jesuit High New Orleans, LA

25) Kevin Conley P Jr. 6-2 190 Kiski School Coraopolis, PA

26) Joe Cormier FS Jr. 5-11 180 St. Joseph's Collegiate Kenmore, NY

27) Rashaan Curry DE 6-2 260 Archer High Atlanta, GA

28) Dave Curtis OG So. 6-2 280 Bloomfield High Bloomfield, NJ

29) Rodney Dale OT Fr. 6-4 340 Lorain Catholic High Lorain, OH

30) Hashim Dalton FS So. 6-2 185 Tuscola High Waynesville, NC

31) Armand Dawkins WR Fr. 6-2 170 Chadwick School Compton, CA

32) Marcel Deans OG Jr. 6-2 265 Hotchkiss School Jamaica, NY

33) Jay DuPertuis C Jr. 6-4 260 Elk Grove High Elk Grove, CA

34) Dave Folmnsbee DT Jr. 6-2 245 Duncan High Duncan, OK

35) Matt Fox OT Jr. 6-2 280 Oceanside High Oceanside, NY

36) Ryan Gabriele TE Sr. 6-1 245 Bristol Eastern High Bristol, CT

37) Matt Gallino DT So. 6-2 250 Daniel Boone High Douglasville, PA

38) Ray Gerena OT/C Sr. 6-3 270 Crespi Carmelite High Woodland Hills, CA

39) Jim Gillard TB Fr. 6-1 180 Brunswick School Elmsford, NY

40) Brian Gillen MLB Sr. 5-11 215 Riverview High Bradenton, FL

41) Mike Glynn QB Fr. 6-1 190 Boston College High Stoughton, MA

42) Gerald Guerrant WR So. 6-0 165 Detroit Northwestern High Southfield, MI

43) Roy Hanks CB Jr. 5-8 165 Sapulpa High Sapulpa, OK

44) Norman Hayes DB Fr. 5-8 175 St. Mary's College High Richmond, CA

45) Reggie Hence MLB So. 6-0 215 Eisenhower High Houston, TX

46) David Holmes TB Fr. 5-9 175 Isidore Newman High New Orleans, LA

47) Erik Huntley MLB So. 6-1 240 Cardinal Mooney High Youngstown, OH

48) Mike Jennings DE Sr. 6-4 235 Riverside Poly Riverside, CA

49) Jim Jim Jones WR Sr. 5-8 170 H.D. Woodson High Washington, DC

50) Kwang Kim C So. 6-2 245 Herbert Hoover High Glendale, CA

51) Scott Kopcha OLB So. 6-3 205 Canon McMillan High Canonsburg, PA

52) Neal Kravitz K/P Fr. 5-10 155 W.T. Woodson High Fairfax Station, VA

53) Ken Kronquist OG Sr. 6-3 250 Cupertino High Santa Clara, CA

54) Matt Kuhn DT Jr. 6-2 245 Waubonsie Valley High Naperville, IL

55) Pat Lamparello FB Fr. 6-0 200 Northern Valley High Old Tappan, NJ

56) Dennis Lee WR Sr. 5-10 175 Pinole Valley High Hercules, CA

57) Ryan Lewis TB Fr. 5-10 185 Aptos High Capitola, CA

58) Matt Linit K So. 5-11 185 Hickman High Columbia, MO

59) John MacKinney OT Fr. 6-3 265 Fontana High Fontana, CA

60) Jeff Martin DT So. 6-3 255 Sacred Heart Prep San Francisco, CA

61) Ray Martinez OT Fr. 6-5 275 Bishop Amat High Montebello, CA

62) Mike Martinic CB Fr. 5-10 170 J.K. Mullen High Parker, CO

63) Tony McGill OLB So. 6-2 210 Wayne Memorial High Inkster, MI

64) Justin Meadlin WR Fr. 5-9 160 Lamar High Arlington, TX

65) Miguel Medrano DE Jr. 6-2 220 Loyola High Los Angeles, CA

66) Michael Miller WR Jr. 6-0 185 Secaucus High Secaucus, NJ

67) Austin Milliken C/OG Sr. 6-2 270 Choate Rosemary Hall San Francisco, CA

68) Ian Mizel DT Fr. 6-1 250 Hewlett High Hewlett, NY

69) Abel Montanez DB Fr. 6-1 187 Bishop Amat High Montebello, CA

70) Ed Moore TE Jr. 6-4 240 Punahou School Honolulu, HI

71) Randy Murff OT Sr. 6-2 295 Bellaire High Bellaire, TX

72) Tom Nelson DE Fr. 6-4 235 Middletown High Red Bank, NJ

73) Andreas Neuman MLB Jr. 5-10 200 Horace Mann New York, NY

74) Jessie Nunn FS Sr. 5-10 180 Anderson High Anderson, IN

75) Aaron Obdens OT So. 6-2 325 Bloomfield High Bloomfield, NJ

76) Brandon O'Daniell OLB Jr. 6-0 215 Carl Sandburg High Orland Park, IL

77) Eric O'Dell DE Fr. 6-3 220 Bay High Bay Village, OH

78) Andre Ogundare DB Fr. 5-10 165 Sharpstown High Houston, TX

79) Matt Orlowski OT So. 6-5 245 Notre Dame High Detroit, MI

80) Will Poppe DB Fr. 6-1 180 Bergen Catholic Upper Saddle River, NJ

81) Matt Radley OG Fr. 6-3 295 Capistrano Valley High Mission Viejo, CA

82) David Ramirez WR Sr. 5-10 175 Edinburg North High Edinburg, TX

83) Dominic Riebli ROV Jr. 6-2 205 Justin-Siena High Sonoma, CA

84) Paul Roland OLB So. 6-2 225 St. Joseph's Collegiate Williamsville, NY

85) Claude Roxborough WR Fr. 6-1 185 St. John's High Washington, DC

86) Sam Rubert C/OG Fr. 6-2 255 Deerfield High Highland Park, IL

87) Ben Russell WR Fr. 5-10 175 Glendora High Glendora, CA

88) Dan Scalia TE So. 6-4 250 Needham High Needham, MA

89) Ted Schroeder QB So. 6-2 180 West Aurora High Aurora, IL

90) Jon Sproul DT Fr. 6-2 240 Barnstable High Centerville, MA

91) Jason Streem DB Fr. 6-1 170 Beachwood High Beachwood, OH

92) J.C. Tabio DE Fr. 6-2 220 Southwest Miami High Miami, FL

93) Cliff Taylor TB Fr. 6-1 200 Decatur High Decatur, TX

94) Clint Taylor LB Fr. 6-1 205 Decatur High Decatur, TX

95) Jeremy Taylor OLB So. 6-2 220 Trabuco Hills High Mission Viejo, CA

96) Steve Testa OLB Jr. 5-11 215 Hopkins Grammar North Haven, CT

97) Paul Thomas FB Jr. 6-2 220 Bolingbrook High Bolingbrook, IL

98) Bobby Thomason QB Jr. 6-2 200 Loyola High Mar Vista, CA

99) Lendell Thompson TB Fr. 6-0 180 St. Patrick-St. Vincent High Benicia, CA

100) Chris Tillotson CB/WR So. 5-10 180 Dondero High Royal Oak, MI

101) John Toye TB Fr. 5-9 200 McDonough High Waldorf, MD

102) Chris Wachter WR Sr. 6-1 180 Northern Garrett High McHenry, MD

103) Brian Washington DB Fr. 5-9 165 W.J. Woodham High Pensacola, FL

104) Chris Watson CB So. 5-11 195 Fort Dale-South Butler Academy Georgiana, AL

105) Marcellus Wiley DE/TB Sr. 6-5 270 St. Monica High Los Angeles, CA

106) Rory Wilfork OLB Sr. 6-2 235 Norland High Miami, FL

107) Dan Woodlin DB Fr. 5-10 175 Scotland School Philadelphia, PA

108) Ben Woods DE So. 6-1 240 Archibishop Riordan High San Francisco, CA

109) Kevin Wright OLB Fr. 6-2 195 DeWitt Clinton High Bronx, NY

Day 30: Marcellus Wiley '97

Of course the biggest star of that 1996 team was defensive end and sometimes running back Marcellus Wiley.

I realize what I am about to write will come off to some as hyperbole, but here it is:

I have been watching Ivy League football for the better part of 30 years, and I have never seen a player on either side of the ball on any team who could dominate a game like Marcellus Wiley did in the fall of 1996.

Wiley came to Columbia in 1992 as a somewhat scrawny running back recruit from Los Angeles. At Saint Monica High, he played his best at the strong safety position and he made the All Westside Defensive team.

Wiley was one of the first of Head Coach Ray Telliers huge influx of California recruits and despite being scrawny, he made an immediate impact on the 2-4 freshman team in '92.

Wiley led the team in rushing with 321 yards and a 4.1 yards per carry average. He also connected on three of four option passes, two of them going for TD's.

In the disappointing 1993 season, Wiley was one of the few bright spots with 421 yards rushing and six TD's.

Then Coach Tellier had a revelation. If Wiley could boost his size just a bit, he would make a dominant defensive end. Wiley agreed to give it a try and the 1994 season was a breakout year. He finished with 34 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, five sacks and four fumble recoveries. On 41 carries, Wiley still made an impact as a rusher with 197 yards and seven touchdowns.

After taking the 1995 season off, Wiley was back and even stronger in 1996. He finished with 63 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, six and a half sacks, two fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks. He also ran for 118 yards and five TD's

Time after time that season, it was Wiley who came up with the big play to save the game. He just seemed to will his way to the ball or the end zone whenever the Lions needed it.

After Columbia, Wiley was drafted in the 3rd round by the Buffalo Bills where he was tutored in the pro game by the great Bruce Smith. Wiley made his greatest impact as a member of the San Diego Chargers, where he was an All-Pro in 2001.

Today, Wiley is an NFL analyst for ESPN in their new studios out of L.A. He often speaks of how his Columbia education is the biggest reason he's been able to snag such a sweet post-playing gig.

Day 31: The Roadblock

Owen Fraser plugged up a major hole for 2008

Sometimes stats can be a little, or even a lot, misleading.

But one of the most eye-popping statistical improvements for Columbia football in 2008 compared to the year before was rushing yards allowed.

In 2007, an injury depleted Lion defense allowed a whopping 231 rushing yards per game. In 2008, that was cut down considerably to just 104 yards per game allowed. That's a 55% reduction, and it's dramatic.

There are many reasons for that improvment, but in my opinion the #1 reason was the addition of then-freshman Owen Fraser '12 at defensive tackle.

By any standard, Fraser had a breakout freshman season in 2008. He started in all ten games, finishing with 28 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.

It took only four defensive plays from scrimmage in the season opener against Fordham before Fraser recorded his first tackle. He never really stopped after that, showing great speed for someone with his 278 pound size.

Some Ivy pundits think he was robbed by "only" getting picked as an Honorable Mention All Ivy, and not at least 2nd Team.

Fraser came to Columbia after completing a stellar career at two high schools. At Trinity Pawling Academy, he was captain of the conference champion football team and the captain of the school's track and field squad.

Before that, Fraser was a first team all-stater at New York's Newburgh Free Academy.

As he enters his sophomore year, I would say Owen Fraser is a big key to the Lions success for the 2009 season.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Night to Remember

Last night's special reception and BBQ dinner for returning season ticket holders on the concourse at Wien Stadium was great event.

I big highlight was seeing a number of former players, including Michael Quarshie '05, Justin Nunez '07, (who has sold dozens of season ticket packages for the team this year), Tom O'Connor '63, Olivier Manigat '05, and many more.

Here are some of the key points from the speakers who took the mic for a few words during the dinner:

Columbia sports marketing chief Barry Neuberger:

Barry reminded everyone there's still time to get your football season tickets, sign up for the True Blue package for football, men's and women's basketball, and also to sign up to donate a season ticket package for local kids who otherwise couldn't afford to go to the games.

Columbia Athletic Director Dr. Dianne Murphy:

Spoke of the soon-to-be-finished rennovations for the Chrystie Field House and how everyone is sure to be pleased with the final results.

Columbia Women's Basketball Head Coach Paul Nixon:

Gave us a preview of the 2009-10 season, and talked about how exciting it is to have three returning All Ivy players on the roster.

Columbia Football Head Coach Norries Wilson:

Players report back to Columbia this Saturday, start practicing for real on Monday.

Talked about the good number of returning players 18 of the 22 starters and how that bodes well.

Mentioned that just being "in the game" in the fourth quarter isn't good enough anymore; we need wins.

Said that at any given time during the summer, there were between 30-40 guys on the team working out on campus together.

Reiterated that right now, Millie Olawale has the starting QB job. He will have to prove he deserves to keep it during camp.

Said that Marc Holloway is the starting middle linebacker as of now, but he could still get a push from rising sophomore Nick Mistretta.

In response to questions about the kicking situation, Coach Wilson said there will be an open competition among the handful of freshmen kickers we're bringing in this year.

In response to questions about changing the offensive game plan, he insisted not much has changed in the playbook. If you want to see the Wildcat, "you'll have to watch Northwestern," was the quip.

The wide receiving corps is pretty deep. Nico Gutierrez is almost 100% healed from his 2007 ACL tear and he joins Austin Knowlin, Mike Stephens and Taylor Joseph as the leading wide outs coming into camp. But speedy A.J. Maddox is out and will not play this year due to injury.

Every team on the schedule is tough, including Central Connecticut State, a complere unknown for us.

Now here are a few things I gleaned during the "mingling" period with some of the alumni and assistant coaches:

-Coach Aaron Kelton assured me he knows some of the coaches in the new Old Dominion football program and "they will be very good." I may have to reconsider my hope to have Columbia play them in the coming years.

-Former Columbia Spectator writer Stan Waldbaum '62 talked about how close the Spec sports writers were with the football players back in his day. That does not seem to be the case at all these days. Stan also opined that the league overall will be very strong, (I see it as weaker), but he still thinks the Lions have a shot for the title.

-Columbia great Tom O'Connor '63 chatted with me about his days on the team, but mostly wanted to talk about the current squad. He comes to every home game and I am trying to recruit him for a halftime interview this season.

-Michael Quarshie was a surprise attendee and he seemed interested in reading this site. I hope he logs on soon and often. Stan Waldbaum told him of my prediction that he will be in the NFL front office one day. During the Q & A period with Coach Wilson, Quarshie asked who would lead our team in sacks. The coach reminded everyone that Lou Miller led the whole league in sacks and tackles for a loss last year and he is coming back for his senior season.

Again, I hope the athletic department is able to keep this preseason dinner tradition going. It is a very warm and fun event.

Day 32: Todd Abrams '07

Necessity has forced a lot of Columbia football players to switch positions over the years, and Todd Abrams enjoyed the results more than most.

After two years of getting solid playing time at linebacker, Abrams bulked up during the offseason and moved to nose tackle for the 2006 campaign.

Abrams came to Columbia in 2003 from Clayton High School in St. Louis, where he played QB, running back and linebacker.

In 2004, he got into nine games, making 13 tackles and two for a loss.

As a starting linebacker in '05, Todd racked up 52 tackles, including one and a half sacks. He also recovered a fumble.

Then came senior year and Abrams bookended that exciting 5-5 year with fumble returns for TD's in the opening win over Fordham and season ending win at Brown where his score was the turning point in the game.

Abrams finished the season with 37 tackles, six tackles for a loss, one sack, and three fumble recoveries.

And it was Todd's mom who rang that very memorable cow bell game after game during his career.

We miss Todd and that cow bell.

We gotta have more cow bell!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hunks R' Us!

File this one under: "I'm not sure this is good or bad publicity, but it's probably good and I'm just too old and too much of a dad to be sure."

The New York Post is reporting that ESPN hottie Erin Andrews, (yes THAT Erin Andrews, who was recently the victim of a slimy hidden camera peeping Tom), did a sexy photo shoot for GQ featuring some hot poses with members of... yep, the Columbia University football team!

The picture above is literally a bit too muddy for me to tell for sure which players are in this shot, but that is rising sophomore left tackle Jeff Adams sitting to Andrews' right.

The other two players are just not looking at the camera directly enough for me to be sure, but maybe some of you readers can help me out by clicking on the picture for an enlarged view.

UPDATE!!! Here's pic number two with a lot more players recognizeable:


And those are muddied-up Columbia uniforms and helmets in use.

Can we use this as a recruiting and ticket-selling tool?

Why not?!?

One thing I do know: This is really going to steal the thunder from my upcoming sexy photo shoot with Phyliss Diller.

Day 33: Matt Stary '02

I like mine medium rare

In just a few minutes, I'll be headig up to Wien Stadium for the returning season ticket holders dinner and reception beginning at 6pm. I am really looking forward to it, as last year's inaugural event was great. Kudos to the athletic department and especially Columbia sports marketing chief Barry Neuberger for dreaming the event up.

With just a few days to go before training camp begins, Head Coach Norries Wilson is making what I expect are his last few trips away from Baker Field. Saturday he visited his old school to watch practice at UConn as the Huskies prepare for 2009.

Matt Stary '02

Doing the 5th year senior thing can be harder than it looks in the Ivy League. Matt Stary found that out the hard way in 2001, but before that he was a super force at defensive tackle for the better part of three seasons at Columbia.

The son of a Canadian-Pacific Rail conductor, Stary came to Columbia in 1997 from Fenton High School in Bensenville, Illinois. He break out season came in his junior year of 1999, when he 21 total tackles, three tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.

In his "first" senior season of 2000, he had 32 tackles, five tackles for a loss and two sacks. He made Second Team All Ivy that year.

In 2001, as a fifth year, he had 21 tackles and three tackles for a loss through six games, before someone noticed he wasn't taking enough credits to be eligible. It was an honest mistake, but an embarrassing moment, even though Columbia was not forced to forfeit any games. It was an unfortunate end to a very good Lions career for the run-stopping monster that was Matt Stary.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 34: Adam Yeloushan '94

Welcome to Poland Seminary!

Adam Yeloushan was another one of many Columbia standouts from the Catholic schools of Ohio. For two years, he joined Sean Nichols in anchoring a defensive line that made great strides in improving the Lion program.

Coming to Columbia in 1990 from Poland Seminary in Poland, Ohio, he had been a football and baseball star in high school. By his junior year, he was going at 245 pounds and breaking Lion great Des Werthman's team record in the squat.

In the promising 1992 season, Yeloushan had 25 tackles while helping to bottle up the run.

But his senior season was the one he'll be remembered for on Morningside Heights. Yeloushan was elected captain in 1993 before recording 63 tackles and seven tackles for a loss. For his efforts, he was elected to the All Ivy Honorable Mention team.

Day 35: Late Bloomer

This is actually prime football recruiting turf!

Eric Keck '96 was not your prototypical Columbia or Ivy League football player.

By the time he came to New York City he was 25, he was married, he had a daughter.

He came to the Lions in 1993 from Saddleback Junior College after graduating from Green Mountain Valley High School in Vermont where he never played organized football. Coaches at Saddleback, (in California), spotted Keck and put him at offensive tackle.

Oh, and one more thing: in between high school and junior college, he was one of the best young downhill skiers in the country, part of the national team with Tommy Moe and A. J. Kitt, even though he was 245 pounds!

But when he transferred to CU, Coach Ray Tellier inserted him at defensive tackle and kept schooling him on the finer points of the game during his mandatory "sit out" year.

Then in 1994 he exploded onto the Ivy scene, getting up to 290 lbs. and plugging up the middle against the run while finishing with 39 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss and a spot on the All Ivy First Team.

In 1995, he was elected captain and he continued to shoulder the load, especially with the absence of defensive end Marcellus Wiley '97 who took that season off. Keck finished his senior season with four more tackles for a loss and a spot on the All Ivy Second Team.

For anyone who disparages transfers, I give you the case of Eric Keck. A great player, a great Columbian, and a great American.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Many Happy Returns

Columbia is returning the most seniors this football season, (26), than the Lions have had in nine years. Columbia is also tied with Princeton for the most seniors on their 2009 roster.

Here's the league-wide breakdown for 2009 returning seniors:

1t. Columbia 26
1t. Princeton 26
3. Harvard 25
4. Brown 22
5. Yale 21
6. Penn 20
7. Cornell 19
8. Dartmouth 17

Last season's team with the most seniors was Cornell, and while the Big Red's season didn't end the way they wanted it to, they did begin the year very much ready to play with a 3-0 start. The senior presence on that team made a difference in those early games they could win. Against better competition down the road, the senior experience wasn't enough... but it still helped.

While being at the top of the league in this statistic is encouraging for a number of reasons, it just hasn't been the best indicator of success at least for Columbia over the years.

The 1985 Lions had 28 returning seniors. That squad went 0-10 and is generally considered the weakest Columbia team during the 5-year losing streak.

The other two years in recent Columbia history when we had more returning seniors than this year were 2000 and 1975 when we had 27 returnees.

2000 started promisingly at 3-3 with some record-breaking games by Johnathan Reese '02, but the Lions lost their last four, lacking just the kind of emotional stability you'd expect on a veteran team.

The 1975 squad led by Ivy MVP Doug Jackson '76 was 2-7 with nice wins over Cornell and Penn, but the team was hardly a juggernaut.

Meanwhile the great 1996 team had just 17 seniors and the sterling 1971 team had just 14 seniors! The strong 1994 team also had just 14 seniors.

Here's a look at some other years with the number of Columbia's seniors to the right:

1938: 11 (out of 35 guys)

1946: 10 out 39 guys

1960: 11 out of 51

1961: 20 (Won Ivy Title)

1970: 12

1971: 14 (Came in 2nd for Ivy title)

1974: 22

1975: 27

1976: 13

1977: 14

1979: 26

1982: 19

1985: 28 (team went 0-10)

1986: 24 (team went 0-10)

1988: 24

1991: 26 (team went 1-9)

1992: 17

1993: 17

1994: 14 (team had 1st winning season since '71)

1995: 20

1996: 17 (team went 8-2)

1997: 12

1998: 17

1999: 21

2000: 27

2005: 16

2009: 26

Now for the good news. This year's crop of seniors is more about quality, even though the quantity is good. Many of these returnees are starters and team leaders. We have a senior starting QB in Millie Olawale, a senior All-America candidate in WR Austin Knowlin, a returning 1st Team All Ivy defensive lineman in Lou Miller, standout safety Andy Shalbrack, experienced senior leaders on the O-Line like John Seiler and Evan Sanford... the list goes on.

It was the QUALITY seniors in 1996, like Marcellus Wiley, Rory Wilfork, Randy Murff and David Ramirez who made that season work. And I believe there are a decent number of quality seniors like them on this 2009 squad.

Day 36: Bob Paschall '90

Originally from Queens, Bob Paschall came to Columbia in 1986 as a football and wrestling star from New Hartford, NY.

Coach Larry MacElreavy kept him at nose tackle and he became a force in the league with unusual quickness for a 5-10, 245 lbs. guy who could squat 700 lbs.

Bob's best year was his junior season of 1988, where had 76 tackles, six sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. He was named Sports Illustrated's Defensive Player of the Week after the Lions' 31-13 win over Brown to end the season thanks to his 14 unassisted tackles and two sacks. He also made the All Ivy Second Team that year.

Paschall's senior season was marred by injury, but he still contributed to the team in the early part of the season. And my best memory of him was seeing him in line just in front of me as hundreds of Columbia's Jewish students gave blood samples in hopes of finding a bone marrow match for a Jewish college-aged girl suffering from leukemia.

Day 37: The Finnish Phenom

Quarshie in the silver and black

Michael Quarshie '05 is an example of just how far you have to look to find unique and dominating Ivy talent.

Quarshie grew up in Finland of all places and learned about American football from the soldiers at the U.S. military base in Helsinki.

He first came to the U.S. to play football at St. Peters College, but transferred to Columbia in 2002.

After sitting out the transfer year by rule, he made an immediate impact as a junior in 2003 with 57 total tackles and 12 tackles for a loss. That earned him 2nd Team All Ivy Honors.

Quarshie then became a rare bright spot in the disappointing 2004 season, with 59 tackles, including 16 tackles for a loss. For 2004, Quarshie was 1st Team All Ivy.

Game after game, Quarshie bottled up the run up the middle while still terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. That gave him a shot at the NFL and he made the Oakland Raiders in 2005 before an injury in preseason effectively ended his pro career.

Quarshie is still promoting football in his homeland of Finland and I predict he will become a name in the NFL offices one day... just have a feeling.


Kicking Help from Paradise?


We have some new names on the Columbia roster at this hour, including a new kicker. Some of the players we learned about during the recruiting process, but they did not appear in the list of incoming frosh published in May. Presumably these are walk-ons, BUT I am not sure of that status.

Here are the newcomers:

1) Tai Izawa K 6-foot-0 155 lbs. Hilo High School Hilo, HI

Here's a YouTube video of some of his kicks and a quick piece about a game last year where he kicked three FG's, including a 40-yarder.

2) Cameron Ross WR 5-foot-10 176 lbs. Darien High School Darien, CT

I first saw items about Cameron Ross in the Darien paper several months ago. He spoke of how he was excited to come to Columbia. Now we know he is.

3) Josh Tobin DL 6-foot-4 245 lbs. Sidwell Friends Washington, D.C.

Had 118 tackles in a nine game season including three sacks. Played offensive and defensive line for Sidwell and made the all-city all star team for 2008.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day 38: Bob Asack

Bob Asack immortalized on a football card

Several newspapers and Websites across the country have pieces today stemming from the Ivy League Football Media Day event yesterday. It does seem like there are more items published this year than last, which seems to indicate the teleconference idea led to more exposure in the media.

One of the articles is by Joshua Robinson from The New York Times, who I think got most of his points exactly right, (he even used the quote about running QB's from Al Bagnoli which was the response to my specific question), but I think he also misunderstood Coach Wilson, (or didn't hear him right), when he said that Millie Olawale is the starter going into camp. It really seems like the reporters on the call chose to focus on last year's dual QB situation only.

School of (Smoothed Out) Hard Knocks

There's an interesting story today out of Salt Lake City about an area school called Layton Christian, which specializes in giving many of its students a second chance. Academics are fiercely emphasized, so much so that a starting QB was recently benched from the football team when his GPA dipped below 4.0!

At the end of the piece they mention senior wide receiver Malik Sawyer, the big star on the team, who has received interest from Columbia and Harvard. We'll keep an eye on Malik.

Our Opponents Begin

Fordham started training camp in the super-humid and hot conditions here in New York City yesterday.

The above linked-to article about the Rams includes some quotes from Lion-kiler Xavier Martin.

Central Connecticut's preseason camp is also underway. Like Fordham, the Blue Devils season begins on September 5th. CCSU is playing Lehigh in Bethlehem, PA.

Lafayette's camp begins today, and the Leopards will be utilizing the writing talents of senior defensive lineman Andrew Poulson to guide the fans through the preseason. The Leopards begin their season on September 12th with a night game at Georgetown.

Bob Asack '62

Defensive tackle Bob Asack is another one of the members of th 1961 Ivy championship team who is too often overlooked because that team truly was a team and not a collection of individuals. But he deserves some time in the sun on his own.

Asack was a two-way star at tackle in football and a champion for the wrestling team as well. He came to Columbia in 1958 from Raynham, Massachusetts just as Head Coach Aldo "Buff" Donelli was building a winning program in Morningside Heights.

After just one varsity season, Asack was featured in Sports Illustrated, where writer Roy Terrell wrote: "He is not the fastest tackle around and he has a lot to learn, but opposing teams have discovered that this big boy from Raynham, Mass. is hard to run over; against Columbia, they usually go the other way."

Stats are hard to come by for defensive players in college football during the 1960's, but suffice it to say that Asack, who made All Ivy 1st Team in 1960 and 1961, was the leader of a punishing Lion line that allowed very few yards and just 13 points per game. His younger brother Lou Asack was also a football and wrestling star at CU.

For his efforts, Bob was drafted in 1962 by his hometown Boston Patriots of the AFL in the 22nd round.

Day 39: The Trendsetter

Lessons from Media Day

We've a few hours to decompress after the super-quick Ivy Football Media Day I think I can boil things down to a few headlines for Columbia and the rest of the league.

For Columbia:

1) Millie's the man. Coach Wilson didn't say Olawale was absolutely, positively going to be the starter on 9/19, but he's the number one guy going into camp.

2) With Joe Stormont's departure the kicking game becomes a top, if not the top concern for the team going into 2009. We'll watch for news on that front out of training camp as much as possible, especially if Coach Wilson gives us the kind of daily updates we received last year and during spring practice.

3) We have the makings of a great defense with a lot of returning starters. As evidence of that, 5th year returnee Corey Cameron was not given the automatic nod over returning rising junior Matt Moretto who missed 2008 with an injury.

4) There's a lot of confidence in presumptive left tackle starter Jeff Adams to step up and do great things despite his sophomore standing.

5) This is a very experienced team. 26 returning seniors. There's reason to be optimistic about that.

For the Rest of the League:

1) Consensus is Harvard and Penn will duke it out for the title. The week 9 matchup at Harvard Stadium looms large already.

2) Just about the entire league is going to start new QB's this season. That makes things more wide open than usual and the standings may be surprising at season's end.

3) Cornell is getting a transfer tight end in Jack Campbell from Texas Tech, and that slid under the radar for most of us. Campbell is not particularly big at 6-foot-0 and 220 pounds, and it doesn't look like he played a down with the Tech varsity, but we will keep a close eye on his progress this season. He has transferred into the Agricultural Sciences School at Cornell, which is sure to raise the hackles of Big Red haters everywhere.

4) Yale Head Coach Tom Williams was surprisingly brief in his comments, something he would not have had the luxury of doing had this been the face-to-face event at the Yale Golf Club with all the local media around him.

I liked the teleconference for the most part, and I hope the weekly conferences they're setting up for the regular season provide some good content.

Sean Nichols '94

Sean Nichols deserves to be on the list as a defensive tackle and a defensive end, because he was a first team All Ivy honoree at both slots. And even though he was already graduated by the time the Lions reached their peak in 1994-96, Nichols was a trendsetter on a defensive line that eventually became one of the most feared in the league.

Nichols came to Columbia in 1992 after serving two years in the military. He graduated from the famed Chicago Vocational High, (alma mater of Dick Butkus, Keena Turner, and Chris Zorich), where he played linebacker.

At Columbia, Coach Ray Tellier immediately put him in the starting lineup at defensive end, and he exploded with 61 tackles, seven sacks, and 16 tackles for a loss. The Lions went 3-7 in that 1992 season, thanks to standout defensive performances by Nichols and Des Werthman '93. Both were 1st Team All Ivy.

Despite his success at pass rushing Tellier wanted to utilize Nichols' overall strength, so he moved him over to defensive tackle for 1993. '93 ended up being a disappointing 2-8 season for the Lions, but not because of Nichols. He ended the season with 43 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. Once again, he was voted 1st Team All Ivy.

Nichols was also voted the team's most valuable player for 1993.

He didn't get to the promised land, but Sean Nichols definitely helped take us to the border.


Check out the new splash page for the Website. It now features a new photo of Austin Knowlin and some of his accolades.