Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

If you want to be happy today... just stare at this picture as much as you can.

Columbia fans know what this is.

It's the single best moment of the 2009 season and, in my view, the single best moment of the decade in Columbia football.

I can't think of a better way to close out another year for this blog other than posting this picture and thanking all of the readers here for your continued support and visits.

Bigger and better in 2010!

The Millennium Club

Nick Hartigan was the Ivies' top player of the 2000's

Continuing with my "running" theme this week, here's a list of all the 1,000 rushers at Ivy schools in the 2000's

1) Nick Hartigan, Brown, 1,727 yards (2005)

2) Mike McLeod, Yale, 1,619 yards (2007)

3) Nick Hartigan, Brown, 1,498 yards (2003)

4) Mike McLeod, Yale, 1,364 yards (2006)

5) Johnathan Reese, Columbia, 1,330 yards (2000)

6) Kris Ryan, Penn, 1,304 yards (2001)

7) Clifton Dawson, Harvard, 1,302 yards (2004)

8) Michael Malan, Brown, 1,296 yards (2000)

9) Sam Mathews, Penn, 1,266 yards (2003)

10) Nick Hartigan, Brown, 1,263 yards (2004)

11) Rashad Bartholomew, Yale, 1,232 yards (2000)

12) Clifton Dawson, Harvard, 1,213 yards (2006)

13) Jordan Culbreath, Princeton, 1,206 yards (2008)

14) Clifton Dawson, Harvard, 1,187 yards (2003)

15) Robert Carr, Yale, 1,185 yards (2004)

16) Clifton Dawson, 1,139 yards (2005)

17) Luke Siwula, Cornell, 1,086 yards (2005)

18) Robert Carr, Yale, 1,083 yards (2002)

19) Michael Malan, Brown, 1,059 yards (2001)

20) Joe Sandberg, Penn, 1,042 yards (2006)

21) Cameron Atkinson, Princeton, 1,028 yards (2002)

So there were 21 1,000+ yard rushing seasons by a total of 13 different players in the 2000's. Only Dartmouth failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher this decade.

By contrast, there were just 18 1,000+ yard rushing seasons in the 1990's by a total of 13 players that decade.

Nick Hartigan and Mike McLeod had the most impressive individual running seasons this decade, but the steady four-for-four 1,000+ seasons for Clifton Dawson is hard to ignore as well.

But look at Dawson's Alma Mater now. Harvard featured a four-headed monster running attack with the QB Collier Winters sharing the ground duties with running backs Gino Gordon, Cheung Ho, and Treavor Scales. Effective multi-faceted running attacks were also the norm at Penn, Brown, and Columbia.

I think this trend will continue, either by design of because of injuries.

The days of the single star backfield seem to be over, even as all the Ivy teams run the ball more overall.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 10 Countdown: Reese's Best Pieces

A few more notes about my point yesterday on how the Ivies are putting a new emphasis on the run, and using more running backs in their attacks:

-2009 was the first time since 1987 that there was no 1,000-yard rusher in the Ivy League. 22 years is a long time.

-In 2008 only ONE team, Princeton, averaged 4.0 yards per carry or better. This year, four Ivies achieved or exceeded that mark.

-For the second straight year, the longest run from scrimmage for anyone in the Ivies was turned in by a Columbia player. Zack Kourouma's 80-yard TD run vs. Cornell was the topper, (no other team had a player even break 70-yards on a single run. Leon Ivery of the Lions had the second-longest run at 75 yards). In 2008, M.A. Olawale's 70-yard TD scamper at Brown was the top run.

And now back to...

Top 10 Games of the 2000's

Game #6

November 10, 2001

Schoelkopf Field

Columbia 35 Cornell 28

The last time Columbia had the kind of runner that is becoming extinct in the Ivies, (a guy you can hand the ball off to 30 times a game and just let him go), was also pretty much the ONLY time the Lions had such a player in the team's history.

His name was Johnathan Reese, and he remains Columbia's single season and all-time rushing leader. He's the only Lion to ever run for 1,000 or more in a season, (1,330 in 2000), and he graduated as the #6 all-time leading rusher in Ivy history.

He was a leading star for the Lions all four of his years beginning in 1998. In his debut game in '98, he burned the Crimson for 78 yards on just 11 carries, leaving Harvard Head Coach asking, "who the Hell was that?" at the postgame news conference after Columbia's 24-0 win.

And while he turned in many other super performances, Reese never made more of a personal difference in a Columbia victory than he did in one game in Ithaca in late 2001.

By week nine of the 2001 season, the optimism that ran rampant at the start of the year was all but gone. Reese had broken every significant rushing record at Columbia the previous season, and hopes ran high that he would soar to new heights in 2001. But as it turned out, Reese was hampered by some injuries that year and he also suffered running behind a relatively green offensive line. He finished the year with 967 yards rushing, still the second best single season effort for a Lions runner behind his own top mark from the year before.

Columbia lost a close one to Bucknell in OT to start the year, got blown out at Princeton and Lafayette, and then fell badly to Penn on Homecoming.

Then, things picked up. Exciting back-to-back wins over Dartmouth and Yale gave the Lions hope for a decent finish in the standings. An unsurprising loss to eventual undefeated league champ Harvard the following week didn't change those hopes too much.

Thankfully for Lion fans, the team was ready for what turned out to be a barnburner of a game on a cold Ithaca day and it provided the highlight of the season.

Cornell scored first after Jeff McCall threw an interception that the Big Red's Kevin Rooney returned for a 22-yard TD about midway through the first quarter. McCall was a very talented QB, and is definitely in the running for the title of best Columbia QB of the decade, but his knack for throwing "pick sixes" was maddening at times.

McCall gathered himself and got the Lions back into the game right away. He threw a nice 42-yard touchdown pass to Jarel Cockburn, to tie it at 7.

Then Reese led the way on a 12-play 83-yard drive that chewed up big chunks of time and ended when option QB Steve Hunsberger ran it in for a four yard TD. The extra point was blocked however, and the Lions had to settle for a 13-7 lead with 7:39 left in the half.

Cornell struck back quickly, first with a quick drive capped off by a one-yard run by Evan Simmons to make it 14-13 at the half. Then Simmons struck again early in the third quarter with a 69-yard TD run to make it 21-13 Big Red.

On Columbia's first drive in the second half, McCall found senior receiver Doug Peck for a 46-yard TD pass on 2nd and 15. The two point conversion pass from McCall to Cockburn was good and it was 21-21 with 10:18 left in the third.

The fourth quarter, and fourth downs in the fourth quarter, belonged to Reese.

The Big Red started the quarter with an impressive drive, but Simmons lost the handle on a handoff and Columbia's Chris Nugent recovered at the Lion 31. Columbia started to march after the turnover but the drive stalled at the Cornell 33 where the Lions faced a 4th and one.

Columbia simply asked Reese to get them that one yard, but he got 32 more, going in for a spectacular 33-yard TD and giving the Lions the 28-21 lead with 13:36 left.

The Lions faced another 4th and one on their next possession, this time at the Big Red 14. Again, Reese got the first down and the touchdown on the play, putting Columbia up 35-21 with 7:46 to play.

But the game was not over.

Cornell needed just 1:51 to go 69 yards for a leading slashing TD, and then the Big Red forced a Lion punt that gave the ball at their own 23 with 2:22 left and two timeouts.

Cornell quickly got back into Columbia territory, but then Nugent struck again by forcing QB, (and current Big Red head coaching candidate), Rick Rahne to fumble. Sloane Joseph, (older brother of Taylor Joseph), fell on the ball to seal the Lion victory.

Reese finished with 140 yards on 29 carries, and this was the most clutch performance of his career.

The Rush Back to the Run

Dartmouth's Greg Patton personified a sea change in Ivy football

A new world will greet new Princeton Head Coach Bob Surace and the person Cornell eventually hires for its top football job in the coming weeks.

I'm not talking about fan support, Internet broadcasts, or even the A.I.

I'm talking about the Ivies' frenzied rush back to the running game.

And I'm talking about the old school, run it by committee, running game most of us have not seen since the 1960's.

For all the tradition and history in the Ivies, the Ancient Eight's football teams have often been football innovators.

Sometimes it was because of necessity. For example, Columbia was a much smaller school by enrollment back in the 30's, and finding a bunch a big linemen to run behind was always a daunting challenge on Morningside Heights.

So, Lou Little and company started using the pass a lot more than most teams ever thought of, and the results were often stellar. Sid Luckman and Gene Rossides were pioneers of that passing game.

A little more recently, Ivy teams in the 1970's started using pro-style sets with an emphasis on the pass as it became harder to recruit marquee running backs to the league.

That passing trend reached its zenith in the late 1990's when teams like Brown and Penn used aerial attacks in almost hyperactive fashion.

But something has happened just over the last two or three years in the league.

Compared to 2008, the total rushing yards by all eight Ivy teams was up almost 16% in 2009. Rushing attempts were up 6%. And only one team, Yale, failed to rush for 1,000 yards or more as a team. In 2006, FIVE of the eight Ivies didn't cross the 1,000 yards rushing mark as a TEAM.

And yet, not one Ivy player rushed for 1,000 yards this season. Yes, injuries had something to do with it as Columbia's Ray Rangel and surely Dartmouth's Nick Schwieger seemed poised to at least come very close to 1,000 yards before they went down. In the end, Harvard's Gino Gordon had the most total rushing yards at just 632.

But in general, the Ivy teams are running more often, running for more yards, and using more players to do it.

It starts with the quarterbacks. At one point or another during the 2009 season, Columbia, Dartmouth, Penn, and Princeton all featured QB's that ran the ball 15 or more times per game. In Columbia's case, that was true in all 10 games of the season.

Running QB's were almost extinct in the Ivies as this decade began, but now they seem all the rage. The fact that almost all the new running QB's suffered injuries at one point or another doesn't seem to have changed attitudes about this new trend just yet.

Of course, the teams that were able to use the QB position to effectively run and pass had the most success. He battled injury all season long, but Columbia fans got an unpleasent up-close look at how dangerous Penn's Keiffer Garton was as a total package as he had his best passing day of the season in the Quakers 27-13 win over the Lions.

Columbia enjoyed the flip side of that equation against Brown in week 10 when Sean Brackett ran for 171 yards and threw for 151 yards and a TD in the Lions 28-14 season-ending win over Brown.

The best running day for any Ivy QB in 2009 was turned in by Dartmouth's Greg Patton who ran for an incredible 243 yards and two TD's in an OT win over Cornell in Hanover.

Will Princeton's Surace and Cornell's new man buy in to this running by committee and running QB trend? I think they may have little choice as it's almost obvious that recruiting issues are a big force behind this move right now.

It looks like the Ivies are still able to find good crops of offensive linemen and even talented running backs are out there and available.

But finding a durable, 25-30 carries a game back who can avoid major injury seems the rarest of all players in the Ivies right now. Unless you want to give up on the run completely, if you're an Ivy coach you're looking for lots of different backs and a QB who can make things happen with his feet.

We'll see if this trend continues in 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

C's of Change

Jim Knowles' departure from Cornell has now been confirmed and another Ivy team will be scrambling for a new head coach probably into the new year.

From my point of view, it was hard not to like Knowles as a coach and a communicator. He was very "front and center" for the program as his many appearances on Cornell YouTube videos showed time and again this year.

Why he wasn't more successful in Ithaca could be the subject of a very long debate. Many Ivy fans don't understand why the Ag and Hotel schools at Cornell don't open the door to more blue chip recruits.

Others howled at the offensive formations the Big Red used during most of Knowles' tenure.

I do know that the best Cornell teams under Knowles were led by Kevin Boothe on the offensive line and a dynamite running QB named Ryan Kuhn. This was the 2005 squad that went 6-4 and beat Harvard and Penn.

We wish Knowles the best of luck at Duke.

Princeton Names New Coach

Bob Surace

One of Princeton's great offensive linemen of the modern era is coming back to Old Nassau.

Bob Surace is now coaching with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he did put in two years as a Head Coach at D-III Western Connecticut.

Hiring new head coaches with no previous head coaching experience at any level have been a thorn in the side of some Ivy fans at many schools in recent years.

Knowles Gone?

Meanwhile, several online sites are blind "reporting" that Cornell Head Coach Jim Knowles has left Cornell for the defensive coordinator job at Duke.

If true, the Ivies would usher in a new season with multiple new head coaches for the first time since 1998 when Brown's Phil Estes and Cornell's Pete Mangurian started their tenures.

Big Kid from Cincy

Shout out to Saint X!

Today's newly-released USA Today list of the top prep football players in the nation includes St. Xavier's Matt James. He's a 6-foot-8, 290-pound offensive lineman who the scouts say already has NFL strength. James has not made a decision on where he'll play college ball just yet.

St. X is the high school home for an increasing number of Columbia players in recent years. They include Lou and Evan Miller, Ross Morand, and Ian Cummins. Recent grad Drew Quinn was a St. X grad too.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Battle for a Georgia Peach reports that 6"3 230-pound defensive end Chris Mooney is being recruited by Penn and Columbia.

In the the Georgia high school all star game known as the Cobb Bowl, Mooney had a hand in three sacks, as his team won 26-23. Scouts say he had great quickness and "tremendous growth potential."

Georgia State and Bowling Green are also after Mooney.

Vintage Columbia

Check out this great picture, probably from Life Magazine or a similar publication, depicting an option toss from Paul Governali to Phillip Bayer in a 21-0 win over Princeton.

If you like, you can buy this picture on eBay here.

Good times.

Back to the Countdown

Columbia 13 Fordham 11

September 21, 2002

Wien Stadium

Game #7 in my top 10 Columbia football games of the 2000's is the 2002 contest against Fordham that was also the first-ever official Liberty Cup game.

After the 9/11 attacks delayed the Columbia-Fordham game in 2001, the annual game between the two teams was re-named the "Libery Cup" to honor the memories of the Columbia and Fordham alumni who died that day.

The 2001 game between the two teams had to be rescheduled because of the 9/11 attacks just four days before the scheduled season opener. Instead, the Lions and Rams played in The Bronx on Thanksgiving day with Fordham winning in a rout.

Thanks to that quirk in the schedule, Columbia ended up playing the same team twice in a row... albeit almost 300 days apart.

The first official Liberty Cup game was played on a warm night at Wien Stadium. It was also the first local college football broadcast for the new YES Network. The Lions were facing life without recently graduated Johnathan Reese and were big underdogs to a Fordham team that featured star QB Kevin Eakin, wide receiver Javarus Dudley and running back Kirwin Watson.

But it was Columbia that struck first. QB Steve Hunsberger hit Travis Chmelka with a long bomb to the Fordham one. Hunsberger took it in himself on the next play and it was 7-0.

Fordham backed the Lions into a safety to make it 7-2 at the half, but the surprising Columbia defense held the explosive Ram attack on the other side of the ball.

(An off-color joke by the Columbia band making fun of the Catholic Church was the buzz at halftime. That would explode into a big controversy in the national press. But the real crime in the joke was the fact that it made fun of the VICTIMS of clergy abuse and not the abusers. Making fun of victims is never funny).

A short 27-yard field goal by Nick Rudd late in the third made it 10-2 and the Lions were rolling.

But Eakin finally broke through with a 56-yard TD pass to Peter Modelski in the early 4th quarter to make it 10-8. The 2pt. conversion attempt was no good.

Eakin engineered another drive to the Lion 24 and the resulting 41-yard field goal made it 11-10 Rams with about nine minutes to go.

Then came the real drama. Columbia got a late drive together and set up Rudd for a 29-yard field goal with just 2 minutes 38 seconds left. But the kick was blocked and the Lions' cause seemed lost.

The defense did a great job forcing a three-and-out to give Columbia one more chance from their own 42. But the Lions went nowhere on the next three plays and they faced a 4th and 10. Then Hunsberger completed one of the biggest clutch passes of the decade for Columbia with a 30-yard pass to Steve Cargile. with 25.7 seconds left. Hunsberger tossed an 8-yard pass to Dan Reed on the next play to set up Rudd for a second chance 37-yard field goal with 10.5 seconds to play for the amazing win.

The win would be the one and only victory of the season for the Lions and the last overall for Head Coach Ray Tellier.

Meanwhile Fordham shook off the loss, went 10-3 overall, and advanced to the second round in the D-IAA playoffs.

For sheer drama and surprise, the game was almost unrivaled throughout the decade. And you could argue that it was the toughest opponent the Lions defeated in the 2000's.

Monday, December 21, 2009

From Linebacker to Whip

Frank Dermody

One of the key defensive players on the miracle 1971 Lions team has just been elected to one of the top positions in the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

Frank Dermody '73 was elected House Majority Whip last week and the preceeding link has a great profile of his life and career. He was first elected as a state representative in 1990.

Dermody became a starting linebacker after just a few games into his sophomore season of 1970. He was a team leader from then on.

Recruiting News

A top player from the Hudson Valley/Catskills area is considering Columbia.

Dan Scalo of Monroe-Woodbury High School is a QB/all-around athlete who has won his area's MVP award two of the last three years. He's also being courted by Lafayette, Lehigh, Holy Cross, Bucknell, Albany and Wyoming.

Scalo was a BCS-level recruit before he ran into some injury troubles, a familiar story by now for most people who follow Ivy League recruiting.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cats Take It!

Wildcats are Champs

Congratulations to the Villanova Wildcats for winning the FCS championship game over Montana last night.

I think 'Nova's win definitively proves that the best Ivy teams could easily go deep into the FCS playoffs and possibly even win titles once in a while. Penn consistently plays Villanova tough.

I stress this point because one of the reasons we've all been told that the Ivies shouldn't participate in the playoffs is because "we can't win."

Not so much.

Brock Jackolski

Syracuse and Stony Brook grab more Hofstra players

Running back Brock Jackolski has chosen Stony Brook over Towson and New Hampshire. Jackolski grew up on Long Island and is staying close to home.

Wide receiver Aaron Weaver of the Long Island town of Baldwin and tight end Jose Cruz, of Pennsylvania, committed to Syracuse. Each has a year of eligibility.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bisi's Big Day

The highly sought-after recruit Ndubisi Ezekoye is still holding offers from about a dozen schools including Columbia and most of the other Ivies.

And while he may not chose our Lions, he certainly already knows a lot about New York-style showmanship.

It turns out Ezekoye will will announce his college choice during the first quarter of Maryland's high school all star game, the Crab Bowl, at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium.

I think most prognosticators are expecting Bisi will choose Harvard, but we shall see.

Bowl Envy

The Ivy's loss is Temple's gain

Whether you are for or against the prospect of postseason football one day for the Ivies, you can't discount the allure playoffs or bowl games have for high school recruits.

One example is Niyi Adewole, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker from Upper Darby High, who orally committed to play for Temple this week. Adewole was recruited by Columbia and some other Ivies, but he liked what he saw in the Owls who went from a 1-11 team in 2006 to a 9-3 bowl-bound squad this season.

I've advocated for the playoffs many times on these pages and you're all probably sick of it by now, but I still want to make it happen.

I do look forward to the FCS championship game this weekend between Villanova and Montana. That should be a good game, and I bet the winner could whip Temple too!

Speaking of Temple, Zamel Johnson, a 5-10, 175-pound defensive back from Hofstra, will transfer to the Owls. Still no Hofstra players going Ivy as of yet. The clock is ticking...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Game #8: Blustery and Beautiful

Prosper prospered against Schires and the Crimson

(Sorry, for the delay. We now resume the Top 10 Columbia games of the 2000's, regulary scheduled for Tuesday)

Columbia 16 Harvard 13

November 8, 2003

Wien Stadium

For the first six weeks of the 2003 season, Harvard had looked unstoppable. But a stunning loss in week 7 against Dartmouth set the stage for another upset at the hands of the Lions at a cold and blustery Wien Stadium.

To be fair, Harvard was without the services of starting QB and future NFLer Ryan Fitzpatrick. But even with Garrett Schires taking his place, the Crimson were heavy favorites.

Columbia hadn't won a game that season since its shocking 33-27 Hail Mary win over Princeton in week 3. But the defense was more than ready for the challenge from Schires and a freshman sensation at running back named Clifton Dawson.

Columbia scored first on a 66-yard drive capped off by a one-yard run by Ayo Oluwole, but the extra point was no good.

Harvard tied it late in the first after a Jeff Otis interception set up the Crimson on the Lion 45. Harvard missed the extra point as well and it was 6-6 at the end of the first quarter.

The Crimson made it 13-6 after they recovered a Lion fumble on the Columbia 19 and ran it in three plays later. That's how it stood at the half.

The two teams couldn't get much going in the second half until the Lions put together a 90-yard drive that finally stalled at the Harvard 1. The Lions elected to go for the short field goal on 4th down and it was 13-9 going into the fourth quarter.

Again, the defenses took control and it didn't look like Columbia would get its chance to comeback. But with just about five minutes to play, the Crimson faced a 3rd and 6 from the Columbia 41. Schires and Harvard elected to throw and sophomore defensive back Prosper Nwokocha made them pay. He stepped in front of the pass and returned it to the Harvard 45. Three plays later, Otis found Zach Van Zant for a 10-yard TD pass and the 16-13 lead.

Nwokocha iced the game himself with another interception on Harvard's ensuing possession.

This game still stands out now because of a number of things:

-It would be the only Lion win over the Crimson for the decade.

-It was on national TV on the YES Network.

-Clifton Dawson showed much of the talent that would lead him to breaking Ed Marinaro's all-time Ivy rushing record. But in the end, Columbia contained him at the key moments.

-Jeff Otis kept fighting back despite getting hit brutally all day by the Harvard defenders.

-It was a coming out party for Prosper Nwokocha, who went on to become a team captain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Breaking: DiNovo Becomes 1st Known Commit

Highly-regarded wide receiver Lou DiNovo has told his local paper in Albany, NY that he is coming to Columbia next year.

DiNovo was Co-Player of the Year in his conference despite suffering an injury late in the season. He is listed at 6"0 and 185 pounds.

From an Albany Times Union article about the best players in the area printed last week:

There is a reason virtually every Ivy League school recruited DiNovo: He's smart. DiNovo often drew double teams, yet he still caught a touchdown pass in his first six games, grabbing 27 passes for 460 yards before suffering a season-ending injury in La Salle's win over Schenectady. ... "He can do stuff no one else can. Lou is great at adjusting to the ball in the air, runs excellent routes and knew how to gain separation. A smart and exceptionally skilled football player," coach Al Rapp said.

Doing it Right

ODU does it again!

More than a year before the Old Dominion University football team was resurrected, I starting writing about how excited we should be about this event.

ODU's inaugural season of 2009 turned out better than expected.

The team went 9-2 and sold out every game at home months in advance.

The school created an instant campus atmosphere enjoyed by current students and alumni alike.

And ODU showed everyone that a bad economy or lack of Heisman candidates is no excuse. Planned properly, there is NO REASON why a school can't reap huge benefits from football at the FCS level.

Jeez, people by the millions are watching cruddy reality shows starring botoxed and tattooed freaks... why schools can't coax Americans to have a good time at a real football game is beyond me.

ODU proved it can be done.

And in a very fitting development, ODU has just announced that it is accepting two transfers from the failed Hofstra program that shut down two weeks ago.

One of the players was Ronnie Cameron, an academic all-conference player who is alos a 6"2 278-pound defensive tackle. It's possible the Ivies lost one here.

The other is defensive end Deron Mayo, Mayo, who attended nearby, (to ODU), Hampton's Kecoughtan High, had 48 tackles and 11-1/2 tackles for losses last season at Hofstra.

Mayo's older brother Jerod plays linebacker for the New England Patriots, while his younger brother Derek Mayo is a linebacker at U. Richmond.

Those players will now learn first-hand that anything is possible when you act creatively and work hard.

Now that's a lesson worth the cost of college tuition.

(That's to Bruce Wood for alerting me to the ODU transfer news)

PENN Dumps Miller

ODU does it right, and it seems like Penn basketball doesn't.

The Quakers have fired the once-highly regarded Coach Glen Miller before even midseason.

I can still remember the angry cries when Penn hired Miller away from Brown, where he was making great strides with that program.

But the fans at Penn, who have been used to basketball greatness year after year for generations, quickly turned on him.

Jerome Allen, a great Quaker player in the mid 1990's, takes over as interim coach.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Transfer News

Steve Probst

A Hofstra player is moving on to another football program some experts believe is also in trouble.

Sophomore QB Steve Probst is transferring to Rhode Island. He had 12 TD passes in two seasons with the Pride.

Freshman offensive lineman Jordy Paulemon is going to the much more stable Villanova program. Villanova just edged out William and Mary, 14-13, last night in the FCS semifinals.

Both Probst and Paulemon were Long Island high school stars.

Speaking of William and Mary, Tribe defensive coordinator and former Columbia Head Coach Bob Shoop is a finalist for the FCS Coordinator of the Year award. Penn's Ray Priore, also a DC, is a finalist too.

Thanks Lisa!

Good Football Journalism

Here's the kind of piece about the football team we really need to see a lot more of in the Columbia Spectator.

There were a lot of things I liked about it:

1) It was about something other than the author. (How many articles in the Spec these days are basically a personal diary about the writer and not enough about the external subject? The "Me Generation" doesn't even beging to describe this trend).

2) It was written from the point of view of a fan. It wasn't a slavish, "homer" piece, but it came from a good supportive place.

3) It had a good sense of humor without being ridiculous.

Sadly, the author is a senior and we presumably won't have Ms. Lisa Lewis around next year to cover the team. But we appreciate the effort Lisa, and thank you.

A Road Draw

Guess which opponent drew the best attendance at beautiful Princeton Stadium this fall?

Yep, Columbia.

Remember that rain threatened that entire game, (it didn't come down until about 30 minutes after the final gun), and both teams were a not-too-great 1-1 coming into the contest.

It's amazing the Lions, who of course won 38-0, drew more than Cornell and especially Tiger archrival Yale this year... but we did.

Early Admits

I don't know if this tells us much about football recruiting, but according to a report in the student blog,, the Admissions Department has put out stats for the early decision round of applications for CC/SEAS 2014.

According to Admissions Director Jessica Marinaccio, applications for early decision increased by 2%, to 2,995; 631 were accepted, for an admit rate of 21%.

As for geographical diversity, “the CC and SEAS class includes students from 41 states including Alabama, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, and South Carolina as well as some of our major market areas (New York metro area, California, Massachusetts, Florida, Maryland and Illinois).”

Students from 25 other countries were also accepted, including “Bahrain, Belarus, Ethiopia, Greece, Jordan and Vietnam.”

Let me be optimistic and note that Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and South Carolina are great high school football country, and of couese so is Massachusetts for the Ivies.

In all seriousness, this all means we really should be hearing news about a few football commits very soon. Be patient.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday Quick Hits

The names of the first members of the class of 2014 are on that truck!

Early Decision Recruits?

We could see some stories in local papers and news sites in the coming days because just hours ago, the early decision letters and packets were sent out of Hamilton Hall.

Usually, only a small handful of football players take this early route and we don't often find out who they are early anyway. But I will keep my eyes peeled.

Baker Complex Future

Many of you are aware that there are more rennovations and additions coming to the Baker Athletics Complex in the coming years.

Today's Columbia Spectator has a piece about the natural preservation efforts Columbia is spearheading in the Inwood area.

More Hofstra Transfers

Another Hofstra player has found a new home. Star running back Miguel Maysonet is staying close by at Stony Brook. Villanova, C.W. Post, Sacred Heart and the University of New Hampshire also expressed interest.

His Hofstra and Riverhead high school teammate, Andrew Smith has received an offer from Albany and has been in contact with coaches at Wagner, Maryland, Temple and Syracuse.

I still have heard no news about a possible Hofstra transfer at any Ivy or even a Patriot League team. I will be shocked if that stays the same over the coming weeks.

Remember the clock is ticking, the transfers must be enrolled in their new schools by the spring semester in order to be eligible for the 2010 season.

Knowles Staying Put

Confounding a lot of Ivy pundits who thought he was toast, Jim Knowles is getting a vote of confidence from his athletic director.

But does he really want to keep that job? As many writers have pointed out, there were very few younger players who emerged on the 2009 Big Red squad. If Cornell improves in 2010, it will be on the backs on more than a few "unknowns."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

First Campbell Trophy Awarded

The Coach

I like working in TV.

I mean, if I were working in a dark law office somewhere like most of my classmates I never would have just bumped into Dennis Rodman in the FOX lobby yesterday.

Meeting a few Victoria's Secret models in the green room, (I just HAPPENED to be there that day to get some napkins), earlier this week was nice too.

But it was really great just a few minutes ago as I just happened to spot Columbia great Bill Campbell after he taped a segment for the "Scoreboard" show on FOX Business, (airing at 7pm Eastern Time).

Bill remembered me from our interview during halftime of the Brown game just a couple of weeks ago and told me how much he enjoyed doing it.

So, I'm feeling good right about now.

Also feeling good, or at least a little better after losing to Alabama on Saturday, is Tim Tebow as he is the inaugural winner of the William V. Campbell Trophy given by the National Football Foundation to the top scholar-athlete in the United States.

It's so obvious that the NFF made a great choice in renaming the Draddy Trophy for one of the most successful former college football athletes of all time.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Kicking Off an Era

Knowlin scored his first CU TD in a surprise blowout vs. Fordham

Game #9

Columbia 37 Fordham 7

Sept. 16th 2006

Wien Stadium

It's Tuesday, so it's time to resume the top 10 best games of the 2000's countdown.

Game #10 was the 23-17 win over Fordham in 2005, and the 9th best game took place one year later also against the Rams, this time at Wien Stadium.

The 2006 Lions were under new management. Late in 2005, Norries Wilson was hired as head coach and he brought in an entirely new coaching staff with him.

After a 2-8, 0-7 Ivy season in '05, not much was expected of Columbia in Wilson's inaugural season. There were a number of key returning players, led by QB Craig Hormann, but most pundits doubted the defense's abilities after giving up a startling 33.7 points per game the year before.

Adding to the doubts were rumors that a number of freshmen were going to either start or get significant playing time.

The best chance for the Lions seemed to come from the fact that Fordham was also in transition. The Rams were under a brand new head coach as well in Tom Masella. He too was tinkering with a big number of freshmen starters and other new players.

For the fans, the best news before the game was that the weather was absolutely gorgeous!

The Lions lost the toss but got the ball first when the Rams chose to defer to the second half. In contrast to the information on the two-deep, it was Chad Musgrove and freshman Josh A. Williams back deep to return the kicks. This was to be the first of a few minor discrepancies between the two-deep and what actually occurred on the field, as Coach Wilson did make some last minute changes as he had promised. Williams took the kick at his two and ran it back to the 23. Hormann ended up running the ball for a one-yard gain when he had to run to avoid a sack on first down. On second down, Jordan Davis rushed for no gain setting up a 3rd and nine from the CU 24. Here, Columbia would make one of its few mistakes on the day as Hormann floated a pass to Adrian Demko that Demko bobbled and it ended up being intercepted by Fordham standout Earl Hudnell at the CU 45. Hormann faced heavy Fordham pressure on this first series and pretty much all afternoon. He would get better at reacting to it as the game wore on, but the fierce Ram rush did nothing to calm what seemed like opening day jitters for the Lion signal caller.

But in what would turn out to be the first key turning point in the game, the Columbia defense did not let the Rams take advantage of the Lion mistake. Fordham star James Prydatko rushed twice for a total of three yards before Ram QB Derric Daniels threw an incomplete pass that would have been short of a first down anyway. Fordham had to punt it right back to the Lions.

Columbia had to start its second series at its own seven yard line after a wonderful punt by Fordham's Ben Dato. The Lions looked a little better on this series, as they converted a first down on a 15-yard pass from Hormann to James Besselman on 3rd and six from the eleven, but the drive died after that and a good return on Jon Rocholl's 39-yard punt put Fordham in good position again at the Lion 49.

This time, the Rams were obviously determined to test Columbia against the run. It was a test Columbia failed week in and week out in 2005, and on this series they briefly showed some weakness. Six Fordham rushes produced 32 yards and two first downs before the Rams brief ray of sunshine suddenly turned to gloom. Adam Brekke and Drew Quinn combined on a four-yard sack on 3rd and three from the CU 17, forcing a Micah Clukey field goal attempt from 38 yards out. But Clukey's kick was resoundingly blocked by junior cornerback Eugene Edwards who came around the side and made a clean block. Columbia recovered on its 22-yard line and Coach Wilson stormed the field to congratulate his troops in the first of his many displays of exuberance during the game.

The Lions quickly started moving the ball on this possession as Davis rushed for 15 yards on first down and Hormann hooked up with Davis for a 13-yard screen play on the next play. But the drive fizzled after that as Hormann threw an incomplete pass on 3rd and nine from the Fordham 49 and Jon Rocholl had to punt. His punt was brilliant however, and Columbia pinned the Rams at their eleven yard line.

And this is where the game would take on true definition. T.J. Jordan replaced Daniels at quarterback and after two runs for a total of four yards, the first quarter ended and the second frame began with a 3rd and 6 for Fordham at their own 15 yard line. Jordan attempted an option and was absolutely pounded by freshman defensive back Andy Shalbrack who knocked the ball, and Jordan's helmet free. Senior nose tackle Todd Abrams fell on the loose ball and Columbia was in business with a 1st down at the Ram 19. Jordan did not to return after that play.

Marching toward the south end zone, the drive had a promising beginning as Hormann completed short passes to Jamal Russell and Davis to set the Lions up with a 1st and goal at the six. Fordham's defense re-asserted itself after that, sacking Hormann on 1st down, tackling Davis for a three-yard loss on an emergency pass on 2nd down, and forcing an incomplete pass on third down to set up a 27-yard field goal which Rocholl hit perfectly to give the Lions a 3-0 lead. Columbia had made Fordham pay for its turnover, not in full, but at least there was something on the scoreboard to show for it.

Columbia's defense started to turn the screws at this point. With Daniels back at QB for the Rams, they went back to the straight-ahead run. On first down, Quinn broke through the line and nailed Prydatko for a two-yard loss. The next running attempt went for no gain. And on 3rd and 12 from the eleven, the long snap back to Daniels in the shotgun formation sailed over his head just into the end zone where Abrams fell on it for his second fumble recovery of the game and a Lion touchdown. Rocholl's PAT was perfect and with about 11:15 left in the first half, Columbia had a 10-0 lead.

But on Fordham's next possession, the Rams finally showed some signs of life and they drover 67 yards for a TD to make it 10-7 with just under seven minutes in the half.

Columbia punted the ball after one first down and then the Coach Masella made a strange choice by going for it on 4th and one from his own 14! Quinn ended up stuffing Prydatko for a two-yard loss on the play and it was now Columbia's ball at the Fordham 12.

Fordham got away without having to suffer the worst for the questionable call, as the pass rush forced an intentional grounding call against Hormann on first down, and the Lions never really went anywhere after that. They ended up settling for a 37-yard field goal from Rocholl and a 13-7 lead with about 1:45 left in the half.

The halftime buzz in the stands was all about the hard-hitting defense. Most impressive was their play against the run, but it was also nice to see the incredible amount of movement the Lion defenders were making before each Fordham snap. This wasn't just a little stunting, but full-out sprints by the linebackers and defensive backs that seemed to be confusing the Rams.

On Columbia's first possession of the second half, the key turning point of the game took place. On a 3rd and one at their own 29, Hormann faced heavy pressure and his screen pass was intercepted by Hudnell and returned for an apparent TD. But the Ram rush turned out to be a little too fierce and Fordham ended up getting flagged for a roughing the passer penalty and six Ram points were taken off the board. Given a second chance, Hormann and the offense started to click. On 3rd and 14 from their own 40, Hormann hooked up with Demko for a 21-yard pass to the Ram 39. On the next play, Davis ran for 14 yards to the 25. The drive stopped there, but Rocholl nailed a 42-yarder to make the score 16-7. The CU field goal and the negated Ram TD amounted to a huge ten-point swing in Columbia's favor.

With about nine minutes left in the third, Columbia shocked everyone by going for an on-sides kick that Fordham just barely grabbed at its own 49. Fordham then came out throwing. Daniels completed a pass to a wide open Sylvester Clarke in the middle of the field, only to have Columbia's 5-7 junior corner Jo Jo Smith hunt him down and strip the ball at the one stopping a sure Fordham touchdown. Smith didn't just tackle Clarke and get lucky with the fumble; he was going for the strip all the way and he got it. Tad Crawford scooped it up and returned it to the CU 15.

That set up Austin Knowlin's first collegiate touchdown. On 2nd and 16 from his own 38, Hormann timed his throw along the west sideline perfectly and got the Fordham defender to go for the ball and miss. The pigskin ended up in Knowlin's hands who sped down the sidelines and into the south end zone for the score and a 23-7 Columbia lead. The strip at the Columbia one and the ensuing Columbia touchdown accounted for another huge 14-point swing and it was now a 16-point Lion lead.

Columbia tacked on two more scores in the fourth quarter to make it 37-7. The win was the start of the best overall year of the decade for Columbia and Norries Wilson became the first Lion head coach to win his first game since Buff Donelli in 1957.

It was a perfect day for a young team and a great start to the year.

(*Thanks to those posters who reminded me that Ray Rangel was another outgoing senior who it would have been great to see win some awards at the Football Banquet Sunday night.

Ray's injury just put him in too tough a position statistically at the end of the year. But emotionally and in every other important measure, Rangel was an extraordinary leader on this team this year and in years past.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

2009 Awards Announced

Rookie of the Year Brackett finds MVP Knowlin

By all reports, last night's football banquet was a great event. The highlight was having former Captain John Alex '89 give the keynote address. John has been a Columbia icon, pretty much from the time he stepped on campus and he always draws a crowd whenever he returns.

The award winners list is below:

Phil Fusco Award: M.A. Olawale (Sr., QB)

Maniatty-Remmer Unsung Hero Award: Derek Jancisin (Sr., WR)

John J. Cirigliano Ironman Award: Taylor Joseph (Sr., WR)

Lou Little Coaches Most Improved Award: Jared Morine (Sr., CB)

Ken Germann Freshman Award: Sean Brackett (Fr., QB)

Special Forces Award: Augie Williams (Jr., SS)

Most Valuable Offense: Austin Knowlin (Sr., WR)

Most Valuable Defense: Lou Miller (Sr., DE)

Jack Armstrong Outstanding Offensive Lineman: John Seiler (Sr.)

Sid Luckman Most Valuable Player Award: Austin Knowlin (Sr., WR)

Campbell-Murff Captains Award: Alex Gross (Jr., LB), Taylor Joseph (Sr., WR), Austin Knowlin (Sr., WR), Lou Miller (Sr., DE), M.A. Olawale (Sr., QB), John Seiler (Sr., OL)

I think I would have to agree with Knowlin getting the overall MVP award. He scored a lot of TD's this year and made an incredible statistical jump from last year, when the Lion QB's struggled to get him the ball.

Lou Miller as the defensive MVP is a no-brainer. Well done. Also well done was the obvious choice of QB Sean Brackett as Freshman of the Year.

What makes me even more delighted are all the special awards to the unsung heroes on the team. Derek Jancisin got the actual "Unsung Hero" award, but the nods to Jared Morine, Augie Williams, and even John Seiler gave recognition to guys you didn't always hear enough about this season and in the past.

Usually, I like to write up my own set of awardees for the season but this official list of winners pretty much steals my thunder.

The only players I think who were left out in a way were sophomore Jeff Adams, who was dominant at left tackle, and safety Andy Shalbrack. My own Sophomore of the Year Award goes to Jeff, and if I could invent a Four Years of Consistent Excellence Award it would go to Andy. Of course, Knowlin would be a strong contender for that award too.

My own Junior of the Year Award would be a close battle between Adam Mehrer, Andrew Kennedy, Mike Stephens and Ian Quirk. In the end, I have to give the nod to Mehrer who led the team in interceptions and seemed to make a big play in every game.

Here's hoping every award will have a ton of tough contenders next year as the Lions hope to reload for 2010.

Hofstra's newly unemployed Cohen

Hofstra Transfers

Rutgers is the first school with a confirmed transfer from the now deceased Hofstra football program. That transfer is the highly regarded offensive lineman Matt McBride. McBride is 6"6 and 280 pounds and played his high school ball at Holy Trinity High School just about 10 minutes from my house on Long Island.

Meanwhile, a Cape Cod native who hit a 54-yard field goal for Hofstra last season has not made any transfer choices yet.

Of course, the most important potential Hofstra "transfer" may not be a player at all. What about Hofstra Head Coach Dave Cohen? Could he possibly be in the mix for the vacant Princeton head coaching job?

Virginia has already ended its coaching search, reaching just 60 miles northeast and grabbing Richmond Head Coach Mike London to replace Al Groh. My gut tells me that as soon as the big BCS schools like UVA, Notre Dame and Kansas finish out their coaching searches, the Princeton search will be completed... but NOT before.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Hoops on Display

Stony Brook Campus

According to Newsday, any potential Hofstra transfers who want to play at a new school in 2010 MUST be enrolled in that new school in time for the spring semester!

I don't know if any Ivy school can turn around transfers that fast academically, but I believe Harvard did it several years ago when Boston U. canceled football.

Newsday is also reporting that Stony Brook has already made formal offers to a number of top Hofstra players.

Speaking of Stony Brook, Columbia men's basketball is back in action today at Stony Brook in what's become a very hard-fought and close rivalry over the last few years. The game will be televised on MSG+ and you can hear the game on

I would not be surprised if some Hofstra football players were in attendance today as Stony Brook may be trying to carry out some quickie campus visits. Perhaps Columbia and the cheers from the Lions fans in attendance can make a nice impression as well.

I have been remiss in not mentioning the greatest Columbia-Hofstra football link of all: the John Witkowski-led Lions played a thrilling tie against Bucknell during the 1983 season at Shuart Stadium when Wien Stadium was being built. That game featured the still-longest Columbia pass completion in Lions history, a 93-yard TD catch and run to tight end Mark Milam.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Local Sports... Key word: LOCAL!

Stay Classy Long Island... and cover local football!

Hoop Dreams

This has been a generally good 24 hours for Columbia basketball as the men pulled out a 75-70 win over Lehigh last night and the women hung very tough with St. John's this afternoon before falling 75-63. You can see the full details on both games at

Hofstra: Day 2

The fallout from the Hofstra decision to cancel football continues today and it will grow. On my show on FOX Business today, we interviewed the Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes who admitted to us that no one but a select few top administrators had any idea this was coming. Even the former Hofstra president and football player James Shuart, after whom the stadium is named, said he was not consulted. Hayes explained that hinting the death penalty was on the way would have destroyed the Pride's season, and that is probably true. I was living in Cleveland in 1995 when the Browns learned during the season that they were moving to Baltimore in '96, and what had been a very strong team up to that point fell apart on the field for an utterly wasted season.

I spoke with Jerry Recco about the Hofstra situation earlier this afternoon and we both agreed that despite the intense sorrow some of these players feel right now, if some of them end up at, let's say, an Ivy school where they may get more playing time AND a degree from one of the most respected schools in America, then this decision could end up being the best thing that ever happened for them.

I don't think it's proper to name any potential transfers here, but I would be shocked if at least two Hofstra players don't transfer to an Ivy school in the coming weeks.

Another great aspect of this story is the intense interest we're seeing here in the New York area for the Hofstra news. This was the #1 topic for callers to sports radio WFAN yesterday and it led the sports news on the dominant news radio station, 1010 WINS, all day.

This tells me two things:

1) People were angry.

But more importantly 2) There IS a market for college football, even non-BCS college football in New York. The local media just needs to cover it more and cover it better.

When I open my local sports section in my Long Island paper, (Newsday), every Sunday I barely see the smallest piece about the Hofstra game the day before and almost never see anything about Columbia sports.

At the same time, we are innundated with sports columns complaining about the bad conduct of big-time college football players and coaches. Maybe if these guys and gals at the sports desks spent more time covering the high-quality football and even better quality students at places like Hofstra and Columbia, they'd get some new hope for humanity.

Here's another tip: no one is going to the local media for news about the big-time sports programs, especially at the college level. EVERYONE else is covering USC, Florida, Notre Dame and Penn State better than they are. Stop trying to survive by doing someone's else's job much more poorly than they are. You have to find your niche and build on it. Newsday's sports pages on fall Saturdays and Sundays should be all about the local football at the high school and college levels. The paper actually made major strides with high school coverage this year, now with just Stony Brook and Columbia to follow, it should make the leap into college coverage too.

Local TV news is usually hopeless. I used to be a local news TV producer, and the problem is 75% of the people on the air in local news are not from the area and have no interest in anything other than landing a bigger job somewhere else.

But Long Island is different. News 12 Long Island and the new FIOS channel 1 are staffed with a good number of reporters who are here for the long haul and are relatively happy about it. News 12 has been around for 25+ years and has a decent, but still not good enough record covering Long Island sports. FIOS is making some inroads already and could see local sports as a way of cleaning News 12's clock. Let the game's begin!

High School News

Speaking of Long Island, a speedy QB/DB who played high school football not far from the Hofstra campus is at least applying to Columbia.

The Mineola American reports that Mike Escobar is applying to Columbia, but does not say if he expects to play football, is being recruited, or hopes to walk on if accepted.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Shocking News: Hofstra Drops Football!

This is a very, very surprising development, one that may have a big effect on Columbia recruiting and the rest of the Ivies.

As someone who lives five minutes from the Hofstra campus, I am stunned.


I think the obvious immediate beneficiary for all of this will be Stony Brook University, a similar school on Long Island which recently went to scholarship football and is located 45 minutes from Hofstra. Stony Brook should see some more fan and media interest next season and perhaps a load of transfers.

Speaking of transfers, I've combed through the Hofstra roster and there appear to be several Ivy-eligible players including some national honor society members. I don't want to break any NCAA rules regarding recruiting, so you can go through the roster yourself if you like.

Usually, it is highly illegal for schools to approach potential transfer players at other schools. But I believe when their football programs are killed that rule does not apply.

So here's hoping the OFFICIAL COACHES AND REPRESENTATIVES of Columbia University football, (don't get any ideas if you're just a fan or an alum, please), will do what they can to legally and fairly grab an impact player or two from Hofstra.

Hofstra Football Program To End


MYFOXNY.COM - Hofstra University is going to end its football program.
The school is citing high costs and low interest from the college community.
University president Stuart Rabinowitz says "the choice was painful but clear."
The program has turned out several NFL players, most notably 10-year New York Jet Wayne Chrebet and current New Orleans Saint Marques Colston.

The Pride ended the 2009 season with a 5-6 record. Head coach Dave Cohen has lead the team for four years.

Hofstra played at the Division I-AA level, a lower division from big football programs that compete in BCS bowl games.
The school is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, which is more known as a basketball dominated conference.

Last week, another CAA school, Northeastern University in Boston dropped football after 74 years.

Scholars and Schedules

Are the Colonials coming to town in 2010?

(The top 10 best games of the 2000's resumes next Tuesday)

Academic All Ivy

Special kudos to seniors Lou Miller and Andy Shalbrack for grabbing spots on the Academic All Ivy team for the fall. I can't remember another Columbia football team that had two players make Academic All Ivy the same season.

I know I've written a lot about Miller and Shalbrack over the years. But I am always finding out more or realizing I've left out an important accolade.

On Shalbrack, fans need to realize that he is clearly one of the greatest four-year players in Columbia history. Because he was a crucial contributor from day one he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as guys like Gene Rossides and Lou Kusserow. I'm taking it as a personal challenge to make sure Shalbrack gets his due in Columbia lore despite only getting an Honorable Mention All Ivy nod and nothing more in his four years. Luckily, he's the only major starter to graduate from the Lion secondary this spring, but that's one huge spot to fill.

On Miller, suffice it to say that he was much more sought after as a wrestler coming out of high school than a football recruit. He had to fight his way into the mix everywhere he went. I'll take a player like Lou, who had something he needed to prove, over the highly-touted recruits we keep hearing about these days.

Now throw in the fact that both of these guys maintained excellent academic records through it all, and you have to be impressed no matter who you are. I'm happy to say both Andy and Lou have procured gainful employment for next year.

New Opponent?

A blogger who covers football news for Robert Morris University believes Columbia could play the Colonials next year or soon after that. He also lists Brown, Penn and Fordham as potential new opponents. The Lions have never played Robert Morris, but RMU is in the same conference as recent CU opponents, Central Connecticut and Duquesne. Robert Morris is located just outside Pittsburgh.

The official schedule for the upcoming football season is usually released in January. We will be watching.

Princeton Watch

With Virginia axing Al Groh last weekend, there may be some overlap in the coaching searches for both the Cavaliers and the Princeton Tigers. Both are top academic schools, and while they may not be interviewing the same candidates for the top spot, I can see some up-and-coming Ivy assistants vying for spots on the UVA staff as opposed to taking the top spot at Princeton.

I will say this about the Princeton search: they better hurry. The Tigers have been surprisingly thin at some positions due to some dubious recruiting in recent years. The small number of QB's ready to go the last two seasons says a lot. Some of it was because of injury, but look at the deep bench Columbia had at QB during the same period as a comparison. Princeton had better get that head coach job filled to avoid future holes like that.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Fighting 76!

Jeff Oke '06 had a career night in the Bronx

It's time to start my list of the top 10 games of the 2000's in Columbia football.

But before I begin, a few quick comments about this past decade have to be made.

On the bright side, Columbia enjoyed the services of many great players over the past 10 years. In fact, some of them rank among the best Lions ever in school history. That includes Columbia's all-time leading rusher, all-time leading pass receiver, and all-time leading sack artist. The Lions boasted two Ivy Rookies of the Year who lived up to that early top billing. There were many All-Ivy honorees and many more who deserved recognition but didn't get it.

But the overall numbers don't lie. The 2000's saw the Lions struggle to a 26-74 overall record, 15-55 in the Ivies. That was coming off an overall 33-65-2, 22-48 Ivy record in what was a mostly encouraging decade of the 1990's.

Some of this could be due to transitions at the top. The Lions have had three head coaches in this past decade while Ray Tellier was at the helm throughout the 90's.

Suffice it to say, the overwhelming majority of Columbia fans are upbeat after the way the 2009 season... especially with some very promising young players like Jeff Adams and Sean Brackett on the roster for the next few years.

And before we close the book on the 2000's, I want to help everyone relive some very great moments for the decade.

Starting with...

GAME #10: Columbia 23 Fordham 17

September 17, 2005 - Jack Coffey Field

By most measures, the 2005 season was a disaster for the Lions. There was a cloud of pessimism even before training camp as 2004 was supposed to be THE YEAR with returning stars, (and future NFL'ers), like Jeff Otis at QB, Wade Fletcher at TE, and Michael Quarshie on the defensive line.

But Fletcher missed almost half the season with a pullen hamstring and the offense never really recovered. Columbia finished '04 at 1-9.

Then training camp arrived and the Lions suffered defections from the program. By the time the season started there were roughly 76 players on the Columbia roster, an unworkable number by just about any standard.

But those players who stuck around showed a terrific amount of fight and determination. No other Ivy team worked harder just to show up every week that year, and maybe any year.

With that gloomy outlook over their heads, the '05 Lions made the short trip to Fordham to face a heavily favored Ram squad on their newly-installed FieldTurf surface.

There were some other interesting stories going into the game besides the size of the Columbia squad and the low expectations for the season. The biggest one concerned the starting QB spot, as then Head Coach Bob Shoop first selected sophomore Craig Hormann and then switched to promising to split the duties between Hormann and senior Joe Winters. But no matter who was under center, he would be guarded by a super-green offensive line with one ONE player who had any game experience prior to 2005.

The 6pm scheduled start was delayed over an hour after lightning was sighted in the distant sky, but there never was any rain after all and the lightning never got closer.

When the game finally did get going, Fordham didn't make things easy. The Rams were up 10-0 early in the second quarter and looking to put the game away. But freshman John Rocholl made the first of his many long field goals in his career with a 41-yarder and the Lions held on to keep it at 10-3 at the half.

After forcing a three-and-out on the Rams initial second hald possession, Hormann led the offense 64 yards down the field and finished with a game-tying 12-yard TD pass to senior Brandon Bowser.

Later in the third, Fordham's James Prydatko took off down the sidelines for a 57-yard TD and the Rams had the lead the momentum back... but only for a moment. Senior captain Prosper Nwokocha returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to tie it back up at 17.

From then on, the Columbia defense and John Rocholl took over. Senior defensive end Jeff Oke got his first sack of the night and forced a fumble that eventually led to a short Rocholl field goal. Another short Rocholl FG made it 23-17 with about 10 minutes to go in the 4th.

The rest of the game was punctuated by Lion defensive stands. The biggest came at the very end of the game as the final Fordham drive was stopped by two consecutive sacks by Oke to finish the game.

The win featured a nice combination of old and new for Columbia. Seniors like Winters and Bowser contributed with some key passes and receptions, respectively. First-time starter Hormann made a splash with his 22-for-33, 215-yard passing performance. Rocholl opened a lot of eyes as well.

But it was a team effort, albeit from a depleted team, that won the game that night in the Bronx.

Unfortunately, there were too many games in the 2000's where the Lions were undermanned like they were in that 2005 season opener. Fortunately, the men who played those games, win or lose, showed a strength that not many of us even get the chance to exhibit in a lifetime.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Recruit Everybody Wants

Homework Assignment

Tomorrow is the first day of the last month of the decade. I think I will be ready to do a Top 10 Games of the 2000's for football next week, but JUST IN CASE I forget or misjudge a game you would put in that top 10, let me know. Hint: at least two of the top 10 games took place this season.

In other news...

A lot of people are doing a lot of parsing of the email Yale Head Coach Tom Williams sent to top alums last week. Some think Williams was trying to hint that he wasn't the one who actually made that fake punt call in "The Game." You can read the full story here.

Ponder this...

What's it like to be 17-18 years old, and have a handful of the most elite schools vying to woo you?

Ask Ndubisi Ezekoye, the speedy QB/DB, (but simply considered an all-around athlete who may play a lot of positions), with a 3.9 GPA and a ton of reported "offers" and at least serious interest from schools like Yale, UConn, Air Force, Army, Brown, Harvard, and yes... Columbia.

I have no idea how close Ezekoye is to a decision. I don't know where he's leaning. And there's no point to mentioning him other than to make this point: in this age of the Internet, a widely sought after recruit like Ezekoye cannot make his decision quietly anymore... and that's true despite the fact that we're not talking about a potential recruit for USC or Notre Dame.