Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Cleveland Miracle

I lived and worked in Cleveland in the mid-1990's in the midst of the Indians resurgence and the loss of the Browns. It was a good mix of the "agony and the ecstasy" in sports, but all without ever winning that elusive championship. 

That long wait finally ended Sunday night with the Cavs impressive win in Oakland and Cleveland has a major champion for the first time in 52 years. 

It's hard for Columbia football fans not to look at that and think about our current 55-year Ivy championship drought. We know the Cavaliers finally grabbed that title because it has a once in a lifetime player in LeBron James and basketball's 5-man team structure basically milks the most out of a single great player at any given time. Football is tougher, especially the larger roster college variety. 

Columbia does have a once in a lifetime coach now with Al Bagnoli. And it has a once in a lifetime commitment from the administration to really boost the program instead of doing the things that make it look like it's committed. 

But at some point, I have not doubt that it will take a couple of once in a lifetime players to finally put Columbia over the top. Marcellus Wiley '97 and Rory Wilfork '97 were two of those kinds of players on defense, but the Lions did not have enough talent at the offensive skill positions to finish better than second during their era. 

As I mentioned a little earlier this year, when people talk about Columbia now they're saying better things but they're still not talking about any players. Until they do, the Lions won't be real contenders. Luckily that change can happen during the course of a season, so the fact that no one outside of Columbia is talking about our players right now or perhaps next off season is not a reason to give up hope on either year.  

But no matter how good the coach or the program, the true stars on the field need to emerge. Columbia has now prepped the soil and planted the seeds. The question is how long it will take for things to blossom.

Friday, June 17, 2016

New Place to Chat

The dedicated Lehigh fan and writer Chuck Burton has launched a new place for Ivy sports fans, (and Patriot and NEC fans), to chat and debate our teams.

Check it out.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

No Longer in a Bubble

Something that Head Coach Al Bagnoli believes is a transformative moment has begun in Inwood: the construction of the bubble over the soccer field that will allow our football team to practice in indoor conditions year round.

Sometimes symbolism means more at Columbia. It doesn't mean we don't wins and championships above all else, but it does mean it's a big deal that when the athletic department finally makes progress on everything from publishing obituaries on the web site to building things quickly and less than a year after they were first mentioned. The previous athletic department administration actually did make great progress on our facilities at the Baker Athletics Complex. But it would never have been able to get something like this bubble project up and running as fast as this regime did.

Bagnoli knows that better facilities are a key to recruiting, and he simply doesn't have 10 years to wait around while the administration drags it feet on a bubble or something like it. Bagnoli has a keen ally in A.D. Peter Pilling and the results have been obvious.

The simple fact is, despite promises to the contrary and brutal attacks on those who said otherwise like me, the previous administrations at Columbia Athletics did not do all they could to improve our teams' performances on the field. They did not care as much about wins as the players and the committed alumni. They did not really care primarily about what we wanted.

Caring about what we want, acting quickly, and improving facilities won't guarantee a winning football season or an Ivy championship, but doing those things certainly makes it a lot easier.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Our Next Top Models?

Dominic Perkovic

It's hard to look at the 2015 Lions and the presumptive 2016 Lions and not fret about the defensive line. With impact players like Chad Washington, Toba Akinleye, Niko Padilla, and Hunter Little gone to graduation, it seems like there's little chance the D-line won't be a weakness or at least a relative liability this fall.

Not so fast my friend.

The #1 reason why optimists have a case for the Lion defensive front right now is junior Dominic Perkovic. Many of our coaches believe he was snubbed for All Ivy recognition last season, but perhaps that will help him emerge under the radar for this season. At 6-6 and currently 259 pounds, he can be a force as a DE pass rusher. Anyone who saw his bust out game against Fordham last season knows what I'm talking about.

There's also concern about our secondary with the loss of Travis Reim and some of the injury issues we've suffered there. But I think seniors Brock Kenyon and Jared Katz, along with junior Cameron Roane make up the nucleus of what could be one of the best secondaries in the Ivies.

The issue with both the D-line and the Secondary is depth. The coaching staff will be taxed with the tough job of getting the younger players ready to play. The good news is we know this group can be very persuasive. Coaching alone played the biggest role in Katz's marked improvement last season.

This year it looks like the coaches are putting the persuasion efforts into junior Connor Heeb, who impressed in the spring scrimmage. Alexander Holme is another junior who could step up.

It's nowhere near as clear which players in the secondary this season are "coachable" to impact level. We may see a freshman play that role. Michael Murphy is surely the freshman DB with the most accolades coming in to camp.

95 days to go!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Money Well Spent?

Every year, the 100 day before kickoff mark always seems important somehow

One of the things Head Coach Al Bagnoli demanded and received when he came to Columbia was higher salaries for the assistant coaches. He wanted to be able to lure and retain good new talent.

Most of the staff he brought in with him last season had worked with Bagnoli before, and it was good to be able to get them. And the same is true of new Tight Ends/Passing Game Coach John Audino, who worked with Bagnoli and then succeeded him as head coach at Union College.

But one of the most interesting developments this off season has been the hiring of new QB Coach Ricky Santos. Santos was not just lured to Columbia, but lured away from his Alma Mater at New Hampshire even as he was being named to the UNH Hall of Fame, (induction ceremonies for that are this Saturday). Santos was an incredible player who truly changed the course of the UNH program. So far as a coach, he's earned good marks and that's why Bagnoli wanted him. If Santos succeeds, it will provide immediate justification for the budget and salary boost so there's a lot riding on Columbia's quarterback play this season. With 2015 starter Skyler Mornhinweg missing the spring practice while recovering from a foot injury and Anders Hill still coming along, Santos has had plenty of mentoring to do right away.

A lot of Columbia's QB stats were skewed last year because of all the injuries and overall weakness at the wide receiver position. But with 5th year senior Scooter Hollis coming back, Cameron Dunn returning with more experience, and the emergence of TE John Hunton as a legitimate passing target, there's reason to believe the 2016 numbers will be better.

The good news is that there seem to be very few questions about the abilities of Mornhinweg and Hill. And the offensive line clearly improved as 2015 went along and the OL returns almost all its veterans this season. Santos won't have to work miracles to show big progress this fall, that's for sure.

But anything associated with a 5-5 season or better in 2016 for Columbia will be portrayed as a miracle anyway. Santos certainly was a miracle worker on the field for UNH 10 years ago, so I'm sure he's used to it.