Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring Wishes: 5 Priorities

Anders Hill

Spring practice begins on Monday and Columbia Football's priorities are obviously on the shoulders of a few players we know have to step up for 2017.

Priority 1: Anders Hill

Hill enters his senior season knowing for the first time that he will begin a season as the #1 QB. His improvement over the course of last season was obvious and it culminated in his best performance of the year in the finale at Brown.

The coaches simply must do whatever they can to get Hill playing at his week 8-10 level starting on day one of the upcoming season. There are other variables to Columbia's 2017 campaign to be sure, but this is the most important. Better QB play the last two seasons, to the level of simply Honorable Mention All Ivy, would have netted the Lions 5-5 seasons or better both years. Columbia was just in too many games in 2015 and 2016 that were lost when the offense couldn't get the last crucial score.

Priority 2: Changing of the Guard at Linebacker

When Al Bagnoli took over in 2015, he said he believed the Lions' best strength was Columbia's front seven on defense. That had some of us who liked the defensive line but worried about the linebackers scratching our heads. As usual, Al was right. The linebacking crew over his first two seasons at the helm has been the strength of the team and even better than the front four.

But now all the significant starters from those past two seasons are graduating. I like what I've seen on tape from many of the guys who need to step up to fill their shoes, but a big part of the off season goal has to be to make sure this unit stays strong.

That mission is squarely on the shoulders of rising sophomores Michael Murphy, Jalen Williams, Matt Tofano, and Levi McQuinn. I also think that rising senior Parker Tobia may also be in that mix. More than just one of the aforementioned linebackers must step up this spring and take on the mantle of leaders.

Priority 3: Prime Running Back

With Alan Watson graduating and the promising freshmen running backs not coming in until the summer, the coaches need to see one of the returning backs step it up. I've boiled this issue down in a separate post, but rising sophomores Tanner Thomas and Lynnard Rose seem like the leading candidates here. This will be one of the most-watched aspects of the spring game.

Priority 4: The New O-line

Columbia brings back three offensive line starters, and that's very good for a college team at any level. But this spring practice we need to see some results from the rising sophomores like Joseph Scowden and a few others. In addition to linebackers, Bagnoli's forte at Penn was building great linebackers and offensive linemen, The offensive line definitely improved over these past two seasons, but now it's time to get one or two First Team All Ivy players out of this unit.

Priority 5: Secondary Depth

If senior Denzel Hill does come back for a 5th year, the Lions will be returning three excellent defensive backs in Hill, Cameron Roane and Landon Baty. That's more than most teams could hope for. But obviously Columbia needs another starter here and some key backups. And it feels like the depth chart here is a bigger mystery than the rest of the team. We need to get some more boldface names out of this group starting next week.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Road to Toal

Greg Toal

In a move that is still shaking New Jersey high school football to its core, Don Bosco Head Coach Greg Toal has been ousted. 

While the official story is that Toal retired, no one is buying that. And some of his former players, including former Columbia Lion football player Nick Mistretta '12 are trying to get some justice for Toal.

As someone who at least wanted Toal to get more of a chance for the Columbia head coaching job back in 2012, I'd like to see Head Coach Al Bagnoli find a spot for him on the staff now. Toal's connections to top local talent would be a plus for at least a few more years down the road. I've noticed that we don't currently have any Bosco players on the Lion roster, (hint, hint).

Monday, February 27, 2017

Taking the Ball

Tanner Thomas

After considering staying on for a 5th year, I can now report that RB Alan Watson is not going to come back for the 2017 season. That means his role as the lead ball carrier will need to be filled.

Before I list all the possible contenders, it's important to note that the two seasons Columbia has played so far under Head Coach Al Bagnoli have seen the same scenario unfold when it comes to the starting running back. Both Cameron Molina in 2015 and Watson in 2016 really hit their strides at the end of those seasons. The trick in 2017 is finding a way to get a RB who can hit that peak level of performance either on day one or at least before mid season.

The top returning RB's are sophomores Tanner Thomas, Lynnard Rose, and senior Chris Schroer. Joining them in the mix are what I consider to be the top two incoming freshmen running backs in Broderick Taylor and Marquavious Moore. But don't forget local product Anthony Filacouris from Long Island and Jalen Allen from Michigan.

(DISCLAIMER: This assessment of the incoming frosh is just my opinion).

Thomas, Taylor, and Moore look like contenders to be lead backs, while Rose's talents seem to lean more to a guy who gets about 5 carries a game and 3-4 passes from out of the backfield. And Schroer, now going into his senior year, could end up being a surprise winner in this race for #1. He would at least continue the trend of seniors getting the job under the Bagnoli coaching regime.

But based on how Bagnoli did things for most of his tenure at Penn, I believe he wants to have a running attack more by committee. The problem is so far at Columbia, only Molina and Watson really stepped up. He may have enough horses to run a two-back attack this fall.

While the continued development of senior QB Anders Hill remains the top priority, that job will become a lot easier if the Lions show a potent running attack on day one. A big reason why Hill played so well in the final two games of the 2016 season was because Watson played so well too. It's really as simple as that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bubbling Up

One of the great personal joys I've experienced ever since President Lee Bollinger made the great move of bringing in Athletic Director Peter Pilling is the fact that the news and information coming out of Columbia Athletics has been so much better and more frequent that my long-held desire to back off needing to update the fans daily has been realized.

The best example has been the repeated reporting and video updates on the historic building of the Columbia practice bubble at the Baker Athletic Complex.

This short interview with Head Coach Al Bagnoli really captures the immense important of the project.

But it's really hard to put into words what a strong physical piece of evidence the new bubble is that the administration is really serious about boosting the football program and athletics at Columbia in general.

The recruiting disadvantage Columbia has faced for years because of the 15-minute bus ride from campus to Baker was always thought of as something that could only be solved by making the trip easier or building a practice facility on campus for football.

We had it wrong.

It turns out the best way to beat that disadvantage was to make Baker more of a place to want to get to no matter what. The bubble makes Baker a hip and cool destination; not a faraway place to practice in drudgery.

In the coming weeks and months, we'll go back to analyzing the Lions position by position, shoring up the final list for incoming recruits, and looking back at what we learned from the 2016 season.

And we all know the push to improve athletics will never be complete until we see championships in football and basketball.

BUT, we have to look around us right now and see the very real, (and expensive... please don't forget to donate more!), improvements.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Coastal Commit

Casey Mariucci

6-4 215 pound TE/DE Casey Mariucci from La Jolla Country Day School has committed to Columbia. He becomes the third Coastal League player to join the incoming freshmen class along with his La Jolla classmate P Drew Schmid and Justin Woodley from Bishop's School.

Mariucci bounced back from an injury-marred junior season to put up monster numbers on offense and defense in 2016.

Here's an interview he did late last season with additional highlights.

Mariucci and Schmid will be the first La Jolla Country Day School grads to come to Columbia football.

So our updated list of unconfirmed, but public commitments is at 30:

1) Darion Acohido WR/RB/DB 5-9 178 lbs. Liberty HS Henderson, NV

2) Luke Adams RB/LB 6-2 210 lbs. Notre Dame Prep Pontiac, MI

3) Jalen Allen RB 5-11 185 lbs. Cranbrook-Kingswood HS Bloomfield Hills, MI

4) Will Allen III DB 5-9 164 lbs. American Heritage HS, Plantation, FL

5) Josh Bean QB 6-2 200 lbs. Hinsdale HS Hinsdale, IL

6) Cameren Carter LB 6-1 198 lbs. Duluth HS Duluth, GA

7) Dillon Davis QB 6-1 206 lbs. Aledo HS Aledo, TX

8) Myles Davis WR 5-10 175 lbs. Walter Payton HS Chicago, IL

9) Seth DeVary OL 6-4 275 lbs. Larue County HS Hodgenville, KY

10) Alexander Filacouris RB 6-1 200 lbs. Half Hollow Hills West HS Dix Hills, NY 

11) Graham Flinn DB/WR 6-1 180 lbs. Benedictine College Prep HS Richmond, VA

12) Tyson Hugee DB 6-0 170 lbs. Springside Chestnut Hill Academy Philadelphia, PA

13) Emerson Kabus WR 5-10 170 lbs. St. Augustine HS St. Augustine, FL

14) Josh Kaminsky DL 6-4 280 lbs. Seton Hall Prep West Orange, NJ

15) Casey Mariucci TE/DE 6-4 215 lbs. La Jolla Country Day La Jolla, CA

16) Cameron Lipton-Martinez TE/DE 6-5 225 lbs. Montclair HS Montclair, NJ

17) Ben Mathiasmeier DB 5-10 190 lbs. Cinco Ranch HS Katy, Texas

18) Marquavious Moore RB 5-11 202 lbs. Harding Academy Memphis, TN

19) Andrew Nichols DE/TE 6-3 235 lbs. Centennial HS Peoria, AZ

20) Carson Powell DB 6-0 190 lbs. Cardinal Newman HS Palm Beach, FL

21) Bailey Rotsky DB/WR Mayfield Heights HS Mayfield Heights, OH

22) Jonathan Rowe OL 6-3 283 lbs. Audrey Kell HS Charlotte, NC

23) Drew Schmid P 6-0 205 lbs. La Jolla Country Day La Jolla, CA

24) Broderick Taylor RB 6-0 200 lbs. Holly Springs HS Holly Springs, NC  

25) Dwayne Warren WR 6-3 198 lbs. Seton Hall Prep West Orange, NJ

26) Hank White OL 6-6 250 lbs. Buford HS Buford, GA

27) Ashton Cooper Wilson DE/LB 6-3 230 lbs. Merritt Island HS Merritt Island, FL

28) Peter Wise OL 6-5 290 lbs. Brunswick School Greenwich, CT 

29) Blake Wooden DB 6-1 180 lbs. American Heritage HS Plantation, FL

30) Justin Woodley LB 6-2 210 lbs. Bishop's School La Jolla, CA