Friday, August 31, 2012

Columbia Football 2012

It's Brackett's last chance to take flight

Overview: It's about the Players

New coach, new system, any questions?

In any other year, the "overview" for a team starting its first season with a groundbreaking new coach like Pete Mangurian would be all about the new coach. Every other story would justifiably be lost in the haze.

Mangurian is legitimately overhauling the entire Columbia football program. No small detail is being overlooked and suddenly the future looks brighter. The Lions were in dire need of a mature, serious leader. They got one in Mangurian. While you can't heap too much praise on him until the team actually WINS, there is no denying Mangurian has already improved the management of the football program. 

More about Coach Mangurian later,  but we shouldn't lose sight of what this season should really be about. 

The players.

And not just any players. 

Columbia football's senior class is filled with young men with extraordinary talent who deserved better than what they got when it comes to a won-lost record. They deserved better than what they got when it comes to overall coaching. And they deserved better than what they got in administrative and fan support. 

One of those very special players is Sean Brackett. Brackett is a once-in-decade quality quarterback, maybe better. He should have more wins under his belt as a starter than just the seven he has going into his senior year. He should have a lot of other things too. 

Looking down the road, I really don't want Brackett to become the latest in an endless line of great Columbia football players who get excluded from special anniversary All-Ivy teams and get forgotten by everyone but hardcore fans.  

Another special senior is Josh Martin. A defensive force for the past two years, Martin has an outside shot at an NFL career. A strong senior year should help make that happen. 

Other super seniors lost in the coaching and losing record shuffles are linebacker Ryan Murphy and defensive end Seyi Adebayo. 

This season should be about them first and foremost. The promising Mangurian should have many years to make his mark, (Norries Wilson got six), and the failing athletics administrators have been in place for a decade now. 

This is the last chance. The last season for Brackett, Martin, Murphy and Adebayo. They deserve to go out strong.

I wish the Columbia athletics department was up to the task, or even doing a halfway decent job, of publicizing the PLAYERS. I suppose they would, but they're too busy covering speeches Athletic Director Dianne Murphy is making to the Podunk Rotary Club or whatever. 

Individual, short, and picture-laden profiles of 10 or so leading Lion returning players should have been posted to the CU website WEEKS ago... but there's still nothing. The result is our hardest working and sacrificing players are still shrouded in relative obscurity. Not acceptable.

Coach Mangurian has already done a nice end run around the traditional communication rules by frequently contributing to his own blog and making regular Tweets and Facebook posts. I expect this will continue through the season and he will start singling out more of the great players when they deserve it. 

So again, let's focus on the PLAYERS. 

That said, Mangurian is also a lead story because of the radically different approach he's bringing to the program. He has done everything from changing the practice time to the crack of dawn, (I wake up at 4:10am every day, so I can relate), to conducting a TRUE national search for a weightlifting and conditioning coach.  

Just this week, we saw the results from the shocking weight loss numbers he demanded from just about every player this off season. Even in the Ivies, we haven't seen starting offensive linemen at the 245-255 pound level in decades. This is indeed real change.

And let's be honest, is there a football program in the world that needed more top-to-bottom change than Columbia? I liked the general improvement in talent the Lions enjoyed under Coach Wilson, but that wasn't enough to make a real difference in the W-L record. 

Mangurian deserves a honeymoon period from criticism for now, but his predecessors' records have unfairly cut that time short. Wilson and Bob Shoop before him were both given way too much leeway. It took a personal conduct breakdown by Shoop to get fired and a total team breakdown for Wilson to finally get the boot. 

But even in this environment where a very starved Columbia fan base deserves wins and wins NOW... Mangurian deserves at least this season as a shakedown cruise. Even Bear Bryant needed one bad year to get the kinks out of Texas A&M after the legendary "Junction Boys" training camp of 1954. 

So that's why I have Lions finishing at 6th this season. Mangurian's needed reforms will take time to turn this program into a winner, and there are too many serious questions about the offensive line, running game, and wide receivers to expect a winning record this fall. 

But getting back to the competitive level this team showed in 2009 and the beginning of 2010 is very possible this season and should be the realistic goal for 2012. 

Josh Martin

Team Strengths


The lead story of the 2012 Lions could be the new coach and the senior players, but it could also end up being about what looks like it could be one of the best defenses in recent Columbia history. 

New defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa could be the steal of the year. Yeah, he's that good. 

But so is most of the personnel, especially in the unusually talented and deep defensive line and linebacking corps. 

That group will be led by Martin, who has been the Lions leading defensive threat since 2010. He moves back to the D-line this season after officially being classified as a linebacker in 2011. But his role has never changed. He gets after opposing QB's and RB's with ferocity and plays what one of his former teammates told me is "Southern smash mouth football."

Martin is joined up front by another senior defensive end with enormous athletic ability and passion in Adebayo. The two of them together could make up the best starting DE tandem in decades for Columbia.

But the list of stellar defensive ends doesn't stop there. Junior Wells Childress, he got his feet wet a bit last year after his transfer from Texas A&M, has slimmed down to about 250 pounds and is focused on speed as opposed to just bulk this season. Coach Mangurian says Childress was one of the most improved players in spring practice.

But wait, there's more! Junior Nick Melka was a flat out performer last season and he looks primed for big things again this year. Sophomore Chad Washington was impressive as a frosh last season, and Will Patterson is a senior with good experience and talent. In the spring, Mangurian had some good words of praise for him especially. 

The defensive tackle position, perhaps the second hardest position to fill properly in the Ivies, (behind running back), is not as deep... at least not if you don't count the freshmen. At this point, I expect Greg Lee to be in the mix. Shad Sommers and Eric Stock also seem like naturals to lead at this position, but Coach Mangurian never mentioned them in his preseason missives. 

That means it's likely that some of the freshmen will make an immediate contribution here, but don't panic. Remember how much Owen Fraser '12 meant to the Lions in 2008 when he was a freshman? 

And the freshmen talent at this position is significant. Niko Padilla and Daren Napier both look like stars. As of this writing, Napier's official weight listing soared from 261 this spirng to 305 lbs. now. Don't be surprised if he plays a significant role as a defensive tackle this season. 

There's another embarrassment of riches at linebacker for Columbia. The starters should beZach Olinger, Mike Waller and Murphy. Junior Brian East is a very strong backup and Coach Mangurian likes senior Devan Luster. Juniors Ray Pesanello and Vinny Puglieseshould not be ignored. 

And really don't sleep on freshman Alec Davison. He's not only the best incoming linebacker in the Ivies, he may be the best freshman overall. 


The fourth-year starting QB would rank higher than the front seven as a team strength, but his injury troubles the last two seasons give a little pause here. By all reports, Sean is fully recovered and he will benefit from better coaching than his previous three years. OC Jaime Elizondo is also working as the QB coach and this will be an upgrade. 

Everyone's been enamored of Brackett's running speed since his debut against Yale in 2009. But his arm is underrated and dangerous, as is his knack, (when healthy), to avoid the INT. That's what Mangurian wants him to stay put in the pocket more this season... and he won't leave him hanging. The coaches have drawn up an H-back/receivers out of the backfield scheme that should give Brackett a lot more safe options when the pass protection collapses around him. 

Brackett's best quality is not completely tangible. He has the soul and the guts of a winner. That was really on display in the win over Brown last season and the win over Cornell in 2010. He's willing to sacrifice, lead, and perform when it counts. 


Another strength is TE Hamilton Garner. He's tall, has great hands and developed an excellent chemistry with Brackett last year. He made 2nd Team All Ivy, but he's being treated like an unknown in most of the other preseason previews. Garner is going to get a lot of catches this year and he's a key to the season. 


He has zero wins as a Columbia coach right now, but Mangurian is already a strength because he brings the maturity and discipline this program has needed for years. Getting rid of some of the negative influences at Columbia has already resulted in addition by subtraction. 

Lack of preparation really hurt this team, especially the last two years. And while the Lions may have new issues this season, I don't expect preparedness to be one of them. 

We'll miss you, Jeff!



Jeff Adams '12 is gone. Bob Hauschildt '12 is gone. Coach Mangurian has not given All-Ivy returning senior Scott Ward much of a vote of confidence. 

And it's on this unit where Mangurian is focusing his grand plan of using lighter players who hopefully stay stronger throughout a full game. 

If you're looking for some of the reasoning behind why Columbia is deliberately slimming down it's O-line to an average weight of 262 pounds, read these thoughts from the pretty successful O-line coach for Florida International, Alex Mirabal:

"In the first quarter you might be going up against a kid that is 325 pounds, but is that kid going to be in great shape in the fourth quarter and be playing at 325 pounds? Or is he going to be tired and rising up out of his stance? Now he is no longer a 325-pound kid and that to me is the importance. It’s not how much you weigh. It’s can you sustain that weight through four quarters? If you can sustain that weight through four quarters then be 380 pounds, but it doesn’t happen. So our mentality is a wearing down process. We do it by making them run when they don’t want to run. If we’re pass protecting and the ball is thrown I don’t want my guys standing there. I want them to go and try to discourage the guy. Go and give them that shove, go run them down the field. Make that defensive guy wear down throughout the process. Make that big joker have to try and get back up because it zaps their energy. It’s a mentality and a process that we practice."

I think the philosophy will make sense for Columbia in a number of games down the road, but it's going to be hard to take hold right away. A lot of these players will be getting on to the field at their new weights for the first time and that's a tough adjustment. 

Considering how crucial the offensive line for the success of any team, this unit has become the make-or-break ground zero for the 2012 Lions. If the front five play just well enough to avoid offensive chaos, Columbia has a shot at a 3-4 win season. If it surprises by playing extremely well, the sky's the limit.   


Columbia's search to find a real durable impact RB has been about as successful as most of the other teams in the Ivies over the past 10 years. 

Which is to say it has been entirely unsuccessful. 

There's nothing more rare these days than a 1,000 yarder rusher in the Ivy League. And that list just got smaller with the loss of 2011 1,000-yarder Chuck Dibillio at Princeton and the graduation of Nick Schwieger at Dartmouth. 

The Lions come into this season with serious questions at this position. Junior Marcorus Garrett has tremendous talent and could have a breakout season if he is fully recovered from ankle problems that plagued him last year. Senior Nick Gerst is also finally recovered from injury, but he's missed a lot of training camp and is catching up right now. Griffin Lowry was solid in emergency duty last season but never really had a breakout game. The lone fullback on the roster is sophomore Steven Silvio, who is another unproven entity. 

The most promising freshman is Cameron Molina, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the mix this season. Nick's younger brother Mike Gerst might factor as well. 

I'm as optimistic as anyone about the talent Garrett, Gerst, and the rest bring to the table. But this is a serious question mark that becomes even more troublesome when you add in all the issues with the offensive line. 


Whatever issues the Lions have at wide receiver, it's not about numbers. 16 wide receivers are on the Columbia roster right now and I can't remember a time when the Lions had more than 12. Impressive sophomore Connor Nelligan, sophomore transfer Jake Wanamaker, and experienced junior Louis DiNovo seem to have an inside track to start this fall. But none of them have the established chemistry with Brackett that Garner has at tight end or the now-graduated Mike Stephens and Kurt Williams enjoyed at times last year. 

Mangurian said in the spring that he expected the freshmen to make a real contribution here, and I have to think that Isaiah Gross was atop his mind when he said that. The San Diego speedster is also the tallest of the incoming frosh WR's at 6-2. 

I'm a little more optimistic about this group than the running backs right now, but again that comes heavy on hope and light on solid data to back it up. 


The secondary has plenty of personnel, but little of the proven talent evident in the front seven. 

Throw in an injury to senior safety Steven Grassa, and there are some concerns here.

Junior Marquel Carter may be the most talented veteran, but he needs to be more consistent and overcome what I'll call erratic behavior concerning his weight and health. 

The hardest worker is probably senior Brian DeVeau who seems to have the inside track at one starting corner position. Don't be surprised to see him fill in at wide receiver a bit too. 

But Coach Mangurian is very high on his incoming freshmen DB's, and he should be when it comes to players like Kevin McCarthy and Brandon Blackshear

There's no denying the secondary is a concern, but Coach Lempa is giving it his special attention and there is certainly no lack of sheer bodies to get the job done here. 

And with the strong front seven to lead the way, a weaker pass defense may not get exposed all that much in the end. 

Contrast that with the running backs and the wide receivers who DON'T have a proven O-line to lead the way and you can see why I've put this secondary last on the list of weaknesses to worry about this season.

Coach Mangurian needs at least a year to turn it all around

Game by Game

The last factor to consider is the actual 2012 schedule, and it's really unbalanced.

The first three games are at home and they are among the most winnable games of the season. Marist, Fordham, and Princeton all look weak compared to the rest of Columbia's opponents. 

The week four and five games at Lehigh and Penn are going to be very rough, but don't forget that Columbia has played better against the Quakers recently even at Franklin Field. 

Homecoming in week six against Dartmouth is winnable, but still tougher than the week seven challenge against Yale which is also at home. 

Then it gets really tough. 

The Lions close out the year with a road game at Ivy power Harvard, a home game against scoring powerhouse Cornell, and a road game against Brown. 

I see Columbia going 3-7 this season with their most likely wins over Marist, Princeton, and either Fordham, Yale or Dartmouth. A realistic best case scenario is the Lions win all five games against the aforementioned teams and go 5-5. 

As usual, I hope I'm wrong and Columbia puts together a winning season. I'm certainly not conceding any game, not even the Lehigh contest. But Mangurian is just beginning a process here and this was a 1-9 team last season after all. 

Patience is the hardest thing to sell for those of us who are already waiting 16 years for another winning season. But I expect this season to provide a lot of positive excitement whatever the won-lost record and that's something to look forward to.


jock/doc said...

what an opus!!

oldlion said...

Wilson won 5 games his first year, with less talent. I really think you are underestimating the ability of the front seven to keep us in games. Defense wins games. Always has, always will. When Cozza had his best years that was his mantra.

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up, but we have too little information about this year' team to make any predictions. Of course, our opponents have the same problem we do, namely how do you prepare to play a team shrouded in mystery. Bottom line is that you have to believe in Pete his coaches, and players, and I do!

RedTiger61 said...

.... with a lighter O-line, maybe we will be running a lot of no huddle .... this would make it difficult to have defenses play multiple defensive packages ... I do agree, the defensive front seven look pretty strong and my help with the defensive backfield ... one question I have is where Childress fits in .... if he's a DE, the Adebayo is odd-man-out .... I do think Padilla and Napier will get a lot of playing time ... I wonder if one of the two-way players could be Childress (at TE or H-back) ....

Anonymous said...

What kind of relationship do you have with Mangurian the other coaches?

Jake said...

I want to be as optimistic as possible. So I agree the defense can win us a lot of games. But none of us has seen the defense play yet, so caution is warranted.

Jake said...

Your point about the no-huddle is EXCELLENT. That could help us gas our opponents faster and make up for the weight disparities. I just looked at Marist's opening day starters and their defensive front three is very big, but I'd wager it's also prone to tiring out.

Jake said...

Right now, there is no relationship. I am trying to build some inroads but I suspect 1-2 people in the athletic department have warned Coach Mangurian to keep his distance. He'll either come around and realize I'm not a threat/annoyance or he won't. I'll just keep on writing either way.

lionrock said...

Jake, I just don't see how we can make any reasonable predictions at this time when so little is known about the team. Your write-up is a great summary of what we know, but until we have more specifics it is impossible to make any intelligent predictions. Yours is an excellent pre-season summary of what we know, which is not very much. About three weeks from now, we will obviously know much more about this team and where it is likely to finish in the Ivy League race. Having said that, my sense is that Coach Mangurian is an outstanding coach and that the Lions will do very well this season. However, until we have much more information on many different things, my good feelings are admittedly based more on faith than fact.

#1 Lion said...


First of all GREAT write up! As always, your insight and analysis is amazing! However, once again, we hear from blind followers of CU football who hope and pray that we will be good. Yes, in fact, we all hope for that, however, you need to be a REALIST! A couple of posts criticized your analysis of the team and their projected finish in the league this year. These are the same blind mice who said that our massive O-Line last year would guide s to 6-7 wins. And then there the people who say that you don’t know enough about the team this year to make these types of predictions. Seriously??? You are the resident expert! I know that you are just going off the facts. Members of this blog, wake up! There is no greater supporter of the tam than Jake! He’s just a realist! Last year, we lost 3-4 games on pure coaching mistakes alone. This year, that won’t happen! My personal pediction is a 4-6 season (and hoping for a better record). Coach M should EMBRACE Jake because he can rally more of the troops!

Anonymous said...

Great write up!

Footnote to points about RBs. We have not had an effective RB since Ray Range's senior senior season was cut in half due to injury. I'm not sure what Rangel did between his junior and senior years, but he ran like a completely different back in his senior year who, if he had remained healthy, looked like he was headed for a 1,000 yd. season. I am guessing that what changed was leg strength. He ran much harder and was much harder to bring down. If Rangel could do it, i.e., gain much greater leg strength, I don't understand why other runners have not.

-Dr. V

oldlion said...

What about Alec Fisher at RB? He looked good in limited appearances and in the kick return game.

Jake said...

I think Garrett and Gerst are the top 2 on the depth chart at running back with Lowry and possibly the frosh Molina in the hunt.