Monday, March 28, 2016

The Biggest Leap

Spring practice is when the coaches and players get to see just how much they need to improve on the field. Sometimes, massive amounts of improvement are possible, other times – not so much.

I’ve been watching Columbia football day by day for 30 years now, and no team improved more over the course of one offseason more than the 1994 Lions.

The ’93 Lions went 2-8, and were a marked disappointment after the 1992 team went 3-7 and won its final two games of the year. The ’93 team was outscored almost 2-1 and lost its games by an average of more than two TD’s per contest.

Just one year later, and Columbia was 5-4-1, scored almost 100 points more than the previous season and allowed one less touchdown per game.

Two players emerging from more minor roles in 1993, made the biggest difference in ’94: QB Mike Cavanaugh and DE Marcellus Wiley.   

Cavanaugh wasn’t actually the main starting QB, Jamie Schwalbe was and he had an excellent season. So did TE Brian Bassett, who remains one of Columbia’s all-time greats. But Cavanaugh and Wiley shook things up by playing the game very differently from everyone else in the league at the time. Cavanaugh was an extremely fast runner who could still hurt you with the pass and opposing defenses didn’t have an answer for them. Wiley dominated the defensive line, but also helped out at the fullback position in goal line situations. In the 22 years since, most of the Ivy schools have had a Cavanaugh clone or two while Wiley remains one of a kind.

But it wasn’t only about the way Cavanaugh and Wiley played, it was also about the new-look package the coaches inserted that offseason that made use of their talents.

Last year's Lions team was definitely a major improvement over the 2014 version of the team. But there's a lot of room for improvement for a squad that could have won 5-6 games, but ending up settling for two wins. 

Head Coach Al Bagnoli and his staff are currently installing a new look offense for 2016 that I predict will start to highlight the skills of some of our previously unsung players. We’ve seen some great evidence of the strength and weightlifting program, but don’t be surprised if another athletic skill makes an even bigger impact this fall. (That’s all I’m going to give say about that). Just how much that will affect the W-L record is obviously a mystery. But it’s a sure bet that one or two players already on the roster will step up in their new roles and that’s what makes watching this process the most fun. 

1 comment:

oldlion said...

Cavanaugh was also a great punt returner. Last season we had a first year who was a tough kid but was probably under orders just to fair catch the ball. This is one aspect of our game that needs improvement. You will recall that at least two punts were taken to the house by our opponents last year.