Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Our Pitch, Our Story

We sell New York. New York sells us

The Columbia football coaching staff is preparing to head across the country next week to seek out new 2017 recruits and solidify relationships with the many players we’ve already offered.

I’ve seen a number of totally questionable assessments of our 2016 class ranking it very high compared to all other FCS schools. I say questionable because it’s such a stretch to rank classes before any of the players even hit the field.

What I like best about our staff is that they have really chosen to be at Columbia and are true believers in the program and New York City. I wrote about that last year and I think whatever successes we will see from the 2016 class are a result of the staff’s unique experiences.

I think this year, the basic pitch has to be a little different. I would emphasize that Columbia was probably one of the worst college football teams of all time in 2013 and 2014 and it immediately became at least competitive in almost every game last season. I think Head Coach Al Bagnoli and the new staff have proven they can squeeze out a lot more from the existing personnel, but they’re just now building the talent to become a winning program.

Also, if I were on the staff I’d include a lot of positive personal stories about what it’s been like for them living in New York City during this first year on the job. This is a VERY important mutual experience they will share with all the recruits who decide to commit to Columbia. New York City and the area around Columbia overall has improved so massively since I was a student from 1988-92, that it really has to be seen to be believed. It’s a great place to be a young person right now. The question should be asked about why Columbia’s Ivy rivals, especially the rivals in urban areas like Harvard, Penn, and Yale, never seem to tout their home cities very much. It’s not that those cities are bad, (although New Haven is one of my least favorite places), it’s that those schools don’t look at their cities as essential educational tools for their respective college experiences. “Columbia is where you’ll learn to be a student, New York City is where you’ll learn to be a man.” Just try inserting the words “Boston,” “Philadelphia,” or “New Haven” at the end of that sentence and listen to how flat and out of place it sounds.

That said, there has to be a realization that for some recruits and their families New York will be a negative factor and nothing will change their minds about that. It’s important that our recruiters recognize that quickly and move on.

I like our chances of grabbing some very good players in the coming weeks and months. But there’s a lot of work ahead. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Who’s the Dark Horse?

Troy Jones Scoring a TD against Columbia in the 1997 season opener. This was the breakout game for the Harvard football program

Thanks to great recruiting and the brilliant parking of many committed players in prep schools for PG years, a lot of people believe Yale is poised for a breakthrough year this season or perhaps in 2017.

But Based on this report, there really isn’t much to suggest Yale is poised for greatness this fall. Of course, a lot of those super freshmen won’t join the team until August so stay tuned. 

But if 2016 turns out to be a dud for the Bulldogs, I feel like Tony Reno will have only one more year to make Yale a winner before he’s out. The pressure is on.

I’m not sure that pressure will produce good results in New Haven.

So if the favorite dark horse team doesn’t make that move this fall, which team will?

Every year, an unexpected team shoots into the top three of the Ivies. Last year it was Penn, which by season’s end was playing the best football in the Ivies and ended up tied for the title. In 2014, it was Yale. And 2013 was all about Princeton’s surprise rise to a shared Ivy championship.

Penn’s four win improvement in league games from 2014 to 2015 is an extremely rare occurrence in Ivy history. A four win improvement has only happened nine total times in the 60 seasons of official Ivy football. And only two other times did that improvement result in a title of any kind.

But the greatest one season improvement in total Ivy wins over the course of just one season was achieved by the 1997 Harvard Crimson who went from 2-5 in league play in ’96 to a 7-0 undisputed title season a year later. Since that jump in what was the fourth season under Tim Murphy, Harvard has been the most dominant Ivy team overall.

Here’s a look at the 10 total four and four game Ivy win improvements, year-over-year

Five Game Improvements (1)

1997 Harvard (2-5 in 1996 to 7-0 in 1997 and an Ivy title)

Four Win Improvements  (9)

1959 Yale (0-7 in 1958 to 4-3 in 1959)

1971 Columbia (1-6 in 1970 to 5-2 in 1971)

1979 Princeton (1-4-1 in 1978 to 5-2 in 1979)

1982 Penn (1-6 in 1981 to 5-2 in 1982 and a shared Ivy title)

1986 Cornell (2-5 in 1985 to 6-1 in 1986)

1990 Cornell (2-5 in 1989 to 6-1 in 1990 and a shared Ivy title)

1999 Cornell (1-6 in 1998 to 5-2 in 1999)

2004 Cornell (0-7 in 2003 to 4-3 in 2004)

2015 Penn (2-5 in 2014 to 6-1 in 2015 and a shared Ivy title)

It’s probably just a quirk that Cornell has pulled off the four-win improvement feat more times than any other program. But it’s statistically significant that when Penn did it last season it was the first time in 11 years anyone had achieved it.

The bad news for Columbia and Cornell is that an improvement of four games or better has never happened in consecutive seasons.

Transformations from Ivy bottom dwellers to champions are usually much more gradual. And that’s something that seems likely to continue in a league where no one graduates early. Dartmouth’s path from 0-10 in 2008 to champs in 2015 is a bit longer than the usual waiting period, but the Big Green were serious contenders about two years earlier than that. So perhaps that sets the bar at a more realistic 5 years or so before fans should start to question a team or coaching staff that’s made no visible movement out of the cellar.

If Columbia improves by three Ivy wins from 1-6 to 4-3 this fall, no one would deny that would be a historic jump. A four-win improvement is almost beyond imagination. But it is something Head Coach Al Bagnoli has never done, even with the turnaround jobs he accomplished at Penn over the years.

It’s good to know Bagnoli won’t be just trying for an even 10 Ivy titles during his tenure at Columbia.

Any Others?

A few other pundits believe Princeton will be the surprise team this year after a disappointing 2014 and a generally weak 2015. I like the Tigers running attack, but I’m not sold on the rest of the team.

I’m usually a big believer in Coach Phil Estes and Brown, but there’s still a lot of holes to fill on a Bears team that is going through one of its longer droughts lately.

Cornell just doesn’t seem like much of a threat at all.

You could argue that if Dartmouth wins four Ivy games or more that the Big Green would be a dark horse surprise because everyone is expecting a big drop-off in Hanover this year.

But it seems more likely that if there’s going to be a breakout team this season, it’s going to be Columbia. Even though I’d argue going from being totally uncompetitive for two years to being competitive in nine games out of ten last year was almost a breakout situation for the Lions in 2015. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Spring Game Notes

It still seems a bit wrong to get back to day-to-day matters so soon after Bill Campbell’s passing.

But the team lives on, and the program will live on thanks mostly to the efforts and generosity Campbell exhibited over the last 30 years.

 Now to the “Spring Game…”

I put that in quotes because as we were told a few days before, the “game” was really just a practice with some scrimmaging.

The best part of it all was the very large attendance. This was definitely the best-attended spring practice wrap up I’ve ever seen. About 25 incoming freshmen and their families were there. Also, some 2017 and even some 2018 potential recruits attended.

The big BBQ afterwards was fantastic. There was very good food and plenty of chances to mingle from picnic table to picnic table to talk to the coaches, players, etc.

But as for on the field results, here’s a quick summary of how I and some of my fellow fans saw the action:

-QB Anders Hill is a lot more accurate with his throws. He was spotty at that last year, especially in the Cornell game.

-We saw a lot more deep throws than we saw maybe all of last year. This needs to be at least a part of our offensive attack.

-The receivers look better, but still have some trouble getting catchable balls.

-Three players we didn’t see too much of last year who stood out were DE Connor Heeb, DB Ryan Gilbert, and WR Tre Gabriel.  Heeb is a rising junior while Gilbert and Gabriel are rising sophs.

Heeb did a great job rushing the passer time after time. It’s not clear how he does against the run.

Gilbert was showing the most enthusiasm on the field and was in on a lot of stops and good plays.

Gabriel bulked up but kept his speed and it sure looks like he will play a role in the offense this year. He scampered in with a reception for a TD.

-PK Cameron Nizialek looked a lot better. Incoming kicker Oren Millstein, who had a big offer from Georgia, may already be pushing him.  

-Alan Watson played well and had one good long run for a TD. He got shaken up on one play, but walked off the field and came back a little later.

-Lord Hyeamang looked generally good at DT.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Probably the best supporter of Columbia Athletics of all time has passed away.

Bill Campbell has died at the age of 75.

Our condolences go out to his family.

We did not always agree, but I always respected Campbell and his devotion and intentions for the best at Columbia were never in question.

I know I'm not the only one who thinks that Campbell's old #67 should be remembered with a black #67 patch that the team wears on all uniforms to honor him this season.

In fact, I think ALL Columbia sports team should wear that patch for the next year.

Friday, April 15, 2016

5 Spring Questions

I’m sure almost everyone has seen the video of Head Coach Al Bagnoli, and new assistants John Audino and Ricky Santos reviewing spring practice so far and previewing the spring game/scrimmage tomorrow afternoon. 

Bagnoli made it clear that we won’t see a regular game tomorrow, but we’ll see quite a bit that should help us figure out where the team is headed.

The top feature will be anything we see of the new high speed/no huddle offense the team has been working on transitioning to all spring. I doubt we’ll see it going full tilt at this early stage, but any hint would be exciting.

Here are five key questions we might begin to answer by watching the spring game:

Who’s Gonna Carry the Rock?

Who’s in the lead to replace the graduating Cameron Molina at running back? I admit that coming into last year, I liked Molina a lot but only thought he was a marginal Honorable Mention All-Ivy player. Molina then turned in a legit 1st Team All Ivy year, which was good news when he did it but is bad news now because it leaves a bigger hole to fill.

That means the spring game will be the last chance for presumptive successors Alan Watson and Chris Schroer to show what they can do before impressive freshmen like Lynnard Rose and Tanner Thomas get their shots in training camp.

Who’s On the D-Line?

Columbia’s graduation losses on the stellar 2015 D-line are extensive. My sources say their replacements started pretty slowly this spring. But let’s see if players like Dominic Perkovic,  Lord Hyeamang, and Alexander Holme can show us something tomorrow. I do know the coaches felt Perkovic was snubbed for All Ivy recognition last year and Hyeamang has the tools to be a dominant player.

Is Hill Showing Real Signs of Improvement at QB?

With Skyler Mornhinweg out of spring practice because of injury, Anders Hill has been the undisputed #1 QB in the spring. I don’t expect him to be allowed to showcase his running ability in a practice game, but that’s a good thing because it’s his pure passing ability we want to check on anyway.

Do We Get a WR Upgrade?

 Columbia just didn’t have a go-to receiver last year, and some of that was because of injuries. Top WR Scooter Hollis is coming back in the fall for a 5th year, but he’s not participating in spring practice. Marcus Briscoe was looking good this spring but he tweaked his hamstring again, so he’s out as a precaution tomorrow. That means rising junior Cameron Dunn has a good chance to show some improvement before he’s really forced to compete for passes not only by the returning Briscoe and Hollis, but also incoming freshman Josh Wainwright who may be the best offensive player in the class of 2020.

Are the Linebackers as Good as Advertised?

Columbia sure seems to have an embarrassment of riches at this position. All three 2015 starters from this strong unit return in 2016, plus the guy who was supposed to be a starter but lost most of the year to injury. This talented and veteran group led by Christian Conway, Keith Brady, Gianmarco Rea, and Hagen Patterson, should look dominant at times tomorrow.

The spring game begins at 4:30pm tomorrow. See you there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Late Addition

Justin Hill

A Twitter scan and a tip from a reader has yielded the name of the 41st name on our incoming freshmen list.

His name is Justin Hill, a 5-9, 160 -pound speedy all-around athlete from Springfield Township HS in the greater Philadelphia area. Hill played in the same league as fellow incoming freshmen Alex Gibson and Lamine Nouck-A-Nwal. He played a dual threat QB and as a DB last season.

Hill made his commitment late, (or maybe he was offered late), and announced it on March 19th.

Hill would be the first documented Springfield Township grad to come to Columbia football.

Hill made Honorable Mention in the Philadelphia Inquirer's all suburban team.

Apparently, getting the offer from Columbia was a surprise for Hill. After Springfield lost in the playoffs last fall, Hill said he thought that was his last football game ever. 

That brings our list of reported incoming freshmen players to 41:

1) Kyle Baskin WR/DB 6-4 210 lbs. Quakertown HS Quakertown, PA

2) Christian Boujaoude WR 5-11 165 lbs. Monmouth Regional HS Eatontown, NJ

3) Parker Coogan OL/DT 6-2 270 lbs. Kingwood HS Houston, TX

4) Matt Dame QB 6-2 185 lbs. Suncoast HS Riviera Beach, FL

5) Chris Everett WR 6-2 200 lbs. Whitney Young HS Chicago, IL

6) Danny De Lorenzi LB 6-3 230 lbs. Bergen Catholic HS, Oradell, NJ 

7) John Fischer OL 6-3 290 lbs. Sacred Heart-Griffin HS Springfield, IL

8) Michael Geraghty DE 6-3 242 Bishop Gorman HS Las Vegas, NV

9) Alex Gibson RB 5-10 195 lbs. Central Bucks High School East Doylestown, PA

10) LinDon Harris DE 6-2 215 lbs. Sidwell Friends Washington, DC

11) Ben Hill TE/DE 6-3 230 lbs. Christian Brothers HS Memphis, TN

12) Justin Hill QB/DB/ATH 5-9 160 lbs. Springfield Township HS Glenside, PA

13) Tyler Houston DE/TE 6-3 245 lbs. Olentangy HS Lewis Center, OH

14) Hunter Lunsford DB 6-1 195 lbs. Consumnes Oaks HS Sacramento, CA

15) Ben McKeighan WR/DB 6-0 187 lbs. Scottsdale Prep/Cheshire Academy (PG year) Scottsdale, AZ

16) Levi McQuinn LB 6-0 205 lbs. Fort Myers HS Fort Myers, FL

17) Oren Milstein K 5-9 165 lbs. American Heritage HS Plantation, FL

18) Max Mullaney LB 6-2 225 lbs. Colts Neck HS Colts Neck, NJ

19) Michael Murphy LB 5-11 194 lbs. Plant HS Tampa, FL

20) Van Neils RB 6-0 210 lbs. Mankato East HS Mankato, MN

21) Lamine Nouck-A-Nwal DE/OL  6-4 250 lbs. Central Bucks High School East Doylestown, PA

22) Zach O'Neill DE/OL 6-2 225 lbs. Monsignor Farrell HS Staten Island, NY

23) Will Ontiveros WR/DB 6-2 175 lbs. Assumption HS Davenport, IA

24) Hunter Petlansky QB 6-2 225 lbs. Modesto Central Catholic HS Modesto, CA 

25) Kaleb Pitts WR 6-3 175 lbs. Hamilton HS, Chandler, AZ

26) Alex Robin DT 6-0 260 lbs. Vestavia Hills HS Vestavia Hills, AL 

27) Lynnard Rose RB/DB 6-0 180 lbs. Second Baptist HS Houston, TX

28) Arman Samouk DT 6-2 270 lbs. Copley HS Copley, OH

29) Rory Schlageter TE 6-3 225 lbs. Seton Hall Prep West Orange, NJ

30) Drew Schoeberl DE/TE 6-5 250 lbs. Columbus North HS Columbus, IN

31) Joseph Scowden OL 6-4 290 lbs. Montgomery Bell HS Nashville, TN

32) Ronald Smith DB/WR 6-3 190 lbs. John Burroughs HS St. Louis, MO

33) Tanner Thomas RB 5-10 183 lbs. Farragut HS Knoxville, TN 

34) Matt Tofano LB 6-2 217 lbs. Archibishop Mitty HS San Jose, CA

35) Ian Vandenberg WR/RB 6-2 198 lbs. Paw Paw HS Kalamazoo, MI

36) Josh Wainwright WR 5-11 170 lbs. Bowie HS Austin, TX

37) Jonathon Webster DB  6-0 180 lbs. Eastside Catholic HS Sammamish, WA

38) Taylor Weldon DE/TE 6-2 240 lbs. Soutland Academy Americus, GA

39) Isaac Werkman OL 6-6 265 lbs. Lewis & Clark HS Spokane, WA

40) Jared West LB 5-11 205 lbs. Bishop McNamara HS Kankakee, IL

41) Jalen Williams LB 6-0 215 lbs. Hewitt-Trussville HS Trussville, AL

Friday, April 8, 2016

McElreavy Moves on

Former Columbia Head Coach Larry McElreavy is leaving the head coaching job at Newport HS and going to take over the same position at Pembroke Academy in the Concord, NH area.

High school football coaches need other jobs, and that's why McElreavy who also works as a realtor, needed to move to a more economically vibrant area.

Pembroke has not sent any players to Columbia football, but perhaps now that will change.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Key Piece...

John Hunton and family

It seems like every year, I'm pining away for a steady and reliable Tight End target for our Columbia QB's to rely on. It's pretty hard to measure the huge value that kind of weapon can be for an offense.

Columbia has had some great TE's in my 30 years of watching the team. Guys like Matt Less, Brian Bassett, Wade Fletcher and Andrew Kennedy come to mind. 

Rising senior John Hunton is starting to show signs that he may be ready to join the above list. He played at an unfairly overlooked level last year, but now he's stepping it up even more. 

Hunton had what I would call a solid season last year with many flashes of brilliance. His fellow TE, the graduating Hank Trumbull, got a lot of attention because of some of the big plays he was involved in. But Hunton took most of the snaps. His effort and concentration during his TD catch vs. Harvard was probably the high point. But it was also very instructive on how sure-handed Hunton happens to be.

Now that new QB Coach Ricky Santos has let the cat out of the bag that the Columbia offense will be extremely up-tempo and no-huddle this fall, (almost like the U. of Oregon), the importance of a reliable emergency valve TE to throw to or fool a tiring defense with is maximized.  

Here's the exact quote from Santos:

“The hardest thing is putting in a new offense,” he said, but that’s exactly what the Lions are doing. “We’ll be up-tempo, no huddle.” 

Hunton could be emerging at just the right time to make his senior year extremely memorable. If he plays even at and All Ivy Honorable Mention level, this could be a special season for the Lions.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New Day, New Jerseys

The Columbia Football Twitter feed announced yesterday that the latest winners of the Black Jerseys from Sunday's practice were senior FB Jackson Conway on offense and senior LB Keith Brady on defense.

Conway received fewer accolades than his twin brother Christian last year, but he was a huge help as a blocker in the running game and in pass protection. I don't think his role will change to more of a ball carrier or pass receiver in 2016, but he's an essential cog for the offense. Having him back there really is like having another wing of the offensive line.

Brady had one of the most significant step up seasons for the Lions last year, stepping in for the injured starter Hagen Patterson and finishing the season as the team's leading tackler. With Patterson back from injury AND all the 2015 starting linebackers returning, the second two line of the Columbia defense are looking about as elite as we've seen them in 20 years. So, it's good to see Brady not resting on his laurels and tearing it up in practice.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Black Jerseys


Progress reports during spring practice used to either non-existent or overly general.

But now this spring, we’re getting more than just the usual bits of video, etc.

The coaching staff is basicallynaming offensive and defensive players of the week by awarding them “Black Jerseys.”

Apparently, there are two new winners for this past weekend’s set of practices. But the previous winners were DB Colin Early on defense and LT Kendall Pace on offense.

If they keep it up, both of those players could really help the Lions 2016 chances. Columbia’s secondary looked strong coming into this season even without Early emerging as another talent. But if he can complement the very good Jared KatzCameron Roane and Brock Kenyon, Columbia’s secondary could be an elite unit in the league.

Pace’s improvement is a key factor in the Lions chances to go from having a decent O-line to a very good one. With a new starting RB and a new offense being put in place, the usual crucial need for a good offensive line is even more urgent now.

New Star?

I really liked what I saw from then-freshman WR MarcusBriscoe in 2014. I liked him so much I thought he might be our leading receiver in 2015 and I even told some of the guys who cover other Ivy teams about him. But Briscoe missed the entire 2015 season due to an injury. The good news is that Briscoe looks good in spring practice so far and he was even featured burning a defender badly on one of the football programs quick video snippets on the Twitter feed.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Full Integration

Readers of this blog have often read about my wishes for a head coach and a football program that were truly a part of the overall university experience, even intellectually.

This was the way it was in the days of Lou Little, but not since.

I'm getting my wish with Head Coach Al Bagnoli in many ways.

The latest example comes from Columbia Business School where superstar Prof. Adam Galinsky invited Bagnoli to speak at his management seminar.

Success and leadership, in sports and in business, are valuable commodities and the experts know it when they see it.

The Golden Ticket

Last evening, the eight Ivy League schools sent out the emails confirming acceptances and rejections for undergraduate applicants. Columbia's admit rate fell again, now at a stunningly low 6.1% The chances of getting in to Columbia and most of its Ivy school peers are basically impossible, making an invitation to come to CU more coveted than ever before.

Twitter was filled with a few celebratory Tweets from happy admitted applicants, and a massive number of disappointed rejects.

At the same time, Twitter remains heavily populated by high school juniors celebrating their offers from Columbia football recruiters. I wonder how many of them know just how valuable those offers are at a school with a 6.0% admit rate. Do they know how tens of thousands of disappointed rejected applicants are probably wishing they were good football players right now?

And most importantly, how many of these students we're offering the virtual "golden ticket" have come to the wise realization that any non-Ivy offers they get from here on should be soundly ignored. If you spurn your Columbia offer to go to another Ivy or a school like Stanford, Michigan, Northwestern, or even UCLA... I get it. But when I see kids with Ivy offers choosing to go to places like UTEP, Central Arkansas, or the gosh darned Montana School of Mines, (yes, that did happen), I have to wonder, (trigger warning alert!!): are these kids and their parents tragically stupid? I mean, is someone who is either too stupid or too afraid to go to Columbia or any Ivy in favor of riding the bench at a mid-major school worth the risk of putting on the football field anyway?

I tend to be a lot more tender to recruits and their families, but after seeing what so many of my friends who are parents of college-applying kids are going through, I've lost my patience for people who don't know how to appreciate something of rare and ever-increasing value. And I say this as someone who doesn't think the Ivies are the be-all and end-all, but as someone who knows the value of an Ivy degree over the course of a lifetime.

So here are 5 things to remember if you or your kid has been offered a spot in an Ivy football program:

1) You just got handed a winning lotto ticket.

2) All non-Ivy, non-elite school offers from now on should be ignored. 

3) If you still think you can make the NFL, going to an Ivy school won't hurt your chances. It will help them.

4) If finances are really an issue, most Ivy schools will provide significant aid. 

5) If exploring career and internship opportunities while you're in college is a priority, then Columbia is your obvious best choice.