PRINCETON, N.J.—Columbia University Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football Al Bagnoli previewed the upcoming 2017 season and spoke about his team on the annual Ivy League teleconference on Tuesday. The league also announced its preseason media poll on Tuesday (listed below).
Each of the eight Ivy League coaches fielded questions from the media about their teams heading into the start of preseason practice. In addition, Ivy League Coordinator of Football Officials Jim Maconaghy was on hand to speak about several rules changes.
Bagnoli went into depth on what players to watch for this season, his youthful linebacker situation, the state of the program and Anders Hill at quarterback. Here is what Bagnoli had to say:
“It’s good to be with everybody. We are all anxious to start the season. As we look at our team as we enter year three, we probably have more depth, more positional competition. We are getting closer to be able to go out there with some experienced guys. At the same time, we still feel that we’ll need some young guys to step up and fill some our holes that we have. We enter the season cautiously optimistic, we have a lot of returning kids with a lot of playing time under their belt. Like everyone else, we’re optimistic about the progress made in the offseason with our strength and conditioning. We had the bubble for the first time—an indoor practice facility where we can now practice year-round, which I thought was huge. There’s an air of optimism here moving forward. If you’re going to start on evaluating our team, you look at quarterback. Anders Hill, the last 5-6 games of last season, I thought he played very well. He had some significant snaps under his belt and is unquestionably the leader of our offense. He will go into it as the No. 1 quarterback. Running back, we’ll go into it by committee. We have some young kids there complemented by older kids. We have a couple of talented freshmen coming in, so it will be interesting to see how that position plays out. The goal last year was to try to get some more explosive playmakers on the outside. We had two freshmen—Josh Wainwright, Ronald Smith, who both played considerable amount of time, along with another freshman Christian Everett. I think we’re much more experienced at the skilled positions. When you look at the tight end, we played a couple of freshmen—Rory Schlageter and Ben Hill—had to play as true freshmen. Both return and both have the chance to be pretty good players. The biggest progress we’ve made is up front. Our players when we inherited them, were tall and lean and they’ve seemed to fill out and really have had a good offseason. We have lots of good football being played by guys like Bewley Wales, a three-year starter, Charlie Flores, who has been a two-year starter and a two-year starter at center in Tyler Schonewolf and two-year starter in Markham Paukune. We seem to be in a better place offensively. It’s the second year in a row that we’re in the same offensive system and our players seem to be a lot more comfortable with what they’re doing.
Defensively, up front will be the strength of our defense. I think we can get eight kids there and rotate them through. At the inside positions, Lord Hyeamang is one of our captains, Dominic Perkovic has been around for three years, Alex Holme has played a lot, Arman Samouk played as a true freshman. At the outside positions, Mike Hinton, Ian Tyler, Connor Heeb and Daniel Delorenzi, all played quite a bit. We feel pretty good about it and feel that it will be a position of strength for us. As we move to the back, we feel pretty good about what we have returning. In the back, Cameron Roane has been a fixture at corner and Denzel Hill has played and started a couple of games last year at corner. Landon Baty started all 10 games at safety, so it’s just one position there that is up for grabs. The question mark—and it’s really more of experience—is at linebacker. We graduated all three linebackers last year. It will be up to our new players. Michael Murphy played some as a true freshman, Jalen Williams, Cal Falkenhayn and Sean White in the middle, Matt Tofano at the WILL position. We’ll have to sort that out during preseason camp. We’re also encouraged by our kicking game. Oren Milstein was a First Team All-Ivy League pick last year, so he gives us a great starting point at placekicker and PAT specialist.
The league is extremely competitive, lot of great players, really good coaches. We’re going to have to be at our absolute best moving forward. We’re doing the right things and we’re making progress.”
On the linebackers and what will be the strength:
“They’re athletic, that’s the good news. We have good size, good strength and good speed. They’ve played some special teams-wise, they’ve played some situational football. They just haven’t been asked to play 50, 60, 70 snaps in a game. That remains a question mark. I think it will be really healthy competition. We’re excited to see what they can do. They’ve worked hard in the offseason. When you have competition, that forces players to practice at a very high level. My hope is once the smoke clears, that we can identify five or six players that we can rotate through and pick up the slack for the players that graduated.”
On the state of the Columbia program in regards with where the program is now as compared to where he thought they would be:
“That’s a really good question. A couple of things had to change: the attitude and the culture of the program. Both have significantly changed. We’ve had to maximize our upperclassmen’s offseason and I think we’ve done a good job with that. We kind of inherited tall, linear kids. They weren’t as stout especially up front on the offensive and defensive lines as you would need them to be. We’ve addressed those issues. At the same we’ve only had two recruiting classes—we’ve been here for three seasons, but that first year we got hired so late. I think we’re on schedule. The players have been awesome, they’ve worked really hard. They’ve bought into vision of what we’re trying to do. Our whole goal was to make football enjoyable again. Our goal was to recruit enough good players where we can have some depth and positional competition. And our goal was to just stabilize everything from the coaches to the schemes to everything so they can know what to expect and maximize the abilities that they have. We’re like everybody else. We’re cautiously optimistic. We have enough pieces in place where if we play well, we’re capable of beating everybody and at the same time we’re fragile enough as a program where if we don’t play well, everyone can beat us. So, it’s going to be up the players and the coaches to see where we can take this. We are certainly optimistic and the kids have been awesome to work with.”
On the play of Anders Hill and what he brings to the table and his strengths at quarterback:
“As coaches you are always encouraged when you can look back at last year’s tape and see the same kid playing quarterback since that’s a pivotal position in today’s football. We are encouraged by that. He did a terrific job last year. Skyler Mornhinweg was the incumbent. Anders prepared like he would have a key role, Mornhinweg gets hurt, Anders takes advantage of it and I think brought his game to a different level. He’s a big, strong, physical kid, so he’s got tremendous arm talent. He can make all the throws. He can throw the ball to the field, he can throw the ball on comebacks and he’s a kid that I think can be a threat running the ball. I think he’s a guy that will flourish now that he’s comfortable in the system, he’s got some snaps, he’s got some confidence. I think we’ve surrounded him by some better players both up front and in the skill positions. We’re hopeful that he can continue his growth from last year and we’re optimistic that he can take the next step to be an elite player in this league.”
2017 IVY LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON MEDIA POLL PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
First Place Votes in Parenthesis
- Harvard (5), 120
- Princeton (6), 120
- Penn (5), 110
- Yale, 71
- Dartmouth, 60
- Brown (1), 57
- Columbia, 38
- Cornell, 36
Columbia kicks off its 2017 season on Saturday, Sept. 16 when it hosts Wagner at Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium. Columbia begins preseason practice on Monday, August 21. The Lions are set to practice 10 times before their scrimmage with Montclair State on Sept. 1 at noon. All players will report to preseason camp on Saturday, August 19.
Single game tickets for Columbia Football’s first two games of the 2017 season went on sale this morning. Tickets can be purchased for as low as $10 for general admission, $15 for reserved seats and $25 for premium chairback seats for Columbia’s season opener against Wagner on Saturday, Sept. 16 and its second contest against Georgetown on Saturday, Sept. 23.
Now is also the time to lock in your season tickets! Starting at just $45, Columbia Football season tickets are one of the most affordable, fan-friendly entertainment options in New York City. Purchase yours today at gocolumbialions.com/tickets or call 888-LIONS-11. The 2017-18 True Blue ticket package is also on sale now. Designed for our most loyal fans, the package includes a season ticket to Columbia football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball at a discounted rate. The True Blue package is your gateway to all of the great football and basketball action plus our interactive in-game fan experiences and enhanced game day atmosphere. Click here to view the 2017 Columbia Football Promotional schedule.