“I see a lot more guys get after it,” confirms senior co-captain Uche Osadebe. “Nobody is assured of a spot and everyone is going hard like he is a freshman all over again.”
While it might be easy to pass off increased intensity as a standard reaction to having a new coaching staff, senior co-captain Adam Brekke notes that there is palpable change on every drill and snap.
“We are developing what Coach [Norries Wilson] calls a ‘hard edge,’” Brekke explains. “We focus every play on winning a battle. It requires a certain adjustment in mentality and conditioning.”
The Lions’ third co-captain, Matt Barsamian, confirms this. “This season, practices are conditioning,” he notes. “We are in the best shape any of us have ever been in.”
“We really focus on competition and outworking them,” Brekke says. “We start practice running and end practice running.”
With a good deal of running in between.
“The team is still adjusting,” notes defensive coordinator Lou Ferrari. “They are getting better with the idea of the intensity the system requires.
“It requires people to be able to play multiple gaps and it requires a great deal of running.”
Ferrari is pleased with the progress the defense has made as a group and praised the efforts of linebacker Brekke as a leader of the unit. “He is very conscientious with a great attitude and a positive leadership style.”
Other players Ferrari cited were linebacker Drew Quinn (“strong and in great shape”), nose tackle Todd Abrams (“He stayed this summer, reconfigured his 262 pounds and got a lot stronger”) and cornerback Chad Musgrove (“He committed himself to Columbia this summer and is our best one-on-one coverage player”).
Linebacker has become an area of some concern depth-wise with the off-season departure of three players at this position, but several first-years have shown the potential for immediate contribution, including Justin Masorti, Lou Miller and Josh D. Williams. “All three are playing really well,” notes Brekke. “Everyone is going to be ready to play.”
The defensive line may be the scene of the most interesting position battles. Those positions have had the most day-to-day changes in the number of reps for each player. “Because of the kind of defense we play, the line requires rotating six or seven players,” Ferrari explains. “We have huge variances in the size and speed of our guys.”
Likewise, the offense has had competition for several spots, including receiver. Offensive coordinator Vinny Marino says Adrian Demko and Tim Paulin are having a healthy battle at one receiver. At inside slot, Jim Besselman and Austin Knowlin have both shown starting potential.
Marino is pleased with the play of another first-year. “Ray Rangel is doing a nice job at running back,” he says, adding, “Jordan Davis has pretty much solidified the starting job.”
Craig Hormann has impressed the coaching staff at quarterback, a position that has shaped up to a deep spot for the Lions. “Craig worked on his athletic ability, trimmed down and has made great mental improvements with our system,” Marino states. He also cites improvement from receiver Nick DeGasperis (“He understands the game really well”) and fullback Thomas Weldon.
On the offensive line, he names sophomores Mike Brune and Ralph DeBernardo as key figures. “They both put on 15 pounds and got stronger,” Marino notes, adding that center Mike Partain has had excellent practices.
“We can attack you a lot of different ways,” Barsamian adds about a unit that was a weakness last year. “Last year, I was the only one who had taken a snap. Everyone has a year under his belt now. We are coming together and relying on each other.”
“The kids understand how we practice,” Marino notes of the offense as a whole. “We practice up-tempo and they understand the expectation in practice has increased.”
Columbia plays a closed scrimmage vs. Harvard September 2 before opening the season vs. Fordham for the Liberty Cup September 16 at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium. Tickets are available.