After finishing last in the Ivy League in 2002 with a 0-7 league record, Columbia can only look to improve. After gaining a new coach and beating Hobart 37-7 in a preseason scrimmage, the Lions remain positive about this regular season.
The 2003 Columbia football team features new coach Bob Shoop ’88 and many starters returning from last year, such as outside linebacker Evan Tryforos and wide receiver Zach Van Zant. Shoop has the Ivy League experience, and Columbia has the defensive and offensive players to recreate a competitive program.
In a press conference announcing his appointment as the new Lions’ new head football coach, Shoop said he is excited to work the Columbia team.
“I want to compete for an Ivy League championship,” he said. “There are obstacles, there are challenges that are unique to Columbia. We’ll solve them and get this thing done.”
Shoop is confident about his team because many important players are back. Two of Shoop’s go-to playmakers are wide receivers Travis Chmelka and Van Zant. Last season, Van Zant had 51 receptions for 592 yards and Chmelka 48 for 500 yards. Chmelka also returns as the league’s top punt returner. Shoop is looking for them to step up this season and make plays for bigger yardage; both averaged less than 12 yards per reception last autumn.
Columbia still needs to resolve who will be throwing to these top two receivers. Currently, there is a three-way dog-fight for the starting quarterback position between senior Steve Hunsberger, junior Jeff Otis and junior Joe Winters. Though Hunsberger played in 10 games last season, Shoop said both Winters and Otis are performing well.
On the defensive side, Shoop is looking for leadership from middle linebacker Chris Carey. A two-year captain, Carey is the “heart and soul” of the team, Shoop said. Last season, Carey had 65 tackles and two sacks.
Even though Columbia has many of its best players returning, this season will not be easy. Making the transition from one coaching style to another system is difficult. So far, Shoop said practice and spring football have gone well and the transition is working smoothly.
Shoop’s football experience began at Yale, where he played under Hall of Fame Coach Carm Cozza. He later served as Cozza’s assistant before moving to Division I programs such as Army and Boston College.
Shoop has also attempted to make this season easier by building the program on three pillars: playing with passion, playing with toughness, and playing together. If Columbia can execute, the Lions will have the foundation to avoid another winless season in the Ivy League.
Columbia’s Player to Watch: Evan Tryforos
Evan Tryforos is a senior from Glen Rock, New Jersey. He is Columbia’s returning leading tackler, and he was ranked 12th in total tackles in the Ivy League last fall with 73 tackles and two sacks.
“He is a consistent performer, quick off the edge when we blitz, and has gotten stronger and faster this summer,” Shoop said.
Besides Tryforos’ impressive statistics, he will be important this season in providing defensive leadership. Columbia’s ground defense ranked lowest in the league last season, allowing an average of 4.2 yards per carry. To improve upon last season’s 0-7 Ivy League record, the Lions need to shut down the run game. Tryforos can help them do this.