Any Brown fan will tell you that their football team’s 2-5 Ivy League record last year is misleading — the Bears, they will claim, are much better than a 2-5, bottom-of-the-heap club. And sometimes even Brown fans are right This year, don’t put too much stock in the seventh-place ranking in the media poll — look for Brown, lead by their all-star senior QB Kyle Slager, to once again threaten, and perhaps beat, some of the top teams in the Ancient Eight.
After all, the Bears, despite their seventh-place ranking in the 2003 Ivy League pre-season media poll, have more than a few things going for them. Four of the Bear’s five Ivy League losses were by a combined total of eleven points, including two-point heartbreakers to Princeton and Harvard. Only one Ivy matchup — against eventual league champion Pennsylvania — seemed out of the Bears’ reach last season.
In addition, senior quarterback and tri-captain Slager is likely to remain a significant threat, as he was the nation’s fifth-ranked passer last season. Sophomore receiver Jarrett Schreck, one-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week and hero in Brown’s loss to Fordham, may also play a crucial role. A powerful offensive line and a talented special teams unit will also help the Bears in their struggle to return to respectability.
All-in-all, a seventh-place ranking (only one slot and 20 votes over the abysmal Columbia Lions, who went 0-7 in the Ancient Eight last year) seems hardly appropriate for a team whose returning players have already proved they can pose a significant threat to some of the league’s older, more highly-touted programs.
Of course, don’t expect the mighty Quakers to be cowering in front of the Bears any time soon. Few expect Brown to win the Ivy League title, and rightly so — the Bears lost 28 of 65 lettermen and 16 of their 27 starters, and yet another rebuilding year after six straight .500 or better seasons can only be expected with such a young and inexperienced team.
Also, Slager aside, the Bears seem more than a little short on star power. They are a solid team with good players, no doubt, but most seem to fall a little short of “great” — the label often given to more than a few of Penn, Princeton, and even Yale’s footballers this year.
Even senior tri-captain Brent Grinna, who ran for 106 yards and caught 15 passes for 123 yards and a TD, junior linebacker Angel Guiterrez (44 tackles, 4 for a loss, and 2 sacks) and two time Rookie of the Week Jason Ching, who had three interceptions and 37 tackles, will have to work hard to impress the strong, star-studded H-Y-P teams. Grinna is no Robert Carr ’05, Guiterrez has nothing on Penn’s returning defensive leader Steve Lhotak (65 tackles, 14 for a loss, and 7 sacks), and Ching is certainly no Chris Raftery (Harvard ’03), who had 73 tackes and two pickoffs.
In short, the Bears are a decent team — one that doesn’t get enough credit, surely — but no more than that. They have a good chance at a decent record and certainly a role as a spoiler for one of the big three, but their championship chances seem slim unless they can put together a very, very solid defense and a receiving corps to support Slager.
Then again, it could be much, much worse for Brown fans.
They could be the Lions.
Kyle Slager’s no slacker
The quarterback is almost always the most important player on a football team, and when that quarterback is the fifth-ranked passer in the nation, he becomes an even more crucial element.
And if anyone is in a position to make Brown a contender in the race for the Ivy League crown, it’s senior tri-captain Kyle Slager, who threw 230 completions for 2,609 yards last season, his first with the Bears after transferring from Arizona. This season, the Columbus, Ohio native will have the Bear’s championship dreams resting squarely on the shoulders of his 6-1, 200 lb frame.
When he came to Brown, Slager was forced to learn an entire new offense, a change that is always difficult for a quarterback to adjust to. For some, the experience might be jolting, but if anyone knows how deal with offensive changes, it’s Slager, who has had a new head coach or offensive coordinator every year since his sophomore year at high school. And the Bears’ star QB seems to be as well-adjusted as he’ll ever be.
Brown head coach Phil Estes certainly seems to think Slager’s found his groove.
“Kyle stepped into a starting role last year with little experience in running our complex offense,” Estes told ivyleaguesports.com. “Once he started to grasp all of the reads late in the season, he became an efficient leader of our offense.”
Of course, adjusting to a new offense is far easier when you have experienced receivers to help you. Last year, Slager was blessed with the help of several senior recievers, including All-American Chas Gessner, who was the nation’s number one receiver in 2002-2003.
This year, however, Slager’s passes will be aimed towards the hands of a much younger, inexperienced receiving corps. Sophomore Jarrett Schreck, one-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week, will be expected to step up, as will 6-4 senior Lonnie Hill, who saw little playing time last year after missing the entire pre-season due to a bout of mono.
Slager will have to adjust once again — this time to his new receivers — if the Bears are to be successful in the Ancient Eight this season.