The 3 talking points: Columbia Academy CougarsBy JOSHUA CAMPBELL,
1. What they can hang their hat on
In 2016 when the Cougars had perhaps their best season in recent memory, they had stars like Wiley Cleland, Luke McKenzie and Owen Harper that grabbed the headlines, but it was the offensive line that made it all possible. Columbia Academy was absolutely massive up front, with three starters over 300 pounds, and the line paved the way for the playmakers to rack up yardage and find the end zone.
Now the Cougars have a rarity on their hands: All five starters up front are seniors. Jacob Bain, Cole Rowell, Colby Thompson, Daniel Herrera and Hunter Courtney all return to form an experienced group that knows what to expect week to week and can open up holes for Riles Stuart and protect Ras Pace. If it plays up to its potential, the offensive line can be the reason the Cougars take a big leap forward in 2019.
2. What they can improve on
Columbia Academy’s turnover margin was dreadful in 2018. The Cougars went from plus-5 in 2017 to minus-7 a year ago. It was none more evident than in the play of Pace. The third-year signal caller’s touchdown-to-interception ratio went from 30:8 all the way down to 12:13. While it wasn’t all his fault even if quarterbacks tend to get all the credit and all of the blame, there were times last year when he didn’t seem nearly as comfortable in the pocket.
The defense only forced two less turnovers while the offense turned it over 10 more times than the year before. There are a lot of different ways it can be looked at. The Cougars had a completely new receiving corps last season, the offensive line featured four new starters and there was a change in offensive coordinator. Whatever the main culprit was — and it was likely a combination of the three — if the Cougars can’t find a way to better protect the ball it’s going to be a long season.
3. The X-factor
Columbia Academy’s speed and physicality in the front seven. It’s a rarity in high school football to have even one player rack up more than 120 tackles in a season. The Cougars managed to have three players reach 145!
Patrick Gill and Kris Ginn lead an extremely fleet-footed and athletic linebacker corps, and the duo combined for 294 tackles in 2018.
When you watch the Cougars’ defense play, No. 12 (Gill) and No. 8 (Ginn) are all over the place roaming sideline to sideline, and they’ll lay the wood when they reach the football, too.
Cole Rowell also had 145 tackles as a linebacker last season, but he’s transitioning down to defensive end. If he can bring that same type of motor and athleticism to his new position, the Cougars will be hard to run on in 2019.