When you think of Columbia's Lon Little-coached football teams, which have been furrowing the Baker Field turf for the last 19 years, you think of the Luckmans, the Kusserows, the Swiackis. That's why the present Little eleven, which meets Harvard in New York tomorrow, is so unusual.
All of Lou Little's 1948 starters have been graduated, and this bit of poor fortune puts Little, who is regarded as something of a football magician (his best act is plucking an excellent passer out of the New York City streets and comes off every couple of years), in a rather embarrassing situation. This year his roster reads like an out-of-town phone book.
Six lettermen are back but they saw only very limited action last season because Little stuck almost exclusively to his first string eleven. There will be five sophomores on tomorrow's offensive lineup and five more on the defensive brigade.
Lions Adopt Two-Platoon Strategy
Little has thus been forced to climb on the two-platoon system bandwagon, even to the point of employing offensive and defensive coaches. A sixty-minute worker himself, Little is aided by such former Lion luminaries as Gene Rossides and Paul Governali.
In view of the general hodge-podge of personnel he drew this year, Little does not expect to show Lion followers a team in the old Columbia tradition this fall. He will "build" for a year or two and the following season he'll field another fine eleven.
Obviously, Little had to start from scratch this fall. He has three fairly experienced players, two backs and an end, who formed the so-called nucleus of the team; from there, Little and his nine assistants have had to experiment with sophomores and varsity holdovers with only a smattering of intercollegiate competition behind them.
The coaching staff's initial combination was adequate enough. It defeated Amherst by three touchdowns in Columbia's opener at Baker Field last Saturday. However, the brave Lord Jeff eleven hardly tested the Lions' gridiron savvy. It didn't put up much of a defense and it was no great shakes on offense.
What remains to be seem tomorrow is whether Little's sophomores gained enough experience from the game to make their presence felt. Harvard end coach Elmer Madar scouted the Light Blue last week and reported that Columbia is 20 percent better than the team which lost to the Crimson, 33 to 24, here last year.
Three Sophomore Linemen
Columbia's most capable lineman is Co-Captain Jim Ward, an agressive pass-catcher and the Lions' only experienced offensive end. The other end is Wes Bomm, a 6-3 soph. The tackles are two converted ends, Al Cannon and sophomore Gerry Cozzi; John Bacauskas, a burly 200-pounder, and Bill Pell, a reserve lineman last year, man the guard positions; and John Wagner, another soph, replaces Gene Shekitka at center. The average weight of the line is 187 pounds, Harvard's is about ten pounds heavier.
Quarterback Bob Russell handles the ball in Little's precision-timed winged T formation. Rossides' understudy last year, he suffered an ankle injury in practice and sat out the last six games. Under Rossides tutelage he had burgeoned into a first-rate passer. He also punts well and runs.
Co-Captain Loon Van Bellingham operates at fullback and his forte is running. Last year he was the fifth man in the backfield, subbing at halfback for Jack Nork end at fullback for Kusserow. He was ineligible for the Amherst game because he took a makeup exam during the summer and his mark just came in Wednesday. Madar thus didn't get a chance to see him.
The halfback posts are both held by sophomores, Don Kimtis at left half and Vern Wynott at right. Kimtis was the leading freshman ground-gainer last fall and can also pass reasonably well. The 160-pound Wynott was a high school sprint champion. This, incidentally, is an all-Massachusetts backfield quartet. The opposing quarterbacks, Bill Henry and Russell, are both from Worcester, and Henry's brother, Neil, is a spare Lion end.
Russell is the only man who plays on both the offensive and defensive contingents. The defensive line includes three more sophomores and the backfield two more. The six lettermen are spread over the two platoons; many of last year's varsity apprentices have shifted their positions to close gaps.