In the FCS Huddle: Deep QB class growing like Ivy
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Imagine this sobering concept:
You've been read your last rites.
For Dartmouth quarterback Conner Kempe, it happened.
As a high school senior, Kempe was involved in a near-fatal kite-boarding accident in West Palm Beach, Fla. A strong gust of wind picked up the kite- board he was flying and blew him about 300 yards to shore, where his body slammed into a parked car, a fence and a tree.
Kempe was air-lifted to a nearby medical center, where doctors first thought he had suffered severe brain damage or was paralyzed. It was there that he received last rites before he later made a full recovery.
That Kempe lived to tell his amazing story underscores the many remarkable quarterbacks in the Ivy League this year. All eight teams are returning their starter and some are calling it the deepest quarterback class in two decades.
Kempe heads into his senior season ranked sixth on Dartmouth's career passing charts, yet he's not even close to being the league's most decorated signal- caller.
There are three returning quarterbacks who have earned All-Ivy first-team honors: Penn junior Billy Ragone, who helped the Quakers win their second straight league championship last season as one of four finalists for the league's player of the year award; Columbia junior Sean Brackett, who shared top honors with Ragone; and Brown's Kyle Newhall-Caballero, who missed most of last season after winning top honors as a junior in 2009.
Also returning are the last two All-Ivy second-team selections, Yale senior Patrick Witt (2010) and Harvard senior Collier Winters (2009), and last year's Ivy rookie of the year, Jeff Mathews of Cornell.
In addition to Kempe's return at Dartmouth, senior Tommy Wornham is back at Princeton for his third season as the starting quarterback. When his junior campaign was cut short by injury at midseason last year, he was ranked 12th in the FCS in total offense.
"When you look at the quarterbacks in every single team coming back, that means it should be one of the most exciting offensive years in recent history," said Scottie Rodgers, the Ivy League's associate executive director for communications. "Granted they have to have the pieces around them."
Try to rank the Excellent Eight from the league known as the Ancient Eight and you might as well pull names from a hat.
Start at the top with two-time defending champion Penn. Ragone (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) is most dangerous as a rusher, having rushed for 548 yards and seven touchdowns last season, although he also is highly efficient as a passer and a leader. Ever popular in his home state of Connecticut, he's the one who got away from Yale.
Speaking of Yale, the strapping Witt (6-4, 220) is the one Ivy League player who can say he played in the Gator Bowl. He was the backup at Nebraska in 2009 for that game. In two seasons since he transferred to Yale, he ranks fourth in all-time completions (350), fifth in attempts (592), sixth in passing yards (3,665) and eighth in passing touchdowns (20). Both of his parents are commercial pilots, so, yes, the Bulldogs should consider him Air Witt.
Newhall-Caballero (6-3, 210) thinks he can reclaim the top spot among Ivy QBs, but, more importantly, lead Brown to the league title. He's a long way from the Caballero dairy farm in Arizona, but his passes stretch pretty far, too. When he was healthy in 2009, he ranked second in the FCS in completions (25.9 per game), 10th in total offense (281.4 yards per game) and 12th in passing yards (270.9 yards per game).
Last season, Brackett (6-1, 201) built on the excellent ending to his freshman campaign at Columbia. He's the best dual-threat quarterback in the league. He can run the ball like Ragone (516 yards last season), but is a more complete passer who threw for 19 touchdowns, which was the league high by seven.
When a laundry basket goes missing from the Harvard locker room, it can be found on the field with Winters. The smallest of the Ivy's starting signal- callers at 5-11, 190 pounds, he lugs it everywhere to pick up all the footballs he throws at targets across the field. He's been injury-prone at Harvard, including the first five games last season due to a torn adductor muscle, but the way he came back strong underscored his toughness. He's more of a scrambler than a drop-back QB and is a challenge for opposing linebackers.
Cornell quarterback recruits will have a hard time unseating Mathews (6-4, 207), who emerged as the starter by halftime of his first game last season. Coach Kent Austin entrusted the freshman to throw the ball more than any quarterback in the league but Witt and he turned his 172 completions into a 172.3 yards per game, which ranked third in the league.
If you want to know about Wornham's leadership skills at Princeton, consider that in the summer of 2009 he appeared in a Chinese reality show, teaching the art of the spiral to a Taiwanese rock band. They didn't speak each other's language, but Wornham (6-2, 210) made it work. He did the same with the Tigers last season, turning them into a passing attack, before he suffered a shoulder injury. Coach Bob Surace's offense will rely heavily on Wornham this season.
Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens didn't mind that Kempe (6-4, 225) rocketed past him on the Big Green's career passing yardage chart last season. Kempe has appeared in more games (23) than any of the Ivy's other starting quarterbacks. Although he's thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, a lot of the pressure is taken off him by the return of Ivy rushing champion Nick Schwieger.
Kempe was suspended from spring practice after being arrested for marijuana possession in Hanover, N.H., earlier this year. He was reinstated to the team last month.
The collection of quarterbacks is probably the deepest in the league since Jay Fiedler led an experienced group in 1993.
"There is a very good chance this is going to be one of the most prolific passing seasons when you talk about one through eight," Rodgers said.
The usual Ivy storyline of Penn and Harvard being the league's front-runners with Brown often breaking into the title mix could change because of the experience of the quarterbacks. Yale, Dartmouth's revived program and Columbia form the next tier heading into the season. Cornell or Princeton aren't ready to be title contenders, but their QBs might spur an upset or two to change the title race's complexion.
Clearly, the ivy will grow under center across Ancient Eight football programs this year.
07/20 14:27:48 ET