By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – After winning back-to-back Ivy League titles in 2009 and 2010, the Penn Quakers went 5-5 a season ago (4-3 in the Ivy League). Penn actually was in the mix for at least a piece of a third straight title, but consecutive losses to Harvard and Cornell to end the season dashed those hopes.
The Quakers averaged just a shade under 25 points a game last season and head coach Al Bagnoli likes what he sees from his offensive unit here as camp rolls on.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” Bagnoli tells KYW Newsradio. “We played so many young kids last year, that this year we have a lot less question marks. As with everything else, it starts up front so it is nice to have four out of five returning starters from last year’s offensive line. And then obviously it’s your quarterback scenario, and we have the benefit of having (senior) Billy Ragone back who is a two year starter.”
Listen to Matt Leon’s interview with Al Bagnoli:
Ragone completed 57% of his passes last season, throwing 11 touchdowns and running for an additional seven. Bagnoli says Ragone should have a lot of options to distribute the football to here in 2012.
“We are able to put a pretty good supporting cast around him with (senior) Brandon Colavita at tailback and (senior) Jeff Jack at tailback. We return all the wide receivers, minus one, from last year. So we have some experience and we have some depth. And I think we have a little bit more cohesion at this point, than we did at any point last year.”
Defensively, Bagnoli says he had some questions heading into training camp, but adds that he’s getting answers to those questions.
“We were concerned about the secondary and we were concerned about our down kids on defense and we’ve had some good young players in the secondary stand up and I think that will be a tremendous competition the entire season. We have more depth now than we’ve had probably in the last three to four years. And our defensive line scenario, we have a great player in (senior captain Brandon) Copeland. We need to get a little bit more depth there and once again it goes back to some of those younger kids, those sophomores, being able to step up and take that next jump. Right now, I think it’s coming. We’re still not ready, at this point, for game #1, but hopefully in another week or ten days we will be and those kids continue to progress.”
Copeland is a very special player. A first-team All-Ivy selection as a sophomore and a junior, the 6’3″, 280-pound Copeland had 51 tackles in 2011, including six for a loss and two sacks. He also comes into this season enjoying the rare status as a solo captain on this Quakers team.
“It hasn’t happened here since 1997 (just one player serving as team captain),” Bagnoli says. “He’s a unique kid. You don’t ever really get too many of those kids coming through your program. He’s a kid that not only has all those physical traits so he’s a great player on the field. he’s a great role model in the weight room, he’s a great role model watching film and preparing. In the training room and in the locker room. He has a really good way about him, and he has befriended more kids – even before he was captain. So he was just a landslide pick as captain.”
How well Penn does in the Ivy League slate may very well be determined by how they come out of their non-league slate. The Quakers have a brutal out of conference schedule which sees them match-up with Lafayette, Villanova and William and Mary.
“It’s (the schedule) going to be challenging,” Bagnoli says. “I think we’ll be pretty well prepared for the Ivy schedule coming off of Lafayette, Villanova and William and Mary as your non-league games. That should prepare us pretty well. Playing those kinds of athletes, hopefully will help us long term as we turn strictly into the Ivy schedule.”
Penn opens that schedule on September 15th when they travel to Easton for that match-up with Lafayette.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.