Written by Zack Kellogg
The 2019 season for the Columbia Wildcats ended with multiple spots for improvement. Being outscored by 20 points per game over the season, letting up big plays on the defensive end and a 1-8 record is a tough resume for any program.
But entering 2020, Columbia Head Coach Greg Asbury sees an opportunity for a new wave of talent to learn the ropes and perform under the Friday night lights.
“We are very young this year, counting on a number of sophomores to fill the ranks. They came off a very talented freshman team and have put a great deal of effort into the offseason,” Asbury said. “We have a number of new, untested players that will be fun to watch. We look to have better football savvy and are more disciplined and harder working than last season.”
Two key returners stand out among a squad of new faces: all-conference junior offensive and defensive lineman Nico Rodriquez and senior wideout and defensive back Elijah Reece.
To turn the page and find success this season, the offense's key will start with the men in the trenches.
“The offensive line needs to play well for our young skill players to find success,” Asbury said.
Outside of the veteran Reece at receiver, Asbury pointed out newcomers Ikiaka Ho at running back and receiver Conner Burfiend as players with big-play potential and showing great improvement in summer camps. Matt Davis is chalked to be the starter at quarterback, taking over for the now College of Idaho Coyote, Austin Collett.
“Matt Davis has shown a great deal of improvement. He has gotten much stronger and is one of the best athletes in the weight room,” Asbury said.
There will be a minor change to the offense come the fall too. Assistant Coach Connor Sweesy is the new play caller, with an emphasis on controlling the clock with a strong run attack while giving Davis opportunities to air out passes in the balanced scheme.
Defensively, chunk plays plagued the Wildcats all season, giving up deep looks, quick points and falling behind by multiple scores.
“We need to control first down and be very aggressive to have success. We also need to improve the back end of the defense and not give up the big plays from last year,” Asbury said.
With an aggressive approach, the defensive line will need to show pressure and plug holes to force opponents to air it out and test the secondary and linebacking core.
Asbury wants teams to test the linebackers and secondary, as these groups are said to have shown major improvements in the offseason and could lead a defense to not only aggressively get into the backfield, but force turnovers and have the offense milk the clock.
The Wildcats enter the year, in Asbury’s words, as young and untested. With new faces, an aggressive defense and a new offense built for efficiency, Columbia could be giving any team a tough outing each week.
Check back with IdahoSports.com for updated Columbia scores and schedules throughout the season.