Like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield and singer Aretha Franklin, Ray Priore’s Penn Quakers can tell you all about respect. Or rather the lack of it.
Despite owning a piece of the Ivy League title both seasons since Priore replaced longtime Quaker coach Al Bagnoli, the so-called “experts” aren’t convinced. They picked Penn for third in their annual pre-season poll behind Harvard and defending co-champ Princeton, even though the Quakers return 14 starters, eight on defense.
But since departed quarterback Alek Torgersen isn’t one of them there’s skepticism Priore and Co. can make it three in a row.
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They don’t seem to mind. “We’ve proven who we are on the field over the last two seasons,” said wide receiver All-America candidate Justin Watson, who’ll finally get his senior season underway Saturday when Penn takes on Ohio Dominican Saturday at Franklin Field. “We’ve been picked third after back-to-back championships, and we love that. We’re excited to get out on the field and prove it all once again. We love being the underdog. The goal hasn’t changed, we’re striving for an outright championship.”
The role of taking over for Torgersen, who was just signed to the Redskins’ practice squad, has been up for grabs between Ryan Glover, Will Fischer-Colbrie and Nick Robinson, none of whom was on the team last season. It wasn't until this week that Priore decided Fischer-Colbrie, who transferred from Colorado, will get the opening nod.
“All three of the quarterbacks have done a tremendous job so far in camp,” said Priore, cautious not to tip his hand. “It’s a good, healthy competition so far. But we have a culture we’ve built here and there’s a process to everything. That process takes time to develop. That’s how the best teams I’ve been around in my tenure have succeeded and that’s how we try to operate here.”
According to Watson the coach deserves much of the credit.
“Coach Priore is a phenomenal listener and has compiled a top-notch staff,” said Watson, who caught 89 passes for a school record 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns, while rushing for 133 more. “He listens to the staff and listens to the leaders on the team and he incorporates everyone’s opinions as much as possible. That’s what makes us want to play for him.”
As for the quarterback uncertainty Watson’s confident it won’t hold the Quakers back.
“Our whole wide receiver group has worked with all the quarterbacks in spring ball and throughout camp to build our relationships and fine tune the little things,” added Watson, named team captain. “I’m really glad that I didn’t have to make that decision.”
It’s one of the few Priore had, considering the Ivy’s top rusher, Tre Solomon (176 carries for 907 yards and nine touchdowns), along with defensive stalwarts Colton Moskal, (team high 89 tackles) Sam Philippi and Louis Vecchio. But they’ll have to go without Mason Williams, who transferred to Duke, taking his six interceptions with him.
But Priore, who spent 28 years as a Penn assistant, including a decade as Bagnoli’s lead assistant, says the Quakers will manage just fine without both him and Torgersen.
“We have some good experience and very good players returning at key positions," said Priore, whose club next heads to Lehigh, before opening defense of their Ivy title Sept. 29 vs. Dartmouth. “We’re fortunate to have a strong core to build off.”
Perhaps even strong enough to make it three-for-three and just maybe earn some long overdue respect?