For the first time since 2003, the defending champion Penn Quakers
find themselves the hunted, rather than the hunters, in the Ivy League
this season. They’re also a win away from the prestigious 800 mark in
school history, with longtime coach Al Bagnoli three wins from passing
George Woodruff as the school’s all-time winningest coach.
But none of that is weighing on anyone’s mind as the Quakers prepare for their Sept. 18 opener versus Lafayette.
“I’m worried about our next practice,’’ said Bagnoli, whose 8-2
club won its final eight games last year. “When you’re in the
preseason, you’re oblivious to everything.’’
Well, maybe not everything. His players know that Harvard was picked as the preseason Ivy favorite.
“The Harvard thing is some good motivation as the time comes,”
said Bagnoli. “When you’re defending champions with 15 starters back
and still picked second it’s a bit of a slight. We’ll use it.”
There are some worries, too. Bagnoli isn’t sure if starting
quarterback Keiffer Garton, who missed five games last year with elbow
and knee problems, will be ready to go right away. But most of Penn’s
motivation will center on defensive lineman Owen Thomas, who committed
suicide April 26. The players insisted Thomas’ jersey be included in
the team captain’s photo and will wear a special decal in his memory
while keeping his locker vacant.
“It was real tough at first,” said Garton of Thomas, who led the
team in sacks, “but I think it’s brought us closer to together. We all
miss him and want to do this for him.”
What better way than surprising the experts and winning the Ivies again.
“We’ve come back at a different confidence level,’’ said
all-League center Joe D’Orazio, one of five offensive line starters
back. “Before we had to prove ourselves.
This year, we have to try to maintain that because everyone is coming after us.”