After senior quarterback Billy Ragone threw for five interceptions in last year’s season-opening loss at Lafayette, I wrote that the sky wouldn’t fall if Penn football coach Al Bagnoli were to stick with Ragone as his starting signal-caller.
And for the rest of the season, Ragone proved that you should indeed never turn Chicken Little on the will of a champion.
It was Ragone who willed an underdog Quakers squad through its Ivy slate, icing wins at Dartmouth and Princeton with his legs, engineering game-winning drives at home against Columbia and Brown and inspiring the Quakers from the back of a cart in Penn’s Ivy title-clinching win over Harvard after a gruesome ankle injury ended his season.
Ragone’s heroics were never pretty. But they were always beautiful.
Now fast forward to 2013, and little has changed. Ragone is still the star of the show, this time as a fifth-year senior. He still has a myriad of offensive weapons with fellow fifth-year senior running back Brandon Colavita, 2012 second-team All-Ivy senior wide receiver Conner Scott and clutch junior tight end Mitch King.
And at least in Bagnoli’s mind, Ragone still has a nagging ankle injury to fight despite having already recovered physically.
“Now he still has to overcome probably as much psychological trauma off of that ankle injury,” Bagnoli said at the Ivy Football teleconference earlier this month. “I just think with any injury, whether you’re talking about an ankle, you’re talking about a knee or you’re talking about a shoulder, there’s a little bit of a psychological component that people have to overcome.”
It’s very conceivable that Ragone may struggle to shake off his rust early this season, especially since he struggles to shake off his rust every season. Ragone kicked off his 2012 campaign with that five-interception nadir at Lafayette and was a non-factor versus Villanova. In 2011, Ragone also threw two picks against both the Leopards and the Wildcats to start his sophomore season of eligibility.
But if Ragone does stumble out of the gate, he’s got good backup. Senior quarterback Ryan Becker returns from an ACL injury that sidelined him for all of last season, and no one is happier about that than Bagnoli, whose two-quarterback system keeps Ragone replenished as both a passer and ball-carrier.
“Ryan gives us tremendous confidence that we don’t have to rush Billy Ragone back,” Bagnoli said. “We can take our time with Billy, we can be sensitive to the injury. We can kind of dictate our own time frame of when to use Billy and when not to use Billy. And we feel very comfortable that Ryan can run the offense.”
Becker is a more than serviceable second hand, having started 15 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. And there will be times this season when Becker looks better than Ragone.
But the sky won’t be falling when he does, because with Ragone, it has almost always gotten better. As games progress, he gets better. As seasons progress, he gets better.
And as his Penn football career reaches its conclusion in 2013, he’ll give the Quakers a far greater chance of winning their fourth Ivy crown in five years than any other quarterback in the conference. Just ask Harvard coach Tim Murphy.
“He may not have the numbers that some of the other really outstanding quarterbacks in our league have, but he’s as good as anybody,” Murphy said during the Ivy Football teleconference. “I guarantee you he’s as good as anybody.”
Not as good. Better. And more than good enough to best Murphy’s Crimson in the Ivy title hunt one more time.
MIKE TONY is a senior English and history major from Uniontown, Pa., and senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at tony@theDP.com.