In just four games this season, Columbia running back Johnathan Reese has shown the Ivy League that he's a threat every time he touches the ball. This, though, is something the Penn football team already knows from experience. Last season, as the Lions' homecoming crowd was still filing into the stadium surrounding Baker Field, the then-sophomore took a short screen pass 72 yards on the third play of the game to open up a quick, 7-0 lead on the Quakers. Even though the Red and Blue came back to win, 41-17, Reese's surprising run is still etched into the memory of Penn coach Al Bagnoli as his Quakers prepare to host the Lions on Franklin Field Saturday afternoon. "It was third and eight," Bagnoli said. "The kid who was responsible for him got knocked off and [Reese] broke a tackle and outran some people. "You've gotta watch out for him." That's even more true one year later. Less than halfway through this season, Reese has already surpassed his 1999 numbers for total yards rushing and total touchdowns scored. Even more impressive are the Columbia records the junior is threatening to break. With an average of 154 yards rushing per game this season -- jolted by a career-high 201 yards last weekend against Lafayette -- Reese is on pace to become Columbia's first 1,000-yard rusher in history. Moreover, he's just 351 yards away from breaking the Lions' career rushing record of 1,992 yards, set in 1948 by Lou Kusserow. "There's kind of been some rough seasons, so it would be kind of a reward for continuing to work hard and for staying with the program," Reese said. Right now, though, Reese said he wants to be known more for winning games than for breaking records. "I've got a couple more games before all that," the soft-spoken junior said. "You never know what's going to happen, so I don't want to focus primarily on that. I just want to get some more wins first." Columbia, which is 2-2 overall with a pair of last-minute losses, is depending heavily on its backfield star to get those wins. Although Lions quarterback Jeff McCall has shown promise in the pocket, Columbia has continued to give 30 or more carries per game to Reese. Much of the time, he's delivered. "They've done a great job of, even when they've gotten no yardage, negative yards [rushing], to just keep coming back to him," Bagnoli said. "Sooner or later they've caught people in [the] wrong defenses, and the kid's good enough, when he's got a crack, instead of going five or six yards, he goes 30, 31 yards." Perhaps fortunately for the Quakers, their own offense features a star backfield player very similar to Reese. Penn running back Kris Ryan, last year's Ivy League rushing leader, often makes high-yardage runs in games and is constantly a threat to score. For the Quakers defense, then, Saturday may feel more like a weekday practice than a regular season game. "It's kind of like going against Kris every day in practice," Penn linebacker Travis Belden said, "except with a little bit more speed." Strength and quickness on the field are surely some of Reese's biggest assets, but the 1998 Ivy League Rookie of the Year also credits his big-yardage threat to the quality playing time he received in his first two years at Columbia. "There comes a time when you're actually ready to do it [make big plays]," he said. "I don't feel I was ready to take such a big role last season. Now, with another year's experience, I'm more mature and understand the game a lot more." The Quakers also understand the threat that Reese -- with his speed, strength and mind -- poses, and will focus on stopping his big runs in order to stop the Lions. "He's definitely explosive like that," Belden said. "We'll be looking to never let down because that one time you let down, then boom, he's gone."Comments powered by Disqus
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