Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Profile: Colgate Raiders



Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Profile

Colgate Raiders

Patriot League seasons: 1986-present
Overall Record in Patriot League Era (1986-2010): 158-126-1
Patriot League Record (1986-2010): 87-49-1
Patriot League Record in 1980s (1986-89): 6-11
Patriot League Record in 1990s (1990-99): 35-23-1
Patriot League Record since 2000 (2000-10): 50-16
All-time coaches and records (overall and Patriot League)
Fred Dunlap (1986-87): 11-11 overall, 3-5 Patriot League
Michael Foley (1988-92): 21-34 overall, 11-13 Patriot League
Ed Sweeney (1993-95): 6-26-1 overall, 3-11-1 Patriot League
Dick Biddle (1996-present): 120-55 overall, 70-20 Patriot League
Postseason History: 3-6
1997: First Round: (Villanova, L, 49-28)
1998: First Round: (Georgia Southern, L, 49-28)
1999: First Round (Illinois State, L, 56-13)
2003: First Round (Massachusetts, W, 19-7)
Quarterfinals (Western Illinois, W, 28-27)
Semifinals (Florida Atlantic, W, 36-24)
Championship (Delaware, L, 40-0)
2005: First Round (New Hampshire, L, 55-21)
2008: First Round (Villanova, L, 55-28)
Patriot League Player of the Year (1986-00)
1996: Ryan Vena, QB
1997: Ryan Vena, QB
1999: Ryan Vena, QB
Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year
1986: Kenny Gamble, RB
1996: Anthony Caravetta, RB
2003: Jamaal Branch, RB
2010: Nate Eachus, RB
Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year
1987: Greg Manusky, LB
2002: Tem Lukabu, LB (Co-Defensive POY)
2003: Tem Lukabu, LB
2005: Jared Nepa, LB
2010: Zach Smith, DL
Patriot League Rookie of the Year
1989: Jim Tierney, RB
1996: Ryan Vena, QB
2005: Jordan Scott, RB
2008: Nate Eachus, RB
Patriot League Coach of the Year
1996: Dick Biddle
2003: Dick Biddle
2005: Dick Biddle
2008: Dick Biddle
Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year
2003: John Frieser, TE
All-time All-Patriot League Selections: 205 (119 first / 86 second)
All-time All-America selections (AFCA, Walter Camp, Sports Network and AP): 46

After going without a title in the first 10 Patriot League seasons, Colgate has taken off under head coach Dick Biddle in the past 15 years. The Raiders have won six Patriot League titles in the Biddle era, and put together the greatest accomplishment in the League's 25-year history by making it all the way to the I-AA Championship game in 2003.

Colgate's early years were highlighted by individual talent, including a pair who made the Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Team. Running back Kenny Gamble and linebacker Greg Manusky were stars of the first two seasons of Patriot League football, with Gamble winning the inaugural Walter Payton Award in 1987 and Manusky claiming the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year award before going on to a long career both as a player and coach in the NFL.

However, the Raiders could not find much success on the field. Through the first 10 Patriot League seasons, Colgate posted just two winning League records and never finished closer than two games out of first place.

After serving on the staff as an assistant coach from 1992-95, Dick Biddle was hired to take over the Colgate program heading into the 1996 season. Coming off a year where the team finished 0-11 overall, the outlook did not appear different in the early going as Colgate opened the season with an 0-4 record. But after a 38-7 loss to Penn, Biddle changed things up and the team began to come around.

"We started 0-4 and played a couple of pretty good teams, but the kids did not lose their enthusiasm or focus. They were still committed to the program and that was key because it kept people interested," Biddle said. "The biggest thing we did was change quarterbacks and put Ryan Vena in, who was really kind of a stir of the drink type. There was a lot of resentment at putting the freshman in at quarterback but he really took the bull by the horns."

With Vena under center, the Raiders won five of the next six games to set up a showdown for the Patriot League title at Bucknell on the final day of the regular season. A missed two-point conversion in overtime dealt the Raiders a 28-27 loss, but the building blocks were in place for success to come. Despite starting 1-3 in 1997, Colgate turned it on in Patriot League play and capped the year with a League title by knocking off an undefeated Bucknell team, 48-14, on the final day of the regular season. The Raiders earned the Patriot League's first-ever postseason berth, falling to Villanova in the first round.

"That may have been one of the best teams I had at Colgate," Biddle said. "We were undefeated in the League, the schedule we played was tough and there were really some good players. I think that was one of the big moments in my career."

The next two seasons saw the Raiders battle for League supremacy with Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks won the matchup in 1998 to claim the Patriot League title by one game over Colgate, though the Raiders still earned an at-large bid to the postseason where they fell to Georgia Southern in the first round. In 1999, Vena's final season at quarterback, Colgate beat Lehigh, 28-24, in Hamilton to share the League crown with the Mountain Hawks and earn the Patriot League's automatic bid to the postseason. The Raiders fell in their first-round matchup at Illinois State.

Colgate continued to post strong seasons from 2000-02, but could not overcome Lehigh in the first two years and shared the title with Fordham in 2002. The Rams received the Patriot League's automatic bid to the postseason on the strength of their win over Colgate early in the year.

The Patriot League began participating in the postseason in 1997, and despite four first-round wins in the first six seasons no League squad had seriously threatened for the national title heading into the 2003 campaign. But Colgate changed the perception that the Patriot League could not compete with the best teams in the nation with a memorable run to the national championship game in 2003.

To understand the success of the 2003 team, you would have to go back to the previous season where the Raiders gained confidence by winning their final six games.

"We had just lost in the mid-point of 2002 to fall to 3-3 and it was an ugly loss," Biddle said. "Chris Brown came in at quarterback and we did some things there, and we won the next six games and got the ball going. We tied for the League title and then in 2003, I would look at the personnel board and quite frankly I didn't see a weakness on the board."

It started innocently enough, with Colgate edging Georgetown 20-19 in the season opener. But the Raiders got rolling from there, thumping Buffalo 38-15 and Dartmouth 31-9 on the road to kick off what would be a perfect 12-0 regular season.

"We go down to Georgetown for the first game of the year and it's a dogfight, we had to run a two-point play to win the game in dramatic fashion with a few seconds to go," Biddle said. "Probably the key turning point was we played Buffalo next week and moved Jamaal Branch to tailback, and we beat them 38-7. I've never said this before, but I told the kids in the locker room that we could do something special."

And after doing something special in the regular season, the Raiders would show it was no fluke by carrying it on to the postseason. In games known for their cold and inclement weather, Colgate knocked off Massachusetts 19-7 in the first round and Western Illinois 28-27 in the quarterfinals at home. The Raiders completed their march to the national title game with a 36-24 win at Florida Atlantic. Branch earned the Walter Payton Award on the eve of the national title game against Delaware, but Colgate's magic run ended there with a 40-0 loss in the championship.

"I thought it was a phenomenal team and group of guys. I think it's the biggest thing that Colgate has ever done athletically, to win 21 games in a row and go play for a national championship at a non-scholarship school that's a high academic institution," Biddle said. "Sometimes I forget about it but I think it was exceptional. There were no prima donnas, they just went out and played and practiced hard and had fun together."

Colgate finished one game out of the Patriot League title after its memorable season, but came back in 2005 to split the League crown with Lafayette and earn the Patriot League's automatic bid to the postseason. The Raiders fell to New Hampshire in the first round. Three years later, Colgate was back on top. The running back tandem of senior Jordan Scott and freshman Nate Eachus helped carry the Raiders to a perfect 5-0 mark in the Patriot League in 2008, including a 28-27 win over Holy Cross when both teams were undefeated in League action on the final day of the regular season.

Colgate finished the 2000s with a 50-16 Patriot League record and an overall mark of 84-34, with just one losing overall mark in 2006 and no seasons under .500 in Patriot League play.

Dick Biddle
No coach in Patriot League history has enjoyed more success than Dick Biddle, which is amazing considering the Colgate head coach in his 16th season in 2011 inherited a program that had gone winless in the previous year. From 1996-2010, Biddle went 120-55 overall and 70-20 in Patriot League play, holding the record for both overall and Patriot League victories by a wide margin. He has directed Colgate to six Patriot League titles, and finished more than one game out of first place just three times in 15 seasons.

Biddle has provided stability to the Colgate program, and stability has been a main reason for his success. The coaching staff has stayed largely intact during Biddle's tenure, with assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Dan Hunt there every step of the way.

"That's probably one of the most important things to have continuity. Your assistant coaches really do all of the work and they should get credit," Biddle said. "Our coaches have moved on but they have moved on for the right reasons to FCS jobs. We've never had a mass exodus where three or four guys leave from the staff, and most of the time I have replaced a coach with a guy who is already here on the staff."

Running Backs
College programs sometimes become synonymous with a position that has been dominant over the years, and that's certainly been the case at Colgate with an amazing run of running backs during the Patriot League era.

It started right away with Kenny Gamble, who starred in the first two Patriot League seasons and won the inaugural Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS as a senior. Gamble earned a spot on the Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Team as one of two running backs.

The lineage continued with the likes of Bill Sparacio (1990-93), Anthony Caravetta (1993-96), Daymon Smith (1993-97) and Randall Joseph (1997-00), who each earned either All-America status or multiple Patriot League honors. Jamaal Branch (2001-04) was the next great success story, as the 2003 Walter Payton award winner set single-season Patriot League records for rushing yards (2,326) and touchdowns (29). Following Branch, Jordan Scott (2005-08) set a Division I record with 1,240 career carries and also holds Patriot League records for rushing yards (5,621) and touchdowns (57) in a career. Nate Eachus has completed three outstanding seasons and plays his senior campaign in 2011 poised to stand among the great Colgate running backs. Colgate occupies five of the top 12 and seven of the top 18 spots in the Patriot League record book for career rushing yards.

"A lot of the tailbacks we've had are linebacker types that are bigger kids, and that's what we've tried to do to find a guy that is big and physical and can run it 35 or 40 times a game," Biddle said. "It's really just sticking to what you believe in and not listen to people who think otherwise."

25th Anniversary Members
Colgate led all schools with seven student-athletes on the Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Team. In addition to Gamble and Manusky from the early years of the League, the Raiders had quarterback Ryan Vena, wide receiver Corey Hill and offensive linemen Paul Clasby and Luke George from the late 90s, and offensive lineman Nick Hennessey who played from 2005-08.

Biddle said the four members from his first years as the head coach were part of a group that changed everything for Colgate football.

"I don't think it's drastic to say they saved Colgate football," said Biddle. "The 96 and 97 teams really turned Colgate around and saved Colgate football from being mediocre."