Saturday, April 22, 2006

Brown 30, White 24

This Saturday, on a wet October-like day, the Lehigh defense (Brown) played extremely well in a 30-24 win against the offense (White).

With the halftime festivites cancelled due to the poor weather, some key spring injuries to senior FB Greg Fay and junior RB Josh Pastore, and a scant 90 scrimmage plays being called, it was certainly not a complete picture, especially offensively. But we did learn some tantalizing bits of information, and for sure some questions have been answered.

What's to get excited about in the fall, first and foremost? That's easy. Defensive Coordinator David Kotulski's 3-4 defense may promise to give the rest of the Patriot League fits. With rising senior and team captain SS Julian Austin heading a strong, experienced secondary, an interesting linebacking unit led by rising senior LB Matt Mohler (who had an interception in the game), and a very strong senior front three in DT Royce Morgan, NT Paul Fabre and DE Eric Rakus, I sense we are going to have a physical group that folks are not going to want to face.

I happen to be a huge fan of the 3-4 defense. From the New Orleans Saints "Dome Patrol" to the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, I've always loved physical 3-4 defenses, and I'm very excited to see that potentially come back to South Mountain in 2006.

On offense it was much harder to tell what we will look like. Coach Coen did come out with some interesting 4-wideout and no-back looks, probably comforting those fans who thought that maybe "Air Lehigh" was going to be no more. But that may have been a function of senior FB Greg Fay and junior Kent St. transfer Josh Pastore's absence more than anything.

Team captains on offense were rising senior OL John Reese and - in a bit of a surprise - rising junior QB Sedale Threatt. The coaching staff obviously have complete confidence in him, and see him as a natural leader on the field. Sedale played limited reps but showed his mountain of potential again with a beautiful TD strike to rising junior WR Pete Donchez.

One of the surprises was seeing Donchez in the starting lineup along with rising senior WR Frank Trovato. It looks like Trovato, Donchez and rising senior WR Lee Thomas will be the three primary receivers.

There was some sloppiness on the "O" line - but that's completely to be expected in the spring. They will continue to develop themselves over the summer and will continue to develop when fall practices start.

If there's one big question out of the spring game, it's this: Who's going to carry the rock? With the tailback injuries and the developing "O" line play, it was clear we weren't going to get an answer today. May rising senior RB Marques Thompson be the feature back? Will senior FB Greg Fay get the nod more often? Will junior RB Josh Pastore, rising junior RB Richard Forman, or rising sophomore RB Matt McGowan touch the rock more often? Will we be rushing by committee, with different backs with different looks?

Fielding punts was rising sophomore WR/PR Mike Fitzgerald, who looks strong for return duties in 2006. And let's not forget rising sophomore WR Sekou Yansane on special teams, who nearly blocked a punt and could have been the overall MVP of the Brown/White game.

Overall, this tantalizing look at the 2006 Mountain Hawks was just too short. More thoughts tomorrow as the Morning Call and Express-Times weigh in. In the meantime, here's the previews that appeared in today's editions.

Allentown Morning Call:
With Threatt in charge, Lehigh is Ready to Perform

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Looking to Have Some Fun

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Spring Practice, and Why I Do This

Spring Practice is wrapping up very soon, cumulating with the Brown/White game on Saturday. I'll get to the hot rumors on what Lehigh's 2006 football team will look like in a moment. But I thought it would be a good idea today to remind people who I am, where I'm coming from, and why I'm doing this.

I'm a 36 year old Lehigh alum. Although I never played football, I've always had a love for the game of football that has transcended the passsions of most.

How did it happen? Perhaps it's because I never had the opportunity to play the game, since I went to a high school that didn't offer football. Football was a game played by people far away, and I lived the games through press reports, articles, and even short-wave radio (yes, folks, I actually lived in a pre-internet world).

Maybe it's because some of the best memories I have of my college experience center around going to Lehigh football games, tailgating, and reconnecting with friends. Serendipitously, I met my wife at a Lehigh game, so you could say that Lehigh football changed my life forever.

My passion for Lehigh football have opened doors for me. What started as a newsletter for friends regarding Lehigh football mutated into this blog you're reading today. With the blog came relationships with coaches and new access to games. With my dedication came a regular gig as a columnist for I-AA.org. All of a sudden, I became a member of the "media". No longer was I just reading columns from Matt Dougherty, Paul Reinhardt, Keith Groller, Jerry Izenberg and David Coulson - I was rubbing elbows with them, covering games.

As a kid, I was possibly the biggest Sports Illustrated nerd you've ever seen - articles from Rick Reilly and Frank Deford graced the walls of my room (next to Christie Brinkley, of course). All of a sudden, I'm doing the sportswriting. I may not be Frank Deford or Rick Reilly - yet. But I have my foot in the door, and not many folks can say that.

Yet it's funny. Even though I'm interviewing coaches, players, and talking to other writers, I really don't belong anywhere. I'm not a mainstream media guy that does this for a living - indeed, I do have a day job. I'm not a former football player, so I can't just stop by a spring football practice and slap people on the back in the Lehigh football "family". I'm also not in the Athletic Department's back office, privy to the latest gossip. In a world of cliques, I don't completely belong anywhere - in a world where personal relationships are a big part of the equation.

I think my perspective - as the outsider, trying to figure out things that the papers and former players know - makes me a valuable voice covering Lehigh football and talking about Lehigh football. It means I work harder. I compile press content from many sources (and put it all in one central place), and also create my own content here and at I-AA.org. Sometimes it means pressing folks for access and information - other times, it means backing off and letting coaches and athletic departments do their own stuff. Sometimes it means reprinting rumors, and other times it means looking for confirmation, just like any newspaper should.

Many blogs out there are pure ego-trips, or have a mission to be a non-stop fountain of criticism. I like to think that this blog is none of these things. If criticism is warranted, I will give it - but I have no mission to undermine coaches or berate players. I just love Lehigh football, and if I can do some sportswriting to promote something I love - to give something back to something has given a lot to me already - I will.

For the uninitiated, it's a lot of work, and please don't expect to get rich doing it. But without a doubt it's rewarding to me personally - and, I hope, to you, the reader.

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So, even though I can't go to practices, or attend the Brown/White game this Saturday (at Murray Goodman statium at 12:30; free to everyone), I can report that this game will be available on LehighSports.com as an audio feed as well - which, for me, is fantastic, since I'll be at my parent's house celebrating my father's birthday.

Practices are not open to the public, and although I wouldn't call it a media clampdown, one thing appears clear - that coach Coen and the troops are more focused than ever this offseason in making this coming season one to remember. I get the sense that chumming it up with the press, or other alumni, isn't what coach Coen is about. I think to him, it's not good (or bad) press that's going to win in 2006, it's hard work. There is a sense that the work is going to be necessary to get the job done this year, and it's encouraging to see. The players seem to have complete confidence in coach Coen and their staff.

The hottest rumor coming out of camp is that Lehigh's defense may be running out of a base 3-4 instead of the 4-3 we've come to expect at Lehigh. I like to think of it as we're turning away, a little, from the Eagles-style defense and hading more towards a Pittsburgh-style defense. The biggest question mark here? DT Royce Morgan. Where will he fit in? As a nose tackle? As a big end? As an interior linebacker?

The other big news, coming from Keith Groller's Morning Call article from this weekend, is that the offense has been running a lot more 2-back sets. Although coach Coen says he "can't say that it will happen that way in the fall", it's very interesting that at least to some degree we will be mixing up the playbook, especially late in games. I don't think we'll see a total end of "Air Lehigh", but we will see a broader mix of plays. I've seen this 2-back set at Penn and I've seen it to be very effective. It also means that senior FB Greg Fay will see lots of time in the backfield. We'll be relying on him more, one way or another - at Penn, Coen's fullbacks were such a vital part to the offense, and it looks like that could be the case in the fall too.

Tune in this week, and I'll report what I know when I know it.
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