Friday, August 11, 2006

Brand-New Beginnings as Preseason Begins

The time for waiting is through. Oh, you thought I meant that I was announcing that Lehigh preseason practice has finally, finally started? I meant that I'm finally, finally back from my tradeshow trip to Las Vegas for my day job.

A long trip punctuated by a terrorist threat and (more importantly) a 3-hour blog posting getting eaten by the blogging gods, I never felt more homesick than when I read that spring practice had started and I was clear across the country. Whole articles had appeared, I-AA Radio shows went on the air, and I-AA and Lehigh fans were buzzing, and I was nowhere to be found. It was upsetting in a way that may not be evident to someone who hasn't blogged on a certain subject before. You feel like it's you're responsibility to break the stories, and instead you're attending technical conferences, or playing blackjack somewhere. You nfeel like you're shirking your responsibilities.

Even so, I did spend a lot of time on a posting about Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and coach Coen, and instead my internet connection decided to break, causing me to lose the whole thing. It's then that I decided that when I got back on Friday I'd fill in the gaps and cover everything up until now.

Then you get back, and you find out that all hell has broken loose. For example, how about the little tidbit of news that as of December, we won't be called I-AA any longer? After this Christmas, we'll have to get used to "Division I - Championship Subdivision", formalizing a change that many in I-AA have wanted to get done for quite a long time. Although more important for those schools primarily recruiting against large state I-A schools, in my opinion any change that re-emphasizes that our brand of football is just as Division I as Penn State is a good thing.

Then I listen to Tuesday's I-AA Waves, and I notice that most of the audio I had recorded for the show wasn't usable, since there was too much background noise in my recordings. For the tech-geeks out there, for my interviews I used a new Sony ICD-P320 recorder without a microphone. The base microphone ended up picking up *everything*, including probably people playing golf outside. What I plan to do in the next couple weeks is re-listen to some of the recordings from the media day and write out text versions to my blog here, including some of the comments from other schools and players. (And next time, I bring my own mike.)

By all means browse over to I-AA Waves and listen to great snippets I got from Lafayette coach Frank Tavani, coach Coen and junior QB Sedale Threatt, but more of those interviews will also be transcribed and posted here before the beginning of the season. I'm not confining myself to just Lehigh and Lafayette, but also the other teams of the Patriot League as well. I'll also be on I-AA Waves next week to talk about Media Day, so be sure to tune in for that.

Finally, there's the little news flash that practice has started as of Wednesday this week, which truly signals the beginning of the 2006 Lehigh football season. Practices are now starting in earnest, with two-a-days starting on August 16th when Philadelphia Eagles training camp leaves Bethlehem. In anticipation of this, the Express-Times wrote a couple nice pieces on junior transfer RB Josh Pastore and, of course, coach Coen. A short digest follows, and look for more Media Day information by early next week.

“We’re real excited,” said Lehigh senior center John Reese, one of three team captains for this season. “The coaching change has been great, a real good transition... There’s a lot more competitive spirit around.”

“We’ve got a lot of guys on board with the Andy Coen philosophy,” said returning Lehigh junior quarterback Sedale Threatt, another tri-captain. “I said this before, the night before our first spring practice, guys slept with their spikes on.”

A former offensive coordinator at Lehigh and then at the University of Pennsylvania for the last six years, one of the first things Coen talked about to his new Lehigh team was playing for a national championship.

“I’m not sure that’s the first thing I’d have said if I’d have gotten the job,” laughed Penn coach Al Bagnoli, who enjoyed great success during the past five years with Coen running his offense. “He knows the caliber of players they’re able to recruit. Heck, Colgate made it all the way to the national title game two years ago... He’s a confident guy, which is a good thing.”

“He’s certainly a special guy,” said Lafayette coach Frank Tavani, who tangled with Coen’s Lehigh teams when both were top assistants for their respective programs in the late 1990’s. “It’s a great program with strong tradition and has been highly successful on a national level. Andy’s got great experience.”

“People don’t change their soul, who they are as a human being,” Lehigh director of athletics Joe Sterrett, who hired Coen in January after passing him over in favor of Lembo following the departure of highly-successful Kevin Higgins in 2000. “There was a maturity and a quiet confidence in him that was quite compelling,” Sterrett said. “He has a broader perspective on life now,” said Sterrett, who mentioned that Coen’s arrival has enthused the school’s alumni – which is sure to translate into a huge surge in ticket sales. “He’s married, has a couple of kids. You start to appreciate that the kids you’re working with as a coach are somebody else’s kids – just like your own.”

“He’ll do everything in his power to challenge you as a person and as a player,” Reese said. “He’s a great motivator.”

“I get the feeling he’s a fiery coach,” Threatt said. “He’s going to be a more physical guy.”

“He has a terrific sense of humor,” Bagnoli said. “He was a lot of fun to be around. He’s very bright, very competitive. He helps kids in a positive way. He’s emotional.”

“I feel great,” Reese said, “about playing for coach Coen.

“When I played football,” said Coen, a former offensive lineman. “I wasn’t the best player, but I played it (football) with a lot of intensity and passion for the game. If you’re not passionate, I’m going to let you know it. I try to be as positive as I can, but there are times I yell. We want to challenge the kids.

“Sometimes on the field, challenging will be a little loud.”

“He’s very passionate,” Sterrett said. “He loves the game of football. He loves coaching. That comes through in everything he does. The most compelling of those points over their first six-month period of preparations is the reaction of the kids. There are a lot of kids walking around with smiles on their faces and they’re eager to get started. That’s always a fulfilling thing.”

“Hey,” Threatt said with more than a trace of wide-eyed optimism, “it’s a new year.”

---

Coen commented on the Mountain Hawks first practice of the new season. “Everyone out here had a great attitude and brought a lot of enthusiasm. Being the first practice, and going at it like this with no pads, there was a lot of teaching and helping the players get used to the structuring of our practices.” Coen added, “The freshmen are just learning and they’re swimming in it all, but I thought a few of them did very well with this being the first practice.”

---

There are two reasons why Lehigh wants Josh Pastore handled with caution.
He's got a world of potential. And he's also been injury-prone.

"This camp actually means what's going to decide my entire first year," said Pastore, a promising running back who transferred from Kent State for Lehigh's spring semester. "It's probably one of the most important (camps), over these first couple weeks coming up. I'm very excited."

"We're one-up," Coen said. "He got hurt before the first practice in the spring. He was getting some razzing about how long he'd be healthy out here."

"I got yelled at by the coach on the first one," Pastore said with a wide smile. "So far, camp's good. I like it here. We've got a lot of good things to look forward to."

As a senior at Ohio's Beaver Local High School -- where he helped the Beavers win back-to-back conference championships and earn state playoff appearances in his final two seasons -- Pastore rushed for 1,600 yards and scored 23 touchdowns while averaging 10.6 yards per carry.

He said he was all set to start at slotback as a true freshman at Kent State but suffered a concussion in one of the team's final preseason practices that kept him sidelined for a few games. He wound up red-shirting that 2004 season when the hamstring problem emerged.

And last year, as a red-shirt freshman, Pastore didn't see action for Kent State after his position was switched to safety. "I'm not a defensive player," said Pastore, a bullish 5-foot-11, 205-pound back. "I came out here, loved it. The kids welcomed me right in, no problems."

Well, there was that hamstring problem that kept him out of spring drills and forced him to miss the Brown & White Game. That's why the rest of this month will be so important to Pastore -- especially if he expects to battle returning senior Marques Thompson for the starting tailback job and challenge sophomore Matt McGowan for playing time this year.

"There's no doubt he's got the physical tools," Coen said. "He's going to be a powerful runner. I just don't know where he is right now in terms of picking up the blitzes and
audibles. You gotta get out and work it."

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