Friday, April 17, 2009

Preview of the Brown/White Lehigh Spring Game

Some of you out there might perhaps be browsing over here for the first time, looking for information about tomorrow's Brown/White Spring Game. For those folks - and my regular readers, too- don't fret, a full-blown analysis awaits. But I thought I'd do things a bit differently this year.

In years past I wrote a quick "players/position battles to watch" as well as some general observations. But during the season I post full game previews of each Lehigh game here at Lehigh Football Nation, complete with game notes, a weather report, "drink of the week", and a complete breakdown of the opposition. I thought I'd approach the Brown/White Game the same way this year.

Obviously, this is a "mirror match", to take a page from Mortal Combat - the Lehigh offense knows its opposition this week, and it's the Lehigh defense. It should be spirited competition - with any sort of luck, free of any injuries. But that doesn't mean that there should be any less of a preview of the game - sorry, technically it's a "scrimmage" - this weekend.

Audio coverage of the game will be on, starting at Murray Goodman Stadium at 2:00 p.m. Video previews of the games are also available on the internet: one on YouTube courtesy of Service Electric 2 Sports, and the other from Lehigh athletics courtesy of Yahoo! Video.

Here's a taste of what you'll be getting during the season - the rich, extensive analysis everyone loves.

Game Notes
Normally during the season I would post links to the game notes here along with injury information, but as this isn't a regular-season game these are not available. There is, however, the spring prospectus that is available online for your viewing pleasure.

Following an up-and-down start to the 2008 season, Lehigh rebounded to win three of its final four contests, including a 31-15 victory over archrival Lafayette in Easton. That win sent the Mountain Hawks into the offseason with plenty of momentum and optimism on what the future holds. Following a solid winter conditioning program, Lehigh enters the spring of 2009 with a good deal of experience and talent returning on both sides of the ball. Head coach Andy Coen, now entering his fourth season, expects plenty of competition throughout the spring segment of practice and into preseason camp, where the Mountain Hawks will look to fi ll several holes as well as develop depth in a number of areas. “We entered the offseason on a high note and I think that really motivated our guys to work hard throughout the winter months,” Coen said. “That said, there are plenty of areas we need to improve in and become more consistent with. We also have a few key spots on both sides of the ball where kids will be competing on a daily basis for playing time at.”

As for injuries, I don't know of many but sophomore C Keith Schauder has a thumb injury on his snapping hand, which means he'll will probably get limited action and when he does play it will be at guard, not center. I'd also expect to see light duty for some of the senior linebackers, senior LB Matt Cohen, senior LB Heath Brickner, senior LB Troy Taylor, and senior LB Al Pierce, who reportedly have some nicks.

Weather Report
You couldn't ask for a better day for a spring football game. The weather report calls for 74 degrees and sunny temperatures, which should be nearing their daily highs once Lehigh takes the field at 2:00 p.m. I can't think of a place I'd rather be on a spring afternoon, do you? (Certainly not doing yardwork.)

Last Time Out
This year, Lehigh comes into the spring game coming off their first win over "that school in Easton" in five years. But last year's Spring game had even more uncertainty. Questions No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 were: with the graduation of QB Sedale Threatt, who would win the battle to replace him? The spring game didn't exactly give a clear-cut answer: QB Chris Bokosky, junior QB J.B. Clark, and junior QB Trace Cisneros all turned over the ball - and in the process, meant the battle for the starting QB raged on in August.

Of course, that also meant that the defense showed signs of being a solid unit going into 2008, with DT Brian Jackson, LB Tim Diamond, FS Brendan VanAckeren and SS Quadir Carter all shining against the offense. It would end up being a unit that would take some time to gel into a powerful unit by years end.

LFN's Drink of the Week
It's been a while since the third weekend of November. Are you out of practice, your plastic-cup-bearing hand unable to bench-press that liquid refreshment? Perhaps the near-summer weather might also keep you, the Lehigh tailgater, out of your comfort zone.

It's not a time for Red Death, Screaming Vikings or some of the more hard-core tailgating beverages. It's time for a gentler, spring-ish tailgating drink. Yuengling Black & Tans, of course, are a good start - but something for the ladies might be also a good choice. While they're a bit more complicated to make, how about Mint Juleps? You can make the sugar syrup on the grill and then add the bourbon, or make it beforehand and chill it in a cooler before heading to Goodman's parking lot. (Be sure to bring plenty of ice.) I like my mint julep with a mixture of rum and whisky - your choice.

As always, Drinks of the week have a place in responsible tailgates: that means being over 21 and drinking responsibly. Please do that.

Breaking Down the Brown & White
What a difference a year makes. Last year, Lehigh was wondering who was going to be the starting quarterback in the fall. This year, there is no doubt who is starting - that's junior QB J.B. Clark, the MVP of that little game against "that school in Easton" last November - but who might be behind him will be interesting.

The 6'4 lefty, junior QB Trace Cisneros, poses an interesting change of pace to the rifle-armed righty Clark, but he'll defintely be pushed by sophomore QB Chris Lum, the 6'2 righty that was the MVP of the scout team last year. Who might emerge? It's a tough call, and the play during the spring game might determine the spot.

At running back, the graduation of workhorse Matt McGowan leaves an interesting competition between junior RB Jaren Walker and sophomore RB Matt Fitz, who reportedly has impressed coach Coen this spring. It will be interesting to see Walker, who sustained an awful abdominal injury last year, and Fitz, in his first true action. Might one, or the other, make a convincing case to be in the top spot come August? And might junior RB Jay Campbell have something to say about that, too?

The starting fullback for Lehigh is pretty much set with senior FB Anthony Fossati, but it will be interesting to see how sophomore RB Bryce Arruda, a converted linebacker, does as his backup.

With the graduation of WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane and WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald, wide receiver has been one of the most wide-open position battles all spring. Who might line up as the No. 1 and No. 2 wideouts? Sophomore WR De'Vaughn Gordon has made the most of his opportunity, and it will be interesting to see he and Clark work together. On the opposite side, sophomore WR Travis Artim, who took last year off from football, returns - and may be battling for receiver spots with sophomore WR Jake Drwal, junior WR Craig Zurn, sophomore WR Jimmy Jefferson and senior WR Jimmy Potocnie, along with others. With this group, there's a huge variety of speedsters (Artim, Zurn) and possession receivers (Drwal, Jefferson) - Who will emerge Saturday and look the best and get a big jump going towards August?

At tight end, junior TE Alex Wojdowski appears to be the starter - a very solid blocker as well as a solid receiver. Behind Wojdowski, however, is an interesting battle between junior TE Brad Radke, sophomore TE Mark Wickware and sophomore TE Kyle Holmes. With Radke at 6'4 and Wickware at 6'5, you wonder how either of those two guys specifically might do catching the ball, too - one or the other may not just be power blockers.

The offensive line for Lehigh promises to be a "work in progress", with the "O" line of sophomore C Keith Schauder, junior OL Will Rackley, senior OL Frank Giacalone, junior OL Ricky Clerge and sophomore OL Jim Liebler promising to be in a modified setup from the get-go. Coach Coen is looking to create depth as well and we'll see that tomorrow as well - perhaps with junior OL Alex Rowe and sophomore OL Vinny Pellegrini, too. The size - and depth - of this unit has to potential to be impressive.

The Lehigh "D" says goodbye to DL Brian Jackson, LB Tim Diamond, FS Brendan VanAckeren and SS Quadir Carter, but the returning starters and an impressive array of up-and-comers hope to give the Lehigh offense nightmares heading into August. Much will be expected from this unit going into the fall, and they hope to demonstrate that this weekend.

Start with the "D" line, who will be anchored by senior DL B.J. Benning and flanked by senior DL Darrell Ray and junior DT David Brown. With Brown, who tips the scales at 315 lbs (!), and Benning, who is 285 lbs, it will be interesting to see the run-stuffing ability of the interior defense, never mind the pass-rushing of Ray, Winett, junior DE Billy Dokouslis and sophomore DE Ted Lasher. When David Brown isn't in there, junior DT Phil Winett will provide some good pass rush. Goal-line stands with Winett, Brown and Benning all in at once will be awfully interesting.

While senior LB Matt Cohen, senior LB Heath Brickner, senior LB Troy Taylor and senior LB Al Pierce may get realtively light duty on Saturday (though we'll definitely see all of them, save Taylor), we'll be seeing more of sophomore LB Fred Mihal, junior LB Ben Flizack and sophomore LB Devin Greene to see how they stack up. These are pretty impressive kids physically - Flizack at 6'7, 245 lbs, Mihal at 6'4, 235 lbs, and Greene at 6'0, 220 lbs - and will provide important depth at this position. Watching them will let me know if Lehigh really is as deep at linebacker as they seem. If they are, it could signal the deepest Lehigh has been on defense in a generation.

The secondary features two locks at cornerback - junior CB Jarard Cribbs and junior CB John "94-to-Paydirt" Kennedy. Replacing Carter is one lock - senior SS Jesse Sanchez - and replacing VanAckeren appears to be senior FS John Venerio. Once again, though, it's for positions of depth that is where the battles are: junior DB Casey Eldemire, sophomore DB Colin Newton, senior DB Femi Ajewole, and sophomore DB John Littlejohn, among others.

Special Teams
Tomorrow's game won't feature a whole lot of kicking, but what will be shown will be of great interest to Lehigh fans. Replacing all-Patriot League punter Jason Leo is sophomore P Alex Smith - will be be using the Rugby-style punt, and will it result in the same punting yardage that Leo enjoyed? And how will junior K Tom Randazza perform tomorrow, with consistency being the key?

The other questions center around the return game. Kennedy and Cribbs did a fine job with the return game last year, but might Coen go with a different face returning kicks - maybe junior WR Craig Zurn, who was a monster on special teams last year, or sophomore WR Travis Artim?

Keys to the Game
Normally I'd post an analysis of "Keys to the Game' here, but this being the Brown and White game, there's only two keys that matter: that is, no injuries, and spirited competition for spots, especially on the "O" line, running back, and wide receiver.

Fearless Prediction
I'm not going to predict a score for this game - but I will predict that the defense will be ahead of the offense once again and "win" the Brown & White game with a modified scoring system. Does J.B. Clark have to buy B.J. Benning wings at 3rd Street? I'm not sure - but I think it will be Benning and the defense celebrating on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lehigh Joins Bone Marrow Match Program

While Saturday's Brown/White game will tell us important information about how Lehigh's football team will look in 2009, it's this Sunday - at Grace Hall on the Lehigh campus, from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM - which could potentially provide life-saving information to someone with leukemia or another life-threatening disease.

The Lehigh football program is joining up with twenty-nine college football programs (including Villanova, Penn, Temple, UMass, and Lafayette, to name a few) across the nation in a bone marrow testing drive to add to the national registry of blood marrow donors.

It's important to note that all potential donors would be doing on Sunday is a cotton swab DNA test on Sunday - an easy process:

Lehigh assistant football coach Donnie Roberts has been heavily involved in the upcoming event, and is looking forward to a strong turnout on Sunday. “The idea is to get your name on the national registry as a potential donor. What the test is looking for are healthy adult stem cells. The actual process is a cotton swab DNA test. The person getting tested is not donating now, but rather to see if they are a potential donor if they match.”

He continued, “Cancer affects such a large number of people and this is a chance for us to give back to the community as well as make people aware of different types of blood and bone cancers such as leukemia. We’re hoping that Lehigh’s athletic teams as well as people outside of the University tell their friends and can bring as many people out as possible for the event.”

Bone marrow is desperately needed nationwide for genetic disorders, immune disorders, lymphoma and leukemia. The need for a large national registry is important since bone marrow matches are very rare - only 1 in 80,000 are actually matches for people with disorders. The more people in the registry, the better chance that someone might be a match.

If you're at Lehigh on Saturday, you'll enjoy the Brown/White game and learn a bit about Lehigh's football team in the fall. If you're at Lehigh on Sunday, you might just save someone's life.

[UPDATE: The Patriot League just issued a press release detailing spring practice the bone marrow testing drive taking place in five Patriot League schools:

In addition to the spring games, five Patriot League schools are among 30 football teams throughout the country to host bone marrow testing drives. Lafayette, Colgate, Lehigh, Bucknell and Holy Cross will all participate in the "Get in the Game. Save A Life" program, which is an effort to recruit 5,000 new people to the marrow registry. The program was initiated by Villanova and its Head Coach, Andy Talley, as part of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). It is a way for college faculty, staff and students and area residents to join the registry.

The date, time and location for the bone marrow testing drive at each of the Patriot League schools is listed below.

Lafayette - April 17th, 5-9 p.m. - Plaza outside of Kirby Sports Center in the Fisher Stadium Complex
Colgate - April 18th, 1:30-5 p.m. - Cotterell Court at the Reid Athletic Center
Lehigh - April 19th, 12:30-3:30 p.m. - Grace Hall
Bucknell - April 20th, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. - Davis Gym
Holy Cross - April 24th, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m - Upper Kimball Dining Hall

So if you're not in the area, you can still participate!]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coach Coen Talks to LFN About the Spring Season

Not too long ago, I talked to coach Coen about this year's spring season with only a few practices left to go before the conclusion of the spring football season. While I didn't conduct the interview in the (very clean-looking) studios where the Lehigh Sports Magazine is filmed every week, here's my interview with him, and his thoughts on the spring season and how the team is shaping up.

First of all, how does this year's spring season compare to those in past years?

Coen: I think it's very spirited. We've had some spirited springs before, but this is a little different in that we're a little bit more settled in what we want to be doing offensively. Defensively, kids really understand the package now, some kids have been in the system for four years and now we're moving on and putting in a couple new wrinkles that we think can help us next year. There's a much different comfort level with and confidence level, with both the players and the coaching staff I think, than I've seen before.

LFN: You're pretty pleased so far with the progress the kids have been making offensively?

Coen: We're making mistakes - there's a lot of young players out there, a lot of rising sophomores and juniors. But that's really what the spring is for - for kids to learn on the fly without worrying about winning the game. The young kids have stepped up, we're just trying to get better every day out there.

Sophomore WR De'Vaughn Gordon, who played some last year for us, he's starting to establish himself and coming into his own. He's running better routes and he's more confident in the system and what he's doing. There's a great opportunity for all those wide receivers, and De'Vaughn's certainly taken advantage of it.

LFN: Tell us more about sophomore RB Matt Fitz, a name that came up in the official release on Friday.

Coen: He's done a really nice job. He's an engineer, he chose Lehigh instead of walking on at an FBS school. He's big: he's filled out a little bit - Matt's probably close to 6'1, 210 lbs right now. Runs a little upright, but he's fast and he runs hard. Kind of a slashing sort of guy, but he catches the ball well and he's not afraid to block. He was a kid that hurt his shoulder last year during camp, so he didn't get to do a whole lot and was really relegated to the scout team. He's impressed us with how he's played all spring.

LFN: How about the "O" line?

Coen: That's still a work-in-progress. Junior OL William Rackley is an outstanding player. Sophomore OL James Liebler has had a good spring, and so has junior OL Ricky Clerge. Sophomore C Keith Schauder hurt his thumb four of five practices in on his snapping hand, so we've been playing him some at guard right now, and senior OL Frank Giacalone is at the other tackle. We're stil looking to create depth, though, and there's still a lot of competition there.

LFN: Turning to the defense, that front seven looks pretty fearsome. One of those linemen is huge!

Coen: When we got here, there were certainly good players, but there wasn't a lot of depth. Coming in here I had some concerns graduating guys all-League performer DT Keith Jackson and also DL Paul Bode and DE Jon Warren who were all seniors that did a great job for us. Senior DL B.J. Benning is a real good player, and junior DL David Brown and junior DL Phil Winett are pretty active, they're physical guys there. David is your prototypical nose guard right now, but he's much more active now than he was. As he gets in better shape over the summer here, I think he's got a chance to be a really, really solid player for us. Winett came back off the shoulder injury and he's in great shape, runs well and he's been a pleasant surprise.

At linebacker, with the senior group established and the injury to senior LB Troy Taylor, there are young guys who are getting chances to play this spring. Sophomore LB Devin Greene is getting an opportunity to play, and he's doing a nice job. I'm also pleased with how sophomore LB Fred Mihal has been and junior LB Ben Flizack has come along.

LFN: Turning to the secondary, the emergence of sophomore DB Colin Newton was a pleasant development.

Coen: Newton is a good player. We've got more depth at corner than we've ever had. The whole secondary has done a great job playing outside through the spring.

LFN: And the kicking game?

Coen: Sophomore P Alex Smith is going to be the punter, and I feel he'll do a good job. Finally, junior K Tom Randazza has been getting better throughout the spring.

LFN: Finally, what's the format of the spring game going to be?

Coen: Pretty much the same way it was last year. We'll try to make it like a game situation, but our spring roster numbers won't allow a true brown/white type of thing. It will be an offense vs. defense with a modified scoring system. The offense and defense get after each other, so it should be a lot of fun - good-natured stuff. Good competition.
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