Friday, August 21, 2009

Media Day Tomorrow; LB Pierce Questionable for Opener?

Lehigh's summer practice is coming to a close this weekend, as the Mountain Hawks finish with a full scrimmage at Murray Goodman stadium tomorrow which coincides with Lehigh's hosted "Media Day". The latest report from the Lehigh website gives the scoop:

After practice Coen offered his thoughts on several Mountain Hawks that have left an impression during the 2009 camp. He started by pointing out a pair of players from the freshmen class, one from each side of the ball. “Freshman TE Jamel Haggins without a doubt on offense has been impressive,” Coen commented. “He’s big and physical, he’s catching everything thrown at him; he’s done a great job at tight end for us.” Coen continued, “On defense freshman CB Bryan Andrews continues to do a nice job. He’s a very good athlete with solid ball skills; he had a nice interception and runback the other day during our scrimmage. He’s still learning the position but he’s making a serious push for playing time.”

Asked to single out a pair of upperclassmen who are making their case for increased playing time Coen was quick to note that junior RB Jay Campbell and senior DL Steven Brown have stood out. “Jay Campbell has done a nice job going all the way back to the spring really,” Coen said. “He’s a little bigger than last year, a little more physical and he’s been consistent throughout camp.” He went onto add, “Like Jay, Steven Brown also had a solid spring. It’s great to see him stepping up as a senior and now that we’ve found the right position for him, he looks right at home.”

These reports always seem pretty rosy, but I am detecting a real spring in coach Coen's step with the emergence of all these players. You can never have too many running backs, and with Campbell and junior RB Jaren Walker in the backfield both apparently doing very well, hopefully what might have seemed like a potential weakness going into the fall may very well end up being a strength if Campbell indeed has emerged.

Haggins' emergence at TE is pretty exciting as well. It sounds from the release that he's at least the #2 TE behind junior TE Alex Wojdowski, a pretty darned good red-zone pass catcher in his own right. Also worthy of mention is sophomore FB Bryce Arruda, who got some action this week with a touchdown grab. Could we see more action towards the "H" backs during the regular season? If Arruda, Wojdowski or Haggins emerge as pass catching threats, that could be great news for the Lehigh offense.

Likewise, Steven Brown gives us enviable depth on the "D" line going into the year. While traditionally in the 3-4 the linebackers are the ones that are the focus, our starting "D" line (senior DE B.J. Benning, senior DE David Brown, and junior DT Phil Winett) could see Steven Brown switched in as well.

The only down news is that senior LB Al Pierce, one of the unsung heroes of last year's win over "that school in Easton", is nursing a hamstring injury that doesn't sound too good:

Pierce tweaked his hamstring about a week ago in practice and remains out during the football team's final few days of training camp. The Mountain Hawks scrimmage on Saturday before hosting their annual media day at 1 p.m. at Goodman Stadium.

"He's kind of week-to-week," coach Andy Coen said. "He's doing everything he can. I don't think it's like what we dealt with (Matt) McGowan a few years ago, but he (Pierce) pulled it pretty good."

The good news is that senior LB Troy Taylor should be able to step right into Al Pierce's spot if he happens to be out for any extended period. Taylor really was a great special teams hawk last year, and he has always had starting talent.

Finally, Andrews' emergence in the defensive backfield also gives Lehigh great depth in a position where you can never have enough speed and depth. Is all this pointing to a special Lehigh season?

Hoping to be at Lehigh media day tomorrow. In any event I'll file a report on the proceedings.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Incoming Frosh: Welcome to the Original (Lehigh) Football Nation

I somehow don't think that the Lehigh experience for freshmen will be anything like the 1979 not-so-classic movie (starring, posthumously, the very talented Leslie Blalock, who was clearly shafted of the Oscar from Sally Field in Norma Rae - union organizer, shmunion organizer - could she skate like that? I think not!). But as the incoming Lehigh freshmen come to South Mountain today, find out their residences, go over their class lists and textbook lists, and find out about fraternities and sororities, it's time to have them get to know about what's REALLY important: being a Lehigh football fan.

I never had a primer like this when I went to Lehigh back in the day. So to you, incoming Lehigh freshman, I present a list of what it means to be a Lehigh football fan.

* Know the Nation. Know first that of all the college fan nations out there, Lehigh's fan nation was the very first. Sure, while Gator Sports Nation, Nova Nation and all those Johnny-come-latelies are quaint and everything, they run second banana to the fan nation represented by this blog, run by me since 2003.

Inspired, obviously, by Red Sox Nation (a term first used by Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessey to describe the far-flung Bostonian fan base) it was me who first thought to narrow the tribe to those that love their university and those that love their football. That inspired me to start this independent blog about my alma mater, and I've been writing about Lehigh football ever since. And unlike many of the corporate branding opportunities I've inadvertently spawned, my voice is still one as an independent observer of Lehigh football.

* Start Hating Lafayette. Even on your first day at school, it's not too early to start to develop an unhealthy loathing for Laf* - I mean, "that school in Easton". They're within a marathon of our school and the Leopards compete with us in everything, but it's the football game on the third week in November - called, simply, "The Rivalry" - that will, as you'll see, consume the entire campus as the football season goes along.

Lehigh and Lafayette have played each other in football more than any other school. "The Rivalry" is not the oldest, but it did begin in 1884 and they have faced off against each other 144 times. The week before they play in November, things will (let's just say) get a little crazy, ending on that Saturday with (hopefully) a sound drubbing of the Leopards. Whatever happens, you won't forget it - it will be an integral part of your college memories. (Or lack thereof.)

When you go to your first home football game - perhaps on September 5th, when Lehigh hosts Central Connecticut State in the home opener - contemplate letting out a chant of "Lafayette Sucks!". And don't be surprised when the rest of the section chimes in. They know: it's a key part of being a Lehigh fan.

* Start Hating the Ivies. Harvard, Yale and Princeton - three of the biggest institutions of higher learning in the world. And they're coming to visit South Mountain this year. The Patriot League loves beating their Ivy League brothers in football, and gleefully enjoy denying the Ivy League undefeated seasons. (And those games are never easy: frequently, Lehigh ends up playing against players who find themselves in NFL camps or on NFL rosters.)

The Patriot League plays many Ivy League schools as out-of-conference games - some years, as many as four different Ivies. Both leagues have had a very close relationship over the years, and have a league rivalry that is unique. The record of all the Patriot League and Ivy teams are tabulated during the year: and folks at the Patriot League office love it when they come out on top, and even better if our teams knock off their eventual champion(s).

Of all the taunts I've heard about the Ivy League schools, no taunt seems to work as well as that old standby, "Safety school". Raising your Yuengling while tailgating with your pinkie held high seems to work too, but it just doesn't have that same je-ne-sais-quoi as "Safety School".

* Know Your FCS Football. Lehigh doesn't play in meaningless bowls (like that state school in the middle of the state. Who are they again?). The Mountain Hawks play in the Patriot League and count as our football leaguemates "that school in Easton", the Bucknell Bison, the Georgetown Hoyas, the Fordham Rams, the Holy Cross Crusaders, and the Colgate Raiders. We play for the Patriot League championship, and our champion receives an autobid to the FCS Playoffs where we compete against the likes of Montana, Appalachian State, Richmond and (hopefully) Delaware for a national championship.

USC, Michigan and Lehigh all play Division I football. There is no I-AA: it's all Division I. One spends a lot more money to compete in exhibition post-season bowls for an exhibition crystal ball championship (FBS); the other spends less money and operates under some different rules, but competes for a true NCAA national championship at the Division I level (FCS). Last year there was only one official NCAA national champion in football: that was Richmond, who beat Montana 24-7 in the National Championship game in Chattanooga, TN.

That's where you should want Lehigh to be. This year. It may be a very ambitious goal, but it's quite possible. In 2003, Colgate went to the national championship game, and not all that long ago in 2004 Lehigh came within a late drive of beating the eventual national champion, James Madison, at home in a 14-13 defeat.

* Finally, know your Engineering. I admit it: I'm a big fan of Clutch Hawk, Lehigh's mascot, and the Mountain Hawk, the name of Lehigh's sports teams. But it's worth mentioning that back in the day it wasn't the Hawks: Lehigh's sports teams used to be the Engineers, a team name that pretty aptly described the student-athletes playing the games.

Some folks are rabid Engineer fans. They don't like the Hawk - they think it was a travesty that Lehigh got rid of one of the most unique (and descriptive) team nicknames on the planet. Admittedly, it was fun to hear opposing cheerleaders try to say "Beat... Those.... Engineers!" But I've embraced the Hawk - Clutch really adds something to football games. And the Hawks do fly around South Mountain and Murray Goodman stadium all the time, making Lehigh's fan section ("The Nest") seem like, well, a Nest.

Welcome, incoming Lehigh freshmen. And welcome aboard, Lehigh football fans, to Lehigh Football Nation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday's Word: Heat

Preseason practices are underway, and although this weekend has featured record-breaking "heat", with report #1 and report #2 coming in from Lehighsports.com on preseason practice it's beginning to look a lot like football season.

This tails in with my own "heat" - this weekend, I ended up with a 103 degree fever as I returned from vacation. (We think it might have been "heat" exhaustion.) Fortunately for Lehigh (and unlike myself), despite the brutal conditions everyone seems to be holding up just fine for preseason training.

The Mountain Hawks went through a three-hour session in helmets and shoulder pads on the Goodman Campus and even with the sticky weather, fourth-year head coach Andy Coen was pleased with what he saw. “Weather like this will really tax you, but I thought the guys showed good energy and really fought through it.” He continued, “It’s obviously very early, but I like what I have seen from this group so far. Guys are working hard and everyone has come with a good mindset and lots of energy.”

After the Mountain Hawks coaching staff ran the team through a number of drills, the Lehigh offense lined up versus the defense for a series of plays that generated plenty of excitement on both sides of the ball. “We need guys to continue to execute the fundamentals and to learn their assignments,” Coen commented. “I really like what the defensive front has been doing out here. Junior DE David Brown has looked very strong in the early going and that’s exciting, and senior DT BJ Benning continues to be a playmaker. And I really like this freshmen class, particularly the skill players.”

Coen offered his thoughts on the younger Lehigh offensive players. “Freshman WR James Flynn and freshman WR Ryan Spadola both had a few nice catches for us today, and freshman TE Jamel Haggins caught a touchdown down there as well; he’s got a lot of potential with his size and athleticism.”

He went onto add, “We had a lot of our young linemen in there and overall they did a nice job; they battled all afternoon. The young running backs looked good in there, too. Overall the offense looked sharp in the beginning and they looked to have the upper hand, but the defense came back towards the end, particularly our front. Freshman DB Bryan Andrews returned the one interception for a touchdown, so there were a lot of good things going on out here on both sides of the ball.”

Look for more later on this week, as I recover from the "heat".
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