The two-time Patriot League champions showed up for the first spring practice of the year a week ago, signalling the end of the 2011 victory laps in the form of banquets, awards, and even pro days.
Though the beginning of the spring season was kicked off with some fun with the team - a strongman competition to show off the team's offseason weight training gains - the truth of the matter is this will be the most challenging and eye-opening Mountain Hawk spring season of the last three years.
That's what happens when you need to replace four of the top players in the Patriot League last year, including the Walter Payton award runner-up, QB Chris Lum, and two more all-Americans.
“The 2012 season kicks off in earnest on Friday," head coach Andy Coen said. "We have a tremendous amount of work to do to be at the level that we are now. We’ve set the bar very high. We set it high in 2011 raised the bar in 2011. It’s always about exceeding what we’ve done. To accomplish that, we’re going to have a lot of guys step up.”Coach Coen expanded on his comments in an interview with Keith Groller of the Morning Call.
"There's a lot of newness with this group and yet with that newness the expectations don't change," Coen said. "What I liked about last year's team is that coming off the 2010 season they wanted to raise the bar even higher. Fortunately, we were able to do that and now the challenge to these guys is to raise the bar yet again."
Last year, there was no question that QB Chris Lum, who had taken over the starting position in preseason and guided Lehigh to an undefeated Patriot League record and a win against Northern Iowa in the UNIDome for the program's first playoff win since 2001, would be the starting quarterback.
With Chris set to graduate in May and an eye on a professional contract playing football somewhere, Question One of the spring is: can senior QB Michael Colvin can keep a stranglehold on the starting position, or if junior QB Brandon Bialkowski or sophomore QB Gerald Poutier can grab the starting nod over him?
Colvin is best known for coming in during certain series in the "Wildcat" formation over the last three years, scoring 3 TDs and netting 77 yards rushing. He's extremely athletic and will be given every chance to nail down the starting role over the left-handed gun of Bialkowski and the accuracy of Poutier.
They'll be competing for the right to complete passes to one of the best wideouts in the Patriot League, senior WR Ryan Spadola, and another great talent in senior TE Jamel Haggins. But there are plenty of other receiving spots that look up for grabs, with a slew of potential players competing for starting positions, notably junior WR Lee Kurfis, sophomore WR Josh Parris, and sophomore WR Alex Buford. Who will emerge on the other side of Ryan?
One interesting issue this spring involves not who's going to be competing for positions, but who's not there.
"We're going to have a tremendous opportunity for our offensive linemen. We have three returning starters on the O-line, but all three are coming off surgery and won't be participating in the spring. So, there will be a lot of newness there and young kids will get reps."Three starting "O" linemen sitting out with injury? Ouch... And with senior RB Zach Barket still nursing his ankle injury and senior LB Billy Boyko not present at practice either due to injury,the focus then comes on which players will shine to take their place in the spring - and perhaps start in the fall.
Without senior OL Mike Vuono, junior OL A.J. Hood, and junior OL Matt Lippincott, a pair of seniors, senior OL Lex Utt and senior OL Tom Ruley, will get a lot of reps with the first team.
Sophomore C Matt Douglas should also get a lot of time under center this spring as well, replacing team captain C Keith Schauder on the line. There will be a great opportunity for other linemen to jump in and compete for positions on the two deep as well. Who might those players be?
Depending on Barket's foot, junior RB Keith Sherman, a key part of Lehigh's 1-2 rushing punch, will probably get the top spot in the spring rushing the ball, with senior RB Marcus Dormevil and junior RB Cody Haupt getting plenty of reps as well. At fullback, junior FB Zach Hayden and senior FB Sean Farrell are locks at that position and will start there this spring.
If there's one more giant question this spring, though, its: how will this unit look, with only three of the same faces that took the field against North Dakota State last December?