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Media Day Wrapup: Second Chances

I'm back from vacation, two days before Lehigh opens up camp for the 2005 season, and I'm greeted by the wrapups of Patriot League Media Day last week. Not too surprisingly, Lehigh was picked as the preseason favorites to win the Patriot League this year, with Lafayette not incredibly far behind.

1. LEHIGH (8), 68 points
2. Lafayette (3), 61 points
3. Colgate (1), 49 points
4. Fordham (2), 41 points
5. Bucknell, 40 points
6. Holy Cross, 20 points
7. Georgetown, 15 points

It seems like the other coaches and SIDs (the people who vote on the poll) feel that Lehigh, with key veterans on both sides of the ball returning, is the team to beat. However, it must be said that it looks like the Patriot League race is wide-open this year, and that's also reflected in this poll. Colgate, Fordham, and Bucknell will be fielding strong teams - any one of these teams have the ability to make a title run. Colgate is starting with a brand-new offense, but they have a big "O" line and a strong veteran defense. Fordham's youth corps and "Triple J" backfield will not be easy to stop. Bucknell boasts exceptional running backs in their triple-option attack to go with 2 preseason Patriot League players of the year on defense.

I could also see Holy Cross maybe pulling off a league upset this year with a high-octane offense. And Georgetown isn't the same team they were 4 years ago - they are getting more talent and will be a better team than last year. This could be the most competitive Patriot season in its history. Lehigh won't be able to afford to let up any week this year.

As you read the press releases, you read about coach Lembo's thoughts on his players and the year ahead. From the Mountain Hawk players, however, you instead hear only one theme over and over: losing to Lafayette and James Madison in the last 2 games of the season. From the Morning Call:

Borda and fellow captains Adam Selmasska, Anthony Graziani and Kaloma Cardwell said the loss to Lafayette, in which Lehigh was totally outplayed in the second half, still festers.

''It helped to motivate us,'' Borda said. ''I remember what it felt like and I don't want to forget that feeling. And, I hope the rest of the guys who walked off the field that day remember it as well. We never want to feel that way again.''

Graziani, the Pen Argyl graduate and fifth-year senior who will play a key role at linebacker, agreed.

''There's a sour taste in everybody's mouth, losing the last two games like we did,'' he said. ''We got in the playoffs and lost by a point to James Madison, which went on to win the national championship, and all that did was make us ask, 'Why not us?'

''I was fortunate enough to have another year left. I really felt bad for the seniors. It hurt to see how upset they were at Lafayette. I won't forget that feeling for as long as I live. But we have another chance and we intend to make the most of it.''

Personal honors? Preseason awards? Preseason polls? No big-egos here or in the Express-Times article:

''The preseason stuff is nice, for today,'' Borda said. ''But after today, you put it in your back pocket because it's not going to win any football games for us.''

Borda was honored, saying ''There are a lot of great players on offense on our team and in this league.''

Likewise, Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said of the preseason poll, ''It's nice to be recognized by your peers and we don't take it for granted. But it doesn't win any games for you on Saturday afternoon. In fact, it puts a bigger bull's eye on your back.''

...

"He's the type of guy you want to be in a foxhole with," Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said of his QB. "The nice thing about Mark is that he's super humble. He doesn't take anything for granted. He doesn't expect anything. He goes to work every day with his lunch pail."

Strangely, aside from a Bucknell-area newspaper called the Daily Item, it seems like no other media wrote any reports - furthermore, the Daily Item guy mostly wrote about Lehigh and Lafayette!

Worthy of note is how Lafayette coach Frank Tavani is framing the upcoming season:

Lafayette coach Frank Tavani handed out offseason workout T-shirts to his players in January, with a familiar message articulated on it.

The Leopards coach added one thing: a bulls-eye.

One on the front and one on the back.

Lafayette won a share of the Patriot League championship last season, so Tavani knows what’s coming when this season begins Sept. 3.

"We know the targets are going to be on our backs,’’ the sixth-year head coach said. "But it’s a nice position to be in."

...

"It’s nice to be recognized," Tavani said. "But it still seems like we’re the little team down the road (from Lehigh)."

Yes, just like Lehigh, the Leopards are going to have the bullseye on their backs. But if you read the media reports, it doesn't even seem like there are any other teams besides Lehigh and Lafayette. That's what I'm afraid of - that a Bucknell, Fordham, or a Colgate with lowered expectations will sneak away with the title. More than ever, Lehigh will not be able to be complacent, even for 1 week.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Most see it as Lehigh's to lose because of the returning skill on offense. Offensive line, though, is huge question mark. Lehigh must develop a running game with their stellar backs to open up the secondary for the speedy wr's with single coverage. But regardless of the skill, the beef needs to open holes and protect Borda.
Defense has a good core returning, but will need someone to step up to Alfsen's pressure that will be missed. Kicking game can't be any worse than last year. Missed fg's, out of bounds ko's...Musiek looked much improved in Spring game.
Problem with league is any loss of focus will result in a loss for anyone. The Brown & White are just going to have to want it more than the others. If they are truly haunted by the ending of last season, then they should be fine.

--Ngineer
Anonymous said…
I agree with Ngineer about the defense - that's my biggest concern. Not so much the graduation of players, but the wholsale changes in the coaching staff are very scary. I hate to say it, but Lafayette actually looks like the team to beat just because they return so many players from last years' co-championship team. But there's a reason they play the games...
colgate13 said…
How right you are LFN - I'm loving Colgate's position just outside of the spotlight for now. Let some other teams sweat it out for a bit. We'll be bringing our best and have Lehigh, Fordham and Bucknell at home.

I couldn't ask for much more.

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