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New Orleans Donations Tommorrow At Goodman; Press Roundup; Thursday I-AA Wrapup

Hot off the presses. I have just learned from Jeff Tourial (Lehigh's Sports Information Director) that Lehigh's graduate student senate will have a collection table for folks who would like to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They will be outside the stadium tomorrow morning beginning at 11:30 am. All proceeds will benefit the Red Cross hurricane disaster relief fund. So if you want to help, stop by at the collection table.

A few notes on Thursday's I-AA games. No really major surprises, aside from the mild upset of Northwestern St. over I-A Lousiana-Monroe. I should have picked the UMass/Richmond game (since UMass was indeed ranked), but it's a good thing I didn't since I would have definitely got it wrong. Furman and Jacksonville St. played an absolute barn-burner, with Furman QB Ingle Martin completing a TD pass with the clock expiring to secure a 37-35 victory (and also preserving my pick).

The press roundup comes in today from far and wide. There is a great article in the Easton Express-times concerning Lehigh football members who had family, friends, and lives shattered by Hurricane Katrina. I won't quote the article here, but I'd urge you to link to it below - if that doesn't make you want to help the victims of Katrina, I don't know what will.

Morning Call:
Monmouth Coach Impressed With Lehigh

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Quartet Tackling Katrina's Wake
Lehigh Rides Two Streaks
Graziani and Hawks Set Very High Goals

Asbury Park Press (Monmouth):
A Tall Order For Defenses

The digested version:

Monmouth football coach Kevin Callahan gushed so much about Lehigh on Wednesday that Mountain Hawks coach Pete Lembo was hoping there might be a place for him on The Morning Call sports staff.

It's part of the coaching manual to praise opponents to media and lower expectations of your own team before a game, but Callahan's thorough, five-minute speech about Lehigh's strengths during a media luncheon at Starters Pub sounded like vintage Lou Holtz, only without the lisp.

"It's easy to see why they've been to the NCAA playoffs for five (of the last seven) years," said Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan, who expects former Phillipsburg standout running back Leonard Brice to see some action Saturday.

"What concerns me about them? Just about everything. There's a great chance they'll eclipse last year's accomplishments by a wide margin. They were the best offense in the Patriot League last year. And you know what? They don't turn the ball over.

"They're very explosive."

...

Callahan didn't need to puff up the 14th-ranked Mountain Hawks because in the eyes of the public, his team is already in a no-lose situation when it comes to Goodman Stadium for the 1 p.m. season opener on Saturday.
...

The presence of so many wide out sky scrapers could also shake [Monmouth WR Miles] Austin free from some of the defenses opponents threw his way last fall.

"Every game I pretty much got double-teamed," said Austin. "[Brendan Kennedy] can catch the fade ball, probably the best on the team. People have to worry about him now. If Shane [Sharpley] is on the other side catching touchdowns people have to worry about him, too.

Monmouth's most intriguing off-season move was the shift of Kennedy back to receiver where as a junior in high school he latched onto a team-best 21 passes for 416 yards and three TDs.

"Going (back) to wide out, I suggested it," said Kennedy. "I thought it would help out the team, get Brian on the field more often."

"They're very big targets," said [Monmouth QB Brian] Boland who, the same year Kennedy was a high school senior, was concluding a brilliant scholastic career at Brick Memorial.

"Most of the teams we play won't have corners close to the same height as these guys," he said.

"We're going to know where [Boland]'s at, know everything he does," Lehigh cornerback Brannan Thomas said. "They're a tough offense, especially with the players they have. Their quarterback puts up pretty impressive stats... They're not going to be intimidated."

...

[F]acing his most demanding schedule with road games at Delaware, Harvard, Bucknell, Colgate and Fordham, Lembo said he has learned to shield himself, and the team, from outside expectations.

''We talk a lot about what we can control and what we can't,'' he said. ''We can't control what people think. We can't control what's written in the newspaper and we can't control the fact that some of our fans may be looking ahead to other games. What we can control is how we practice, how we treat ourselves as a football family.''

The Lehigh University Mountain Hawks have never lost a season opener during coach Pete Lembo's watch and have won their first game for seven consecutive years.

"There's a huge emphasis we place on winning the first game," Lembo said. "We don't look ahead. I know other people have a tendency to look ahead. We don't. I give our players a lot of credit for understanding and buying into that."

But that's not the streak that will be driving the Mountain Hawks come Saturday.

"The streak we have now we've lost our last two games," said Julian Austin, the Mountain Hawks' junior safety.

...

Lembo said that senior quarterback Mark Borda, the Patriot League's preseason player of the year, has worked hard in camp — sometimes too hard.

''Mark has pushed himself so hard that we actually had to cut back on his reps in practice,'' he said. ''He was wearing himself down a little. We gave him off a day last week and again on Sunday and he really came back with a lot of zip on the ball.''

And Lembo said Borda's best attributes are not seen from the bleachers.

''He's a terrific person and I like being around him every day,'' Lembo said. ''I like his approach to the game, I like his humble attitude, I like that he takes nothing for granted.''

...

"We had a number of players last year show flashes of brilliance in certain games," Lembo said, "and in other games, they might not have made as great of an impact -- everyone from the quarterback right on down to the nose tackle. I would say consistency is right up there at the top of my list.

"Next in line is toughness," Lembo said. "We lost some very good players from last year's team, but they were also some of the toughest kids in the program -- guys who battled through serious injuries, guys who practiced incredibly hard every day, guys who you knew, in the locker room, were keeping things in line.

"While I'm optimistic we can fill those holes in the games, it still remains to be seen if we have enough guys with those intangibles to give us that same presence we had last year."

"Last year was a great time," said Graziani, who will resume his starring role at linebacker as a fifth-year senior after leading the Mountain Hawks with 111 tackles in an All-Patriot League season. "I loved it last year. I just wanted to come back and experience it one more time."

"This could be a very special year," said defensive tackle Royce Morgan, who returns after making 2( sacks over the first seven quarters of last year before a broken leg and dislocated ankle finished his season. "On the team level, I expect us to do great things in our league and great things in the playoffs."

"Having that prefix on the word 'champions' doesn't fit us too well," said Adam Selmasska, a senior guard from Easton and another co-captain. "That's what we're trying to do take the next step, take it to the next level."

"We got close, but we didn't win," said Borda, a former star at Bethlehem Catholic. "We have the ability to play with those types of teams. It's a little disappointing because we lost those games... I have one year under my belt. My confidence level is a lot higher than last year. I have a lot of confidence and high expectations for our offense."

"Our defensive backs are just a fun group of kids to be around," Lembo said. "They're very diverse. And they're probably as tight-knit a group as we have on our team.

"Our expectations and goals remain very consistent from year to year -- to win our first game, to be in the hunt for a league championship come November and to be playing meaningful football games at the end of the season."

To the Mountain Hawks, that would only start the good times rolling.

"I have a lot of confidence in this team," Graziani said. "Our expectations and goals are set pretty high. I want to be part of it."

See you Saturday!

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