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Spring Football Practice Takes Center Stage (Over Lax, Wrestling, Women's B-Ball)

With a nearby first-round matchup in the NCAA women's basketball tournament to prepare for, a trip to St. Louis to plan for the seven qualified wrestlers for the national NCAA championships... ya think the Lehigh Athletic department is a little bit busy this week? (I also did notice Lehigh's amazing eight-goal comeback victory against Army in men's lacrosse.)

Hard as it is to believe, there's more big news from Lehigh athletics this week, too: they announced that spring football practice gets underway tomorrow, starting at 4:30 p.m. Head coach Andy Coen, rejoined by new special teams/running backs coach R.J. Ryan (pictured) who was recently hired to take the place of Adam Scheier (Bowling Green), is eager to get back on the gridiron to see the players' development in the offseason:

“This is a fun time of year for us. We aren’t going to be worried about winning or losing games, but rather, focusing on trying to improve every single time we’re out there. We have a lot of talented, young guys in the program and it’s exciting to the coaching staff to see how they have developed throughout the winter months, particularly the rising sophomore class.”

While football games are won in the fall, championships are won in the spring. It's the stuff that doesn't always get written about - conditioning, gameplans, position battles, and the like - that gets worked on in the spring and gives fans a tantalizing look at what may be in store for the upcoming season.

Practices generally are closed at Lehigh, but the Brown & White Spring game (this year, taking place on April 18th) is free and open to the public at Murray Goodman stadium.

What sort of storylines are at play this spring for the football team?

  1. Who Will Catch Clark's Passes? Rising junior QB J.B. Clark is the unquestioned leader of the offense, but his top receiving targets, WR Sekou Yansane and WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald graduating, who will emerge as his No. 1 target coming out of spring practice? Eight WRs will be competing for precious spots, including rising junior WR Craig Zurn and another intriguing name: rising sophomore WR Travis Artim, who showed promise on the football field in 2007 (but did not participate in football in 2008). There is clearly no frontrunner here, though, in this battle - this depth cart seems destined to change all spring.
  2. Who Fills McGowan's and Watson's shoes? RB Matt McGowan, Lehigh's leading rusher, and staring FB Adam Watson leave South Mountain this year, and an opportunity exists for one of the running backs in camp this spring to really stand out. The starting FB position, rising senior FB Anthony Fossati (and one of the strongest players on the team), seems a mortal lock. But is rising junior RB Jaren Walker fully recovered from his season-ending injury from 2008? And can rising sophomore RB Matt Fitz, or rising junior RB Jay Campbell establish themselves as potential go-to backs this spring?
  3. The Kicking Game. With P/K Jason Leo graduating, coach Coen will undoubtedly be looking at rising junior K Tom Randazza and rising sophomore P/K Alex Smith to see how they've worked in the offseason and how they will perform this spring. Will one or both emerge and make the kicking "battle" a moot point in August?
  4. The Big Uglies. Lehigh's win over "that school in Easton" showed that coach Coen's emphasis on both the "O" and "D" lines has paid off, but the departure of big all-Patriot League guys like DL Brian Jackson and OL Kevin Bayani need replacing for 2009. On offense, you can chalk in rising junior OL Will Rackley and rising junior C Keith Schauder in the starting lineup, but there are no fewer than nine players - including rising senior OL Frank Giacalone and rising senior OL Ben Harden - that will be competing for starting spots. On the defensive side rising senior DT (and LFN fave) B.J. Benning seems like a mortal lock for a starting role, while a slew of other linemen are looking to start next to him, including rising senior DT Darrell Ray and rising junior DT Phil Winett.
  5. Secondary depth. You can chalk up two of the starting positions in the secondary: rising junior CB Jarard Cribbs - and, of course, rising junior CB John "Fear Itself" Kennedy, whose dramatic 90 yard interception sealed the win against "that school in Easton". The replacements for SS Quadir Carter and FS Brendan VanAckeren are harder to gauge, though the frontrunner for one of those positions has to be rising senior SS Jesse Sanchez. The final safety spot (and the remaining secondary slots) are up for grabs for no fewer than six players, including rising senior S Femi Ajewole and rising junior DB Casey Eldemire.

Looking towards New Jersey, it's abundatly clear that Lehigh can't afford to sit back and relax. Lafayette filled their two coaching vacancies as admirably as Lehigh did with R.J. Ryan, nabbing FBS Toledo offensive line coach (and former Penn State player) Stan Clayton to fill Bob Heffner's (Northwestern) big shoes on the "O" line, and grabbing at defensive backs Doug McFadden (South Dakota State) and at wide receivers former Leopard player Marcel Quarterman.


Anonymous said…
What the hell's with the use of term "rising"? It's annoying. Knock it off.

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