In a stunning turn of events, QB J.B. Clark announced that he is leaving the team after learning that he was dropped to third on the depth chart behind junior QB Chris Lum and sophomore QB Michael Colvin.
I wasn't surprised, necessarily, to see Clark not be anointed the starter. But I was stunned to see Clark demoted to third string and leave the team. Lehigh's most experienced quarterback on the roster this spring is now gone, leaving big questions that will need to be answered by the Drake game. (more)
In the spring game, it appeared that Lum and Clark were at least even in the competition at QB with near-identical stat lines. Last year, of course, Clark started the year extremely poorly and Lum came in as the starter to replace him - who no better results than Clark. So going into camp, it at worst seemed like a dead heat for the starting role.
It is entirely possible that if Clark had been anointed the starter, Lum might have been the one looking to transfer.
How ironic that the kid who won a quarterback battle in 2008 with QB Chris Bokosky to become the starter would lose his starting job two years later in the same way in which he won it.
“As a coaching staff, we felt it was important to share with the quarterbacks their status after the scrimmage so they know where they stood heading into the final week,” Coen explained. “JB was third as he was outperformed by the other two quarterbacks on Friday. Upon being told the news, JB has unfortunately decided that he would like to leave Lehigh and find an institution where he can be a starting quarterback.”
Coen then offered his thoughts on Clark’s departure, “While I am obviously disappointed in his decision, I will support JB because I think highly of him as a person. He’s a tremendous competitor and he wants to be out there playing on Saturday afternoons. I appreciate the hard work and dedication he has given to our football program and wish him nothing but success moving forward.”
“From a leadership standpoint, we’re sad to see JB go,” added senior OL Will Rackley. “But there’s no negativity towards him, and I don’t think he has any towards us. As a team, we haven’t missed a beat. We still have the same goal, to win a championship, and we’re going to go out every day and work with Chris, Mike and senior QB Trace Cisneros and try to make that happen.”Clark's leadership was what seemed - from my distant vantagepoint, anyway - the X factor that could have decided a close decision between Lum or Clark for the starting nod.
You could argue about his mechanics, or his frustrating tendency to try to force completions (that too frequently became interceptions), but the single thing you couldn't argue about was he had that intangible - that "determination gene", or whatever it is - that kids rallied behind. There was a reason he was the starting quarterback in the biggest games of the last two years.
But in the end, it wasn't enough. Dave Cecchini appeared to want to go another direction with the offense - a type of West Coast offense, with precision passes and multiple reads all over the field - and Lum appears to have fit the bill better than J.B. did.
The D-II season starts this weekend, so in my opinion it is unlikely that he'll transfer in time to play this year. If he transfers to another FCS program, my understanding is he'll need to do so now and have to wait an entire year to play. He might not get transferred in time to play in the first game of next year.
If I had to put money on it, I'd guess he'd transfer to Jacksonville of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League (which is in the same league as Drake). He has to, in effect, sit out a year anyway, and it's closer to home for him. Assuming he wins the starting job down there, he at least would be able to say he was a starting QB at a Division I school for three years.
I remember last year's 27-21 win over Lafayette like it was yesterday. Clark, despite enduring six sacks and an extraordinary amount of pressure from DT Ian Dell, LB Mark Leggerio and the rest of the fearsome Leopard defense, somehow managed to pick himself up after each sack, dust himself off and push forward for the Mountain Hawks.
Despite the fact that Lehigh felt like they should have been way behind after the first half, they took every Lafayette punch and still stood. And then Clark took over.
Clark then led Lehigh on the best offensive drive of the year. Again Lehigh would find themselves with third downs to convert on the drive, and again Clark would will the ball to convert them. 3rd and 7? Clark to Drwal, 14 yards. 3rd-and-3? Clark to Wojcowski, right at the sticks. 3rd and 8? Clark threads a ball to sophomore WR De'Vaughn Gordon, who then evades two tacklers and rumbles down the center of the field to the Lafayette 6 yard line. After the 63 yard pass play, suddenly, there are even more believers in the Lehigh stands.
Clark's version of "The Drive" - followed by a score in overtime - would be enough to win only the second overtime game in "Rivalry" history. An unforgettable day where Clark's determination seemed - for a day - to be enough to beat "that school in Easton".
Lum is going to be the unquestioned starter now - it is, as of this moment forward, his team. The paragraphs and stories will now all become about him as the spotlight turns in his direction, and there will be plenty to talk about in the weeks to come with him.
He has a wonderful opportunity available to him.. A chance to win football games, to play against a playoff team and the defending national champions, to bring a winning record back to the Mountain Hawks, to become a leader on this team. Head coach Andy Coen and the rest of the coaching staff have confidence that he can bring this team a Patriot League championship.
But he'll have to prove that he's as determined a competitor that Clark once was.
I think J.B. has earned at least that much from us.
Fare thee well, J.B., wherever your football dream takes you.