I've been posting a series on "Knowing our 2010 Opponents" this summer, but before going into the regular season we need to know ourselves, too. What do we have? Who will be starting? And what will the Mountain Hawks' strengths be?
Behold, as I introduce this year's 2010 preview of the Lehigh offense, and my take as to who's starting and who's on the two deep. (more)
Entering his fifth year as Lehigh's head football coach, Andy Coen's big legacy on the Mountain Hawk program to this point has been beating Lafayette for two straight years in "The Rivalry", reversing a four-game slide against the Leopards and bringing his record against "that school in Easton" to 2-2. Despite 5-6, 5-6 and 4-7 records the last few years, you can also say that Coen's teams have been incredibly close to turning the corner all three years: reverse one last-second loss to Colgate in 2008 (34-33) and two last second losses to Colgate (27-20) and Holy Cross (24-20) in 2009, and Lehigh could be defending back-to-back co-championships at this point. It's not like Coen's teams have embarrassed themselves. They have been this close.
It's nice to think about what might have happened, but the reality is that it didn't happen, and a huge change was made this offseason to bring in offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini. The change was not so much for revamping the offensive philosophy, but to tweak the offense and get a level of performance out of the offense that has been missing. What exactly the changes will be, however, will remain a mystery until this Saturday in Des Moines.
As has been extensively reported, junior QB Chris Lum won a fiercely contested battle for the quarterback position, with sophomore QB Michael Colvin penciled in as his backup. Lum, who got some starts last year when QB J.B. Clark struggled early in 2009, showed some flashes of ability in his limited time as the starter with plenty of zip on his passes and some great connections. However, facing Harvard's and Yale's brutal pass rushing ability last year exposed his inexperience - and caused him to be benched, again, in favor of Clark.
But Lum - and his backup, Colvin - have worked incredibly hard this offseason to become better quarterbacks. Lost in the news that Clark left the team is that it is Lum's and Colvin's emergence that has led us to this point. Colvin - a guy with a lot of natural talent - will also find the field at some point in 2010, probably in the Wildcat formation, possibly playing the role of WR Matt Szczur, the do-everything player on Villanova who won the MVP of the FCS National Championship last year. But it remains to be seen how it's all going to work.
The backfield will feature two seniors: senior RB Jay Campbell, who grabbed the starting running back position and didn't let go, and senior FB Jaren Walker, a former running back who bulked up to play fullback in the new offense. Campbell, a darting back that always seems to make a way to get positive yardage, and Walker, who has bulked up to 210 lbs and looks like a very intriguing rushing option out of the backfield, have the potential to be a very strong 1-2 punch. Neither has caught a lot of balls out of the backfield, but you wonder if that could change with Cecchini in charge of the offense.
Backing them up looks to be junior RB Matt Fitz, sophomore RB Zach Barket, and - quite possibly - freshman RB Keith Sherman. At fullback, junior FB Bryce Arruda seems like a lock as the blocking fullback behind Walker. The 200 lb Barket could also possibly sub in for Walker as a running fullback, and it's possible that Sherman, a talented 6'0 190 lb freshman, may see playing time as well. Fitz is a gutsy kid who also could see time spelling Campbell. For the first time, it seems, since Coen became head coach, there is depth in the offensive backfield.
Nearly all the receiving threats from last year return in 2010, but the starting No. 2 wideout may be a suprise to some. Junior WR Jake Drwal (641 yards receiving, 4 TDs) will be the starting No. 1 guy, but 6'3 sophomore WR Ryan Spadola, who had 1 catch last year, has impressed the entire coaching staff enough to earn a starting spot. Joining him will be senior TE Alex Wojdowski (18 catches, 190 yards, 7 TDs) and will give Lum three tall trees to throw to at any given time.
Senior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn (371 yards, 2 TDs), burner junior WR De'Vaughn Gordon (504 yards, 4 TDs) and junior WR Preston Soeprasetyo would appear to have a bead on the other receiving positions, and will get plenty of time in the receiving mix. Freshman WR Lee Kurfis has a chance to get on the field versus Drake as well, while at tight end I'm thinking that sophomore TE Jamel Haggins and junior TE Mark Wickware will also play a crucial part in this offense as well. Notably, everyone I've mentioned on this list is over 6 feet tall.
The "O" line will feature the offensive captain and best player on the offense, senior OL Will Rackley. The 6'4, 310 lb behemoth has plenty of NFL scouts sniffing around at his potential at becoming an NFL guard, and to that effect Rackley has said that personally he wants to work on the "nastiness" in his line play. He has the potential to be a fantastic protector of Lum's "blind side" and if he can wear down some daunting defensive lines this year, I can guarantee he will get plenty of notice.
Not to be forgotten is 300 lb senior OL Ricky Clerge at right guard - another behemoth - and lots of linemen returning with boatloads of experience: junior C Jim Liebler, senior OL R.J. McNamara, and senior OL Keith Schauder. This could be the year that going with a lot of young linemen in years past will really pay off in the trench - if these guys can play up to their potential, it will go a long way towards re-establishing Lehigh's offense as an elite unit in the Patriot League.
My guesses as to who will be backing them up is freshman C Matt Lippincott, junior OL Vinny Pelligrini, junior OL Troy McKenna, sophomore OL Mike Vuono, and - emphasize that I'm guessing here - sophomore OL Joe Larach. This line is undeniably big by any measure - and has a lot of experience. It's certain that Coen will be looking at this unit to really lead this offense, especially in the early going.
It's easy to see this unit as one with a lot of potential. Yet, questions remain. How will Lum do against Drake? How will this offense look under Cecchini? Will the receiving corps step up their game? And will the stable of running backs click together in the backfield?
In four days, we'll know.