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Patriot League Media Day: Coaches & Players, Part One

Patriot League Media Day is supposed to be all about the players and coaches, and the excitement of the upcoming football season.

But with the subject of football scholarships sucking out the air in the room to some degree - and the absence of last year's offensive superstars like QB Dominic Randolph - caused some of the emphasis to be, wrongly, diverted from the coaches and student-athletes.

Lost in the issues of Craig Haley's controversial report on media day and my observations of the scholarship proceedings was what the media was supposed to be there for: the upcoming 2010 fall season. And this year has no shortage of interesting storylines and compelling personal stories. To net it all out you need to just start with the preseason picks as to who is going to be in contention.  In Part One of the roundup of Patriot League Media Day, we focus on Lafayette, Colgate and Holy Cross.  (more)



Most years in the Patriot League, the defending champion gets a whole heap of respect.  Sure, Holy Cross lost the best quarterback in league history, QB Dominic Randolph, but the return the preseason defensive player of the year - senior DE Mude Ohimor, who has a golden opportunity to establish himself as one of the best defensive ends in all of FCS this year.

Granted, the vote was incredibly close, with second place through fourth place separated by only two votes.  But picked fourth?  Behind Lehigh, who was 4-7 last year?

“I’ll tell you, that was last year and this is this year. I think, being in both positions over the years, you quickly learn every year is a new year. It’s easy to look back at a good season and have a lot of good feeling,” head coach Tom Gilmore told Paul Reinhart of the Morning Call.

"One would think we would be higher after winning the championship last year but I guess we will have to show it again on the field," Coach Gilmore told me.  "It is the post-season poll that matters not the pre-season poll."

Ohimor didn't have much of a reaction when he made a short speech to honor his preseason accolade.  "I'm very flattered and honored," he said.  "I feel like I had a lot of potential, coming out as a senior in high school. My coaches took a gamble on me, since I didn't know a lot about the game of football, but I felt they always believed in me and that I could become something, and they did a great job in bring that into fruition."

(Speeches like this always make me wonder - at other media days around the country, how often are the words fruition mentioned?  Or, more to the point, used accurately and correctly as the were by Mr. Ohimor - not referring to it as, say a fruit drink or a way to hydrate oneself? Going to these things, I'm always impressed by the intelligent young men who come to represent their schools.)

****

How close were Lehigh, Lafayette, Colgate and Holy Cross last year?  Throw out the 42-28 revenge game that Holy Cross imposed on Colgate last year, and every other game between these four schools was determined by a touchdown or less.

“It could have gone either way,” Gilmore said. “In some cases, we found a way to pull out the close games. I think it’s gonna be that way again this year. Whoever is able to pull them out will be at the top of the league.

"One thing that I did take from it was how close the voting was.  It indicates that most people think this will be a very competitive season in the Patriot League and the champion will have to be able to win some closely contested contests.  Each team has some big shoes to fill from last season, so the new starters around the league will have a major role to play."

****

Colgate was the runaway preseason choice to win the Patriot League, leading Lafayette (2nd), Lehigh (3rd), and Holy Cross (4th) by more than ten points in voting.  However, privately almost everyone I talked to thought that this league, as always, is going to be a toss-up and could be determined in the final weekend.

If you go to the Colgate official website and look at the video of Patriot League media day and the interview with Colgate head coach Dick Biddle, you'll see coach Biddle - but you won't hear him (since the audio was messed up).  That might suit coach Biddle just fine, however, who has gained a reputation as not wanting to be seen - or heard - in these media events.

Straight-talking coach Biddle, looking about as comfortable as a zebra at a lion convention, frequently found himself off to the side, away from the Colgate table, talking to reporters one-on-one in a more comfortable setting for him. Away from the lights, he told folks that he was liking his team this year - and, with characteristic understatement, talked about the potential of his squad, notably his offensive line.

"We do have a nucleus of some good, talented players; obviously, you never have enough of them," said Biddle to the Sports Network, as always staying away from specific names.  "I think the key for us is some unknown guys that haven't played before are really going to have to step up and play."

There's also those other two guys that Colgate have that will be generating the yardage behind the always-fearsome Raider front line: junior RB Nate Eachus and senior QB Greg Sullivan.  Sullivan was crowned the Patriot League preseason offensive player of the year.

"It's an honor to be recognized by you guys," Sullivan said in his short speech, taking a page out of the Biddle media playbook.  “It's an honor to be named preseason player of the year in such a prestigious league as the Patriot League. This accolade is a tribute to my teammates because without them this award would not be possible.”

"The first thing I thought,'' Sullivan told the Hudson Valley Record, "was this thing means nothing — if anything, it's a way for me to get a big bull's-eye on my back. Then I thought about it and, yeah, it's a great honor. It's a pretty cool thing. It's an honor that people look at me like that.''

Not bad for a young man who was barely on the depth chart two years ago.

As for Eachus, Paul Reinhart of the Morning Call talked to him about his incredible performance in a losing effort to Lafayette last year, 56-49 in one of the most entertaining games of the year in 2009 - and that he may, just may, be looking for revenge.

“That was one of the best games I ever played in my entire life,” Eachus siad. “But the bus trip home, a four-hour ride after losing, was not fun. All the credit to (Lafayette). They played a great game. We’re gonna make sure we mark them on the schedule… get revenge for last year.”

****

If you want the inside scoop on the players at Lafayette, Paul Reinhart's blog posting is a treasure trove of facts and information.

For example, you learn some of the team-building exercises that Lafayette is doing in an effort to reclaim the Patriot League title: a 5:00 AM workout every Friday.

“Waking up at 4:30, it’s not even morning yet; it’s still nighttime,” senior DL Michael Phillips said. “But we all come together. It’s something special that is gonna help us a lot.” Senior LB Michael Schmidlein said, “It’s how end the week. We work out for only about an hour or an hour and a half because some guys have to be at work by 7 a.m.”

And when they say "work", they mean "work", as in their summer jobs and what they'll likely be doing after graduation.  For example, Schmidlein worked for the COO of Coordinated Health. Senior QB Marc Quilling and senior K Davis Rodriguez both worked for former Leopard OL Phil Noto. “He’s a lobbyist, and he also imports olive oil, so we pretty much shadowed him. We went with him to meetings with his clients, went to the capital in Harrisburg a couple of times, helped him with the olive oil business,” Quilling said.

Despite the presence of Quilling at media day, Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani insists that it's still a battle at quarterback going into the season opener against Georgetown. "Preseason can close gap, but we won't scrimmage with the quarterbacks live in camp and it's tough to get a bead," Tavani told the Morning Call. "We'll see how it goes through game experience. There is nothing hanging over junior QB Ryan O'Neil's head right now."

Nothing, that is, except Quilling's presence and interviews at Media Day.

"I'm looking forward to getting back because, obviously, this is my last year," Quilling said. "You have to be hard on yourself, smart, composed. The coaches look at the little things; the reads, the plays, what you do when you're performing on the field is one thing, but things like leadership and composure at the position is a key component to what you can bring to the offense."

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