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Chris Lum and the Walter Payton Award

Some football players are their own biggest mouthpiece.  But senior QB Chris Lum, Lehigh's classy superstar from Lake Orion, Michigan, is not.

For many people voting on the Walter Payton award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, they look at statistics, and in Lum's case, they are mighty impressive.

But for a star quarterback - who is most assuredly an NFL prospect - the Lake Orion, Michigan native is surprisingly willing to dish credit to others the way he dish completions to his receiving targets.

What strikes you about Lum, when you interview him, is a streak of perfectionism.

"I only went home for three days this summer," he mentioned to me back in August. "I had a job right in Bethlehem and I've been working out with the team. I would have spent more time at home, but I had to get my wisdom teeth removed, so I had to come back early.  It's hard, but I've been used to it. I've been up here every summer. Last year, I didn't miss a single summer workout. This year, I missed two."

You got the impression he was more comfortable taking about the practices he missed rather than the practices he made.

But his amazing work ethic and high expectations for himself have resulted in amazing success for himself - and, he'd be the first to tell you, more importantly, his team.

"It's a great honor to have your name put on the trophy with many of the great athletes and players that have played here and it's awesome to be a part of this rivalry," Lum said after he and the seniors achieved one of their goals, their fourth straight win over Lafayette. "The defense played incredible and put the offense in awesome situations with some turnovers."

True to form, even though he won the MVP of  "The Rivalry", the only trophy or accolade he hadn't already achieved as a Mountain Hawk, he instead heaped praise on the defense instead.

Looking over Lum's statistics during the regular season of 2011, they're numbers any FCS player would die for.

No. 3 in total offense, averaging 349 yards of offense per game.

No. 7 in passing effeciency, at an eye-popping 154.26 per game.

No. 4 in passing yards per game, with 339 per game - despite sitting out the fourth quarter in a significant number of contests this year.

No. 2 in passing touchdowns with 31 - just falling behind QB Bo Levi Mitchell, the signalcaller of 6-5 Eastern Washington, on the final weekend when he passed for 4 touchdowns against 2-9 Idaho State.

That Lum was the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year was no surprise.  Despite the presence of a strong receiving corps, Lum never seemed to miss a beat all year, even when senior WR Jake Drwal came out halfway through Lehigh's win over Lafayette last weekend but the Lake Orion native still torched the Leopards for 279 yards passing in three quarters of action.

While voters will be impressed by Lum's awesome numbers, Chris himself all year has downplayed them.

"I've never had statistical goals," he told Keith Groller of the Morning Call. "As far as my stats this year, I guess I am surprised to be ranked so high in the country, but I am not surprised by how well we're doing as a team. I always knew we had a really good team."

“With the season Chris is having numerically, he’s the best quarterback I’ve ever coached,” head coach Andy Coen told the student newspaper, the Brown & White. “His biggest strength is what he doesn’t do in that he learns from his mistakes. He’s very driven to be the best, so his team can be the best.”
Even in postgame press conferences, where he could have held court every single week and crowed about his accomplishments, he was always quick to let others on the team speak up to answer questions from the media.

"He's a very humble guy, but extremely focused," senior TE Mark Wickware said of his team captain. "He's focused and driven on what he wants to accomplish."

"Lum is not your typical captain who puts up monster numbers," the student paper added. "It’s easy to picture him as a loud, conceited, get-in-your-face type of player. But Lum is the complete opposite. His quiet demeanor and emphasis on letting his play do the talking is what his teammates love about him.

"Part of Lum’s personality is innate, while the other part is a result of watching how past football captains handled themselves. He observed how former All-American LB Matt Cohen, ’10, worked hard every day on the field, while never rubbing his teammates the wrong way."

Lum has also been quick to heap praise on his offensive coordinator, Dave Cecchini, the Lehigh legend that has been a key part of his success as well.

And Cecchini is quick to heap the praise right back in a recent article from Keith Groller:

"Just because you have smart kids doesn't always mean you have kids who are going to execute under pressure," Cecchini said. "But we have players who are able to make critical decisions in the heat of battle. They want to be the best players they can be and make us the best team we can be." 
Lum's key development, Cecchini said, has been in gaining the ability to make good decisions while the "bullets are flying" during a game.  
"Without question his game management as the game goes on has been his biggest area of improvement," Cecchini said. "He's able to adjust after seeing what the defense wants to do, go through his progressions, make the right audibles, all of the things you need from a quarterback."  
And Cecchini said Lum has the ability to put the bad plays behind him in a hurry.  
"He doesn't get down on himself," Cecchini said. "He plays some of his best football after he makes a mistake or two. He learns from those mistakes and the competitive side of his kicks in. Typically he'll make some of his best throws after he's done something wrong."

His mental toughness is something that has been in evidence since Week One against Monmouth, when he recovered from an ealry interception and responded with a quick strike touchdown en route to a 49-26 drubbing.

 "Chris just keeps getting better and better," Coen said after the game. "After he threw the interception the next time he led us on a touchdown drive. I went over and told him 'That's where you are a really good quarterback . … you learn from your mistakes. You put them behind you and move forward.' A lot of guys can't do that, but Chris is tough enough mentally that he can."

"We're very confident," Lum said of his performance that day, "and this performance will only help our confidence."

"As hard as we worked last season, we're going to work twice as hard this year," Lum said before the season. "I am a lot more confident this year, knowing the offense. I know I need to be a leader for this team and someone my teammates can turn to when we're down 10 points in the fourth quarter and they're wondering 'Can we win this game or not?' I need to be that guy."

He has been, without question - which is why he ought to win the Walter Payton award this year.

While his offensive numbers are impressive enough on the face of it, it's the fact that he led Lehigh to a 10-1 record, a spotless Patriot League record, that really puts him over the top.

None of the other statistical candidates have his combination of a Patriot League championship, a playoff appearance combined with his statistics.

His performance this year has transformed Lehigh from a Patriot League-contending team into a national championship-contending team - which is something the wider FCS world will learn in the upcoming weeks.


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