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Know Your 2012 Opponents: Monmouth

There's only a couple months until the beginning of the 2012 season, and it's time to get to know Lehigh's first opponent on this year's slate: Monmouth University.  (September 1st, 12:30PM, Murray Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem).

What is known, indeed, about the Hawks?

They've had one football coach throughout their young history - Kevin Callahan, now in his 19th year at the reins.

They've had some true NFL-caliber talent to go through their ranks, most notably Cowboy WR Miles Austin.

But what else do we know about this nearby university?

The Hawks come to us out of the NEC, home of an autobid playoff participant from last year (Albany).

The NEC consists of teams with a limited number of scholarships (up to 38), but not a limited number of wins against Patriot League foes.  Last year, the Hawks beat Colgate 20-9 up in Hamilton, NY.

But the big story about the NEC this year has to be the thought that it's top teams might be headed to other conferences.

The CAA, as has been well documented, lost three schools this offseason, including two that played football briefly in their conference, Old Dominion and Georgia State.

Out of Richmond, one team that has consistently popped up in membership speculation in the CAA has been none other than Monmouth.

CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and [new Richmond head football coach] Danny Rocco declined to name expansion candidates, but in the discussion are believed to be Appalachian State, Stony Brook, Albany, VMI, Monmouth, Coastal Carolina and Hampton. URI may re-enroll if the Rams sense a CAA with a stronger Northern accent.

"I don't think there's any doubt that we will remain in real good standing," Rocco said. "I think the CAA will have numerous options to pursue expansion. The initial decision would have to be, nine or 12?"

By 2013, CAA Football will be down to eight members. League members want at least nine so they can play eight conference games.

The premier conference in FCS may look at some Northern schools, including Stony Brook, Albany or Monmouth, to help ease travel for Maine and New Hampshire.

William and Mary athletics director Terry Driscoll said he'd like to see a conference that is as "geographically manageable" as possible for travel and class-time reasons. But he suggested whatever the CAA does probably will take some compromise.

"I think the critical thing is if you get to a larger conference, 12 or more schools, you begin to get into either divisional play or things that can mitigate the travel costs over a large region," he said.

"Right now, I'm looking at the best quality we can get to try to reach the most obvious objectives, and that's really good basketball schools for the CAA and addressing the football issues of quality competition and geography that will allow us to retain what we have."

Monmouth's inclusion in the list is curious, as they're the only all-sports member in the NEC that is mentioned in the list of expansion candidates.  (Albany competes in the NEC in football, but competes in America East in all other sports.)

It would also be strange to see the Hawks' Kessler field, which seats 4,000 on a good day, in the same stadium lineup as Delaware, whose stadium hosts 18,000 fans at the Tub on a regular basis.

Still, it's been a strange offseason, so you can't count anything out - and if the CAA is serious about getting football schools to help the travel concerns of football-only members Maine and New Hampshire, they could do a lot worse than the Hawks, who actually have built a good Division I athletics program basically from scratch in a little under 20 years.

That's a great credit to this small university in West Long Branch, NJ that the CAA, one of the best conferences in all of FCS, are looking their way.

The 2011 version of the Monmouth Hawks could have had one of the stranger seasons statistically in all of football.

Start with their won/loss record.

In six home games at Kessler Field in West Long Branch, NJ, the Hawks went 0-6, including a fairly comprehensive 49-24 defeat to Lehigh in the season opener.

But on the road, Monmouth went 5-0, including wins over Villanova, Central Connecticut State, and Bryant.

It's just one reason for the Mountain Hawks to worry a little extra about this year's rematch - set to be contested, this time, at Murray Goodman for Lehigh's home opener.

Hawks head coach Kevin Callahan won't have any issues firing up his team for their opening-day matchup.

He'll be sure to bring up the fact that they took an early 7-0 lead on the Mountain Hawks.

He'll also be sure to bring up how senior WR Ryan Spadola, the local recruit that got away, burned his coverage the next two offensive plays to give Lehigh a lead they would never relinquish.

Three of the four defensive backs from that defense return, and two are seniros -senior CB Reggie Hildebrandt, Jr. (1 INT)and senior FS Andrew Sutton (33 tackles), joining sophomore CB Patrick Gray (4 INTs, 1 fumble reovery).

(The graduating member from this group is SS Jose Gumbs, who was signed by the New Orleans Saints this offseason.)

They'll be getting extra help to cover "The Answer" too - from a familiar source.

The most recent addition to Callahan's coaching staff, former Lafayette DB Marvin Clecidor, was brought in to coach the Hawks defensive backs, and certainly knows a thing or two about Lehigh's offense, having defeated it a couple times as a player.

Think he's going to be just a bit extra fired up for this game?

One look up and down Monmouth's roster and you can see an awful lot of veteran talent returning - and some very strong young players that hit the scene after the defeat to Lehigh.

Start with senior QB Kyle Frazier (1,159 yards passing, 239 yards rushing, 6 TDs) who will almost certainly be the running and passing threat he was last year in Callahan's pistol offense.  He was the starting quarterback until he suffered a left leg injury in a 40-35 win at Bryant, which ended his season.

But add to that two faces that the Mountain Hawks didn't see a lot of last year in sophomore RB Julian Hayes, a member of the College Sports Journal's all-Freshman team, (805 yards, 14 TDs) and junior WR Neal Sterling (677, yards, 5 TDs), and all the major skill players of the Hawks offense return.

And that's before senior TE Tyler George (36 receptions, 282 yards), who was recently added to the College Football Performance awards watchlist along with Hayes.

On defense, too, Monmouth returns nine starters from a young team.

Junior LB Dan Sullivan (67 tackles, 13 tackles for loss) will be the literal and figurative new center of the defense, and he, along with Gray, are also on the CFPA watchlist.

And rounding out a list of worries are two special teams players that are also going to be a pain for opposing teams all year.

Junior WR Mitch Pollard (570 return yards, 1 TD) was a potent return man last year, and junior PK Eric Spillane has a powerful leg, with 3 touchbacks on kickoffs and 9/12 on field goals, including a 42 yarder.


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