Senior QB Michael Colvin, the Morristown, New Jersey native that has waited patiently for his opportunity, finally earned the right to be the full-time starter for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in 2012.
He always had the athleticism. He always had the arm. Now, as starter and the triggerman of offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini's offense, he now has an impressive arsenal, too, to lead Lehigh in the 2012 season. It's a potential combination that has Lehigh fans excited.
Known as a run-first, pass-second athlete in the Wildcat formation, it seemed like every time Mike got the ball last year, you knew what was coming: a run.
If Lehigh's opponents in 2012 all schemed Colvin that way this year, undoubtedly head coach Andy Coen would be ecstatic.
That's because in 2012, he will spend a lot more time in the pocket than running for five yard gains.
As a Wildcat QB, he didn't get the same amount of reps in practice passing to the first-team receiving corps on a regular basis.
But he'll be a different QB in 2012 - one that will be using his athleticism for a lot more than rushing attempts.
“Mike has played well throughout camp,” Coen said in the official announcement that he was the starter. “He played well in Friday’s scrimmage and did well again today. Over the last two years he’s had a role, but Chris (Lum) took most of the reps in practice. Mike made big strides in spring ball and has continued to do so here in camp. He’s a big, strong athlete with a great arm. He can make all the throws. I’m excited to see him play.”
"Mike has done a great job for us the past couple of weeks," Cecchini told me. "He is really getting comfortable and his confidence is rising with each passing practice. We will continue to use him in the run game like we have for the past two years, but the offense itself will not be radically altered."
Mike's experience in the Wildcat, as well as a forgettable start against New Hampshire in 2009, should pay dividends for the Mountain Hawks when he takes the field this Saturday. He's not your average green QB that will be wide-eyed with his first action with the varsity; he has seen a lot. He lined up against Towson, last year's CAA champions, and North Dakota State, last year's FCS National Champions. And he's been a big part of two Patriot League Championship teams.
"As a senior it was something I really wanted to do," he told Mike LoRe of the Express-Times, "and really wanted to accomplish and I tried to put myself in the best situation since spring ball to be named the starter and earn the trust of the head coach, offensive coordinator, all the other assistant coaches and most of all, all of our players," Colvin said after Lehigh's scrimmage this afternoon. "It’s absolutely rewarding but there’s a lot of work to be done. I've been preparing for it and I’m happy I've achieved it. It’s a small goal because the goal is to win football games and ultimately a championship."
Backing him up will be another strong-armed player, junior QB Brandon Bialkowski, the lefty from Gilbert, Arizona. While Colvin undoubtedly get the lion's share of the reps on offense, as long as Colvin is healthy, look for Brandon to get in some series as well - maybe even as a Wildcat QB.
Colvin has at his disposal a Swiss Army knife of weapons that has to be the envy of the other teams in the Patriot League.
Start with senior WR Ryan "The Answer" Spadola, who now holds the single-season Patriot League receiving record with 1,614 yards, is on a multitude of preseason All-America teams, and is very much an NFL prospect.
He's knows going to be one of the key guys this year - as well as being the focus of opposing defensive coordinators - and he's very much ready for that challenge.
"My leadership role with this team is one where I am expected to lead by example," he told me. "Everyone expects me to perform at the highest level every snap, whether it be at practice or on Saturdays. Also, since I am a senior who has played on the previous two championship teams, I am going to have to help underclassmen and help develop them into the best players they can be.
"I am going to have to work and fight to create space for our quarterback, and I am looking to increase my mental side of the game as well - being able to better understand our offense and recognize coverage schemes quicker. It’s expected that there won’t be many times where I will be completely left alone."
While it's true that the graduation of WR Jake Drwal will make Spadola more the attention of defenses than ever, there is plenty of reason to believe that the rest of a deep, talented receiving corps will be up to the job of opening up the offense.
6'3 260 lb senior TE Jamel Haggins (322 yards, 2 TDs) really blossomed in this offense last year, and could be poised for a big year in 2012. Originally mostly a receiving option, he's bulked up and really improved his blocking, making him a better all-around player.
In 2- or 3- tight end sets, junior TE Max Anderson or sophomore TE Tyler Coyle have both shown very good ability blocking and receiving - another giant headache for opposing defenses.
Junior WR Lee Kurfis will start alongside Spadola and has shown signs that he can be this year's Jake Drwal. While he only had 4 catches last year, two of them came against North Dakota State in the playoffs last year when Spadola had to sit out for the now-infamous Twitter incident.
It's also important to mention that Lehigh rotates in and out a lot of receivers, sometimes going to 4- and even 5- receiver sets at times, so don't expect only Jamel, Lee and Ryan on the receiving stat line during games. Sophomore WR Derek Gaul, sophomore WR Josh Parris, junior WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto, and sophomore WR Alex Buford will all get playing time at receiver and get their catches - as well as, perhaps, a freshman or two.
With all of those weapons, I haven't even mentioned the running back tandem of senior RB Zach Barket (1,035 all-purpose yards, 9 TDs) and junior RB Keith Sherman (471 all-purpose yards, 4 TDs), both dual threats to run and catch.
Barket, according to LoRe of the Express-Times, is eager to return to the field after breaking his leg in the Patriot League-clinching game against Georgetown last year:
An injury like that really makes you appreciate football,” Barket said after Lehigh’s scrimmage on Wednesday. “I feel like I missed a lot. That would have been the first time I would start a Lehigh-Lafayette game and that’s a big deal. To sit out and have to watch that, it put more pressure on my senior year. This year a lot of things will be my first and my last because my season was cut short last year.”
Lehigh head coach Andy Coen understands how important it is to have Barket back and healthy.
“To get him back out there will not only do wonders for our confidence but all of his teammates because they all have tremendous trust in him. He brings toughness and is a vocal leader out there,” Coen said. “It will mean a lot for us to have him back out there. If you watched all of our games closely last year, you saw how invaluable he really was. Zach’s a guy we want on the field. He’s a guy we trust.”
Rounding out an extraordinary set of offensive skill players are two more guys with a lot of game-day experience, junior FB Zach Hayden and junior FB Sean Farrell, both of whom have been used interchangeably in the past - and who combined for 3 TDs last season.
While it's great to have as many skill players as Lehigh enjoy at the moment, it doesn't mean squat without an effective "O" line.
Two starters return from last year's championship team: 6'3, 305 lb junior OL Matt Lippincott, who shifts from left guard to right guard this year, and senior OL Mike Vuono, who returns at right tackle after starting nearly every game there last year.
The daunting task of replacing OL Troy McKenna, OL Keith Schauder, and 6'3, 295 lb OL Jim Liebler falls to two guys with some starting experience - and one new face.
6'4, 285 lb senior C Tom Ruley starts after playing pretty much every spot along the line at some point during his three years at Lehigh.
6'3, 280 lb junior OL Shane Rugg slides into Lippincott's spot at left guard. He had action in eight games last year, including one spot at left guard last year as well.
And at the all-important left tackle position - a suprise.
6'3, 280 lb sophomore OL Ned Daryoush won the all-important "blind side" left tackle spot in the preseason. A converted defensive lineman, he will be taking the spot of the all-league McKenna.
How will this largely new "O" line work out?
Backing them up are senior OL Lex Utt, senior OL Vinny Pelligrini, sophomore OL Matt Douglas, and junior OL A.J. Hood.