There was an awful lot for Lehigh football fans to celebrate from last year's 10-1 season, only the tenth season in Lehigh's nearly 130 year history in which the Mountain Hawks had more than ten victories.
So what's the first thing that head coach Andy Coen brings up as the spring football season and schedule got unveiled today?
“This group is all going to be about being hungry,” he said.
“They can’t wait to get out on the field to prove themselves and give themselves an opportunity to help win us another championship. We won’t talk a lot about it, but every kid on our team feels wronged by about not having the opportunity to play in the postseason. The only way to make us feel better about that is to make sure we make it to the postseason this year, but that’s easier said than done.”
Almost four months after the FCS playoff subcommittee didn't see fit to give a school with 10 Division I wins an at-large playoff berth, the sting of of the snub still hurts with everyone involved with the Lehigh football program.
Coen doesn't have any illusions, either, that it will be an easy task to not only win the Patriot League championship, but to get back to the playoffs.
"Every year is a bit of a challenge, but I do believe this year may be more so," he told me. "I think this team is lacking experience, but I don't believe we are lacking talent."
You can start with the fact that a bunch of last year's seniors that are getting pro looks, WR Ryan Spadola, QB Michael Colvin, TE Jamel Haggins, LB Billy Boyko and CB Bryan Andrews, all need to be replaced.
“We are graduated 20 kids and a lot of those kids played so there are some big challenges ahead,” Coen said in the official release. “There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of jobs that are up for grabs here. For a lot of our guys, earning those positions really starts with spring ball.”
“The biggest goal is to assess personnel,” Coen continued. “Some guys will definitely earn a spot by how they play. Other guys will be making strides to get themselves ready to play. That’s what we need to assess, really at every positional group. I feel good about the attitude that I’ve seen and the guys in our program. Guys are ready to take that next step to become that guy at all those position groups. This spring goes a long way to get these guys to be ready to be on the field in the fall.”
Coach Coen has always looked to develop his team through battles in practice, and this year the strategy will be no different.
"We really need to work at developing some guys, and we do that through competition," he told me, "and there will be a ton of competition every where this spring."
Coen knows players will take advantage of the opportunities presented to them to "step up".
In particular Andy mentioned the entire defensive unit will be looking for players to emerge, which only returns three starters from last year in senior OLB Nigel Muhammad, senior OLB John Mahoney and senior SS Rickie Hill.
"Our defensive front loses DT Sajjad Chagani and DE Tom Bianchi among others, and its an area which really needs to have a good spring," Coen said. "We do have some guys back with experience, but for the most part we will be new and the envelopment of inside linebackers will be especially critical. The secondary will be young, but they're a talented young group who will really push each other, so I am excited to see how that unfolds."
In addition to positional battles, there's the underreported aspect of the spring where the coaching staff looks to emphasize situations where they want the team to improve in the following season. Coach Coen identified turnover creation as one of the big points of emphasis.
“Our emphasis on the red zone worked well for us last year,” Coen said in the official release. “We were among the best in the country in red zone offense efficiency and will look to continue to do that. What’s important for us this year is ball security and ball disruption. I was disappointed by the lack of turnovers created on defense. We did a lot of good things and were almost as good as we had been over the previous two years but we did not do a good job forcing turnovers."
It's also very clear that the trip to Hamilton this upcoming season is already circled on the Brown and White calendar based on another point of emphasis for his 2013 Mountain Hawks - goal line and short yardage defense.
“We have to get the ball back for the offense,” Coen said. “The one game we lost [against Colgate], he couldn’t get the opposing offense off the field. It’s hard to practice because of its physical nature but goal line and short yardage defense is not as good as we’d like it to be. We can only practice it so much because of the nature of it, but we’ll look to improve there.”
If that weren't enough, coach Coen also will need to deal with another disruption in what has been the normal Lehigh practice schedule in years past - the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles won't be holding their annual training camp at Lehigh anymore.
"I was actually a bit sorry to see the Eagles leave," he said, "but I understand their reasons and I wish Coach Brian Kelly and the organization well. I am a die hard Eagles fan, so I will always be in their corner. It will be different for us not having to move to the stadium, but I think it will make things a bit easier for us and our support staff."
Look for more extensive previews of the 2013 Mountain Hawks and position battles on LFN as Spring Practice proceeds.
2013 Lehigh Football Spring Practice Schedule (all subject to change based on weather conditions)
Friday, March 22 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 23 – 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, March 26 – 4:30 p.m.
Friday, March 29 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 30 – 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, April 2 – 7:15 p.m.
Friday, April 5 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 6 – 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, April 9 – 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 11 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 13 – 11 a.m.
Monday, April 15 – 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 16 – 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 18 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 20 – Brown and White Spring Game, 10 a.m.^
^inside Goodman Stadium