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Spring Season: Quarterbacks and Special Teams

Senior QB Matt McHale?  Hurt.  Got an injury that he's rehabbing that has him ruled out of spring ball.

Sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky?  Just this week, he got tendonitis in his throwing shoulder, which limited his time this spring.

Senior QB Gerard Poutier?  Sorry, no.  Still rehabbing a leg injury that he sustained last season.

Suddenly, a former walk-on athlete had gotten most of the reps this spring at the most important position on the field.

Senior QB Albert J. Visconti may not have been the guy that was hyped the most going into the spring, but the former walk-on now has the opportunity of a lifetime that's every walk-on's dream: a chance to be "the man" in the highlight of the spring football season.


He didn't come to Lehigh specifically for the athletics.  He came to Lehigh for the engineering.

He didn't even get a single line in Lehigh's spring prospectus this season, and for a reason: it seemed like his chance to be a starter was as remote as per, with two guys returning with varsity letters in McHale and Shafnisky, and a third, Poutier, very much in the mix as well.

But it's the dream of the walk-on: an injury there, a break there, and suddenly, you're the man.

A.J.'s dream is coming true this spring.

"It's been a great opportunity to get a lot of work in before camp," Visconti told me, "especially since we got to practice and learn from a bunch of new positional coaches."

Not bad for a guy who almost didn't make the team last season.

"Last summer I was kind of cut from the team and asked to be an assistant to Coach Dave Cecchini during the season," he told me.  "Once Gerard got injured towards the end of the summer, I was given a second chance to be on the team. I got in shape and dug into the playbook. I was able to have a good few weeks of camp, and be able to travel with the team all season."

Visconti came out of Monmouth Regional high school, about ten minutes away from where Lehigh beat Monmouth last season.

"My father is a retired colonel and we moved around a lot," he said, "but I got to stay in one high school, which helped me a lot in developing as a football player. I had to move to Bel Air, Maryland after they closed Fort Monmouth soon after I graduated."

His offensive coordinator at Monmouth high school, Jason Morrell, was a Lehigh football alumnus and captain of the 2003 team coached by Pete Lembo, now head coach of the Ball State Cardinals.

I had a few Division III opportunities but I was always interested in going to Lehigh," A.J. said.  "I always enjoyed listening to his experiences playing football and going to school here, and I was fortunate enough to be able to try out and make the team. Everyone welcomed me and I was able to learn a lot from the great football players we've had in my time here, especially the few quarterbacks who have led this team."

Walk-ons have made the Mountain Hawk team before, like DB Shane Ryan.  But for a quarterback, walking on is an even greater challenge as you are competing against recruited athletes, from the top to the bottom.

It's no surprise that every year it's been an uphill battle for A.J. to make the roster, let alone the travel team.

Recruited quarterbacks like QB Chris Lum, QB Michael Colvin, QB Brandon Bialkowski and others consistently stepped ahead of him in line, even though you could always see him in practices and on the sidelines in games staying ready in case of injury.

"Learning the playbook and watching film were huge parts of my growth last fall," he said, "and a lot of it goes to the other quarterbacks helping me on and off the field."

Yet through his hard work and dedication to the position - and dare I say, a little bit of good fortune - he has kept his spot on the team at the most heavily recruited position in football.

This Saturday, his hard work pays off as he's listed as the starting quarterback on the White offense, where he will have the stage to himself to showcase his talents and to make his entire team better.  (UPDATE: Sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky, who also recently returned to practice, will also play.)

"I am really excited to be able to get a lot of playing time in my last spring game," he said.  "I wish everyone was healthy this spring, but it's going to be a great competition when we all come back strong in the fall."

Visconti can make sure he's in the thick of that competition with a great game on Saturday at 10:00 AM at Murray Goodman Stadium.

*****

With the graduation of P Tim Divers and LS Kyle Lechner, one of the more underrated aspects of the spring season is the evaluation of two sometimes-forgotten positions.

Top on the depth chart will be junior P Austin Devine, who is unusual in that he's a lefty and will finally get his chance to be the top guy.  At long snapper, junior LB Matt Laub, who filled in for Lechner when he was hurt two years ago, is the front-runner but has missed time this spring thanks to injury.  Senior WR Derek Gaul would be a good bet to get the bung of the long-snapping duties tomorrow.

At kicker, sophomore PK Ryan Pandy returns after a very successful freshman season (42/44 XPs, 8/12 FGs, with a long of 41 yards).  Senior PK Nick Marcello, Pandy's backup, will also get a look.

The return game sees the main names from last year, sophomore DB Brandon Leaks, junior WR Derek Knott, senior WR Josh Parris, and senior DB Jason Suggs all returning.  Senior RB Rich Sodeke will also be in the mix.

LFN's Take on the Spring Two Deep:

1st (QB): QB Nick Shafnisky
2nd (QB): QB A.J. Visconti

1st (P): P Austin Devine
2nd (P): PK Ryan Pandy

1st (PK): PK Ryan Pandy
2nd (PK): PK Nick Marcello

1st (Kickoff Returns): DB Brandon Leaks, WR Derek Knott
2nd (Kickoff Returns): RB Rich Sodeke, DB Jason Suggs

1st (Punt Retutns): WR Josh Parris
2nd (Punt Returns): DB Jason Suggs

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