Skip to main content

Spring Season: Wideouts and Running Backs

It's hard being an offensive player at Lehigh, thanks to the shoes you have to fill.

This season, though, at wideout and running back, it's even more difficult than usual.

At running back, all the incoming backs need to be able to do is outdo the accomplishments of RB Keith Sherman - who only was Lehigh's first 1,000 yard rusher in the last eleven years, and also nearly carried last year's team on his back to a Patriot League championship.

And then there's wide receiver, where the highest profile offensive players in the last two years, WR Ryan Spadola and WR Lee Kurfis, were back-to-back FCS All-Americans and broke a good portion of Lehigh's receiving records.  Kurfis, too, nearly carried Lehigh on his back to the playoffs last season.  And Ryan is plyin his trade in the NFL, eager to break through onto the Dolphins' roster once again.

All the new group from this spring needs to do is to equal their level of excellence.  Simple, right?


Lehigh's offense is not supposed to be much different from last season, even though new offensive coordinator Drew Folmar replaces Dave Cecchini, who took over the head coaching position at Valparaiso over the offseason.

Similarly, senior WR Josh Parris takes over the mantle of go-to receiver.

Taking over for Kurfis, Josh is the most experienced returning receiver returning with 41 catches and 443 yards receiving last season.  A flash of his capabilities came against Central Connecticut last season, in the first series of the second half where he hauled in a 57 yard touchdown pass from QB Brandon Bialkowski to keep Lehigh in that game, which they would eventually win.

Josh took time off from his busy academic and football schedule to let me know how the spring was going for him.

"Personally, I have been working on every aspect of my game," he told me.  "Route running, blocking, catching...all the things that a wide receiver must constantly work on in order to be great."

Like the rest of the receiving corps, Josh has been working hard this spring to step up his game, but it's clear that he's his own worst critic.

"I had too many drops last year and missed or wasn't physical enough on blocks," he said.  "I ran too many routes standing straight up, which slowed me down in and out of cuts and prevented me at times from separating from defenders. Staying low, being physical and focusing on the ball all the way from the catch to the "tuck" are really what I have been focusing on."

Along with Josh, senior WR Derek Gaul (9 passes, 96 yards) returns to compete in a wide-open open field in regards to the rest of the unit.  Speedy junior WR Derek Knott returns after spending much of 2011 injured, and junior WR Stefan Sansone, senior WR Alex Buford, sophomore WR Trevor Soccaras, sophomore WR Jarrod Howard and sophomore WR Michael Anderson have all been competing for time with the 1s to see how they fit on Coach Folmar's take on Lehigh's offense.

"It has been great working with Coach Folmar," Josh said.  "He is a really intense individual, but you wouldn't believe it unless you were with him on the field. He pushes you to be the best, much like Coach Cecchini did, but obviously their coaching styles are different. Coach has been great in teaching me technique, so I am excited about the progress I am making."

For Josh, spring is all about getting his technique better.

"Practices are still intense, but the coaches spend a lot of time critiquing aspects of our game that they could not address during the season because we were game planning," he said.  "Since we do not have to game plan, we are able to focus on the little things that improve us as players. Spring practices are especially important for the younger guys in terms of getting a thorough knowledge of the playbook since many of them were on scout team during the season."

With the graduation of Sherman and critical players like FB Sean Farrell and FB Zach Hayden, getting a thorough knowledge of the gameplan is also critical at running back and fullback.

Senior RB Rich Sodeke (23 carries, 67 yards), who came in to spell Sherman is situations last season, returns to try to have a similar breakout season as Keith, with a trio of exciting backs, junior RB D.J. Kee, junior RB Dan Brown, and University of Miami (FL) transfer sophomore RB Brandon Yosha looking to be the No. 1 running option as well.

Sophomore FB Mackenzie Crawford is the lone returning player at fullback, which makes one of the interesting questions for the spring as to how coach Folmar will utilize his different weapons in the backfield.

"We've spent more time running the football and we've definitely gotten better there," Coen said in this week's spring preview from Lehighsports.com.  "We're going to have a nice situation at tailback."

At receiver, Parris said that the experience throughout the unit is a real benefit for the whole group.

"It helps in a couple of ways," he said.  "The first would be that we are competing against each other. Without competition you only breed mediocrity, and each time we go out to the field, it's our mentality to outwork each other, so the constant pushing of each other has definitely caused our work ethic to increase. Another way it helps is by being an example to the younger receivers. As seniors we have a lot of experience, and knowledge about the little intricacies that make our position different from any other on the field. It's nice to have Derek and Alex because we can be "player coaches" to the younger guys."

Josh knows that the words of the seniors carry weight.

"Sometimes correction from players speaks more than when a coach tries to correct you because you have closer bond and connection with your teammates," he said.  "They know that we, like our coaches, have high expectations, and getting criticism from someone you see working hard everyday makes it easier to accept. With that said, we also hold each other accountable (Derek, Alex and myself) so that we continue to improve as well."

It's also allowed Josh to really appreciate his time in a Lehigh uniform, too.

"These few years have been great and I have really grown a love for the game that I don't think I had as a freshman," he said.  "I love being at practices and love being with my teammates. It's nice to know that for a few hours I don't have to focus on anything but football. It has been such a blessing to play college football, and I thank God for the opportunities he has given me."

LFN's Take on the Spring Two Deep:

1st (WR): WR Josh Parris, WR Derek Gaul, WR Stephen Sansone
2nd (WR): WR Derek Knott, WR Michael Anderson, WR Alex Buford

1st (RB): RB Brandon Yosha, RB Rich Sodeke, RB Dan Brown, RB D.J. Kee (too close to call)

1st (FB): FB Mackenzie Crawford

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nick Shafnisky Is Pushing Hard to Get To Play at the Next Level in Football

"Don't take anything for granted, just keep pushing."
Those are the words of QB Nick Shafnisky, told to The Whitehall-Coplay Press all the way back in 2013, about his preparation as a high school athlete.
And they seem to summarize the Whitehall, PA native perfectly, then as now.
Dubbed the "Male Athlete of the Year" by that publication, the article goes on about Shaf's many exploits at Whitehall high school - leading the Zephyr football team to a co-Lehigh Valley Conference title, becoming the first player ever in that conference to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards, and earning the league's co-MVP award as well.
He also was a member of the Zephyrs playoff basketball team, and for good measure also helped set a record for the 4x100 relay team as well.
At Whitehall, and at Lehigh, coaches pushed him, but it was his own hard work that helped make him the best athlete he could be.
This weekend, Shaf, like every eligible college football player, will be …

#TheRivalry Flashback: November 21st, 1987: Lehigh 17, Lafayette 10

Since becoming an undergrad at Lehigh back in the late 1980s, I first heard about the historic nature of the football team and "The Rivalry" through the stories that fellow students would share.

I did not attend the final meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette at Taylor Stadium, which was the final time a football game would be played there.

Those that did attend said that was that it was cold.

"I remember it being one of the coldest games ever," Mark Redmann recollected, "with strong Northwesterly winds and the temperature hovering around 20.  By the end of the game, the stands were half empty because most of the fans just couldn't take the cold.

"Fortunately, several of my fraternity brothers snuck in flasks to help fend off the chill."

Dominick Bragalone Goes Into Monster Mode As Lehigh Is One Win Away From Title

It has been a most unusual season for Lehigh.

Starting the year off at 0-5 and getting swept in their out-of-conference schedule, the Mountain Hawks were in danger of having their season go off the rails.

But two things have come together over the last five football games that have put Lehigh on the brink of back-to-back championships.

The first is the late blooming of the Lehigh defense, which kept battling every week since the low point of the September 30th loss to Wagner to do the job in four of their five Patriot League conference games. 

The second is the development of junior RB Dominick Bragalone into a bellcow running back, a back who has to be in the conversation for Patriot League offensive player of the year.

In five Patriot League games, Bragalone has run for 863 yards in 5 games, rushing for 11 touchdowns and adding two more receiving touchdowns as well. 

The South Williamsport, PA native certainly wasn't unknown before this week - after all, as a freshman and a sop…