As Lehigh football fans start looking at the season opener, a mere 5 days away, they're looking at their theoretic depth charts and see some recurring themes:
Freshman. Freshman. Sophomore. Freshman. Sophomore.
Football is the ultimate team game, where experience counts in terms of knowing what it takes to win Division I football games. Yet up and down Lehigh's roster, it's very evident: to win in 2015, head coach Andy Coen will be relying on his underclassmen in a big way - underclassmen who will be a big part of this season.
"Thery're going to get their opportunities early," coach Coen told me during Patriot League Media day earlier this month. "I think we have 54-56 guys that are going to be freshman, sophomore-level eligibility. And there are going to be some kids from that freshman class that are going to play - that's without a doubt."
Camp has been exciting, with an enthusiasm and rigor that has been missing from some camps past - part of that undoubtedly coming from the infusion of youth and young players in key positions.
It's largely thanks to last season's 3-8 record, the graduation of a bunch of key players, and the transfer of a couple players as well.
One of the huge challenges this offseason has been to find the guys who will be lining up in two specific positions; running back and kicker.
P/K Ryan Pandy and RB Chris Leigh left the program during the offseason, depriving the Mountain Hawks with two guys who were expected to be big up-and-coming contributors to Lehigh's football season. That paired with the injury and transfer of RB Brandon Yosha meant that those two spots on the roster were wide-open to be filled.
|Freshman P/K Ed Mish|
Freshman P/K Ed Mish could be the first name that Lehigh Nation will likely see that's new when the Mountain Hawks head up to New Britain, Connecticut on Friday in their season debut at 7PM.
At the practice I went to, he showed some of the booming leg he's been known for at Old Bridge high school in New Jersey.
Known for his kickoff,s he'll be inserted right into the starting lineup for both kickoffs and conversions, with the veteran preseason all-Patriot League team senior P/K Austin Devine backing him up. Additionally, he'll back up Devine as punter as well.
"Ed Mish will play a big role in the kicking game," Coen told me.
At running back, both freshman RB Dominick Bragalone and freshman RB Micco Brisker seem destined to get some carries next weekend as well as a part of the Mountain Hawks' stable of running backs.
Nickname possibilities aside, Lehigh's football coaches have been impressed with both players in practice.
|Freshman RB Micco Brisker (33)|
Bragalone's Pennsylvania resume is hard to top - two-time Class A Player of the year, single-season rushing yardage record holder (4,704 yards), and a Parade Magazine Honorable All-American mention. He was a dominant force at South Williamsport, and the early returns are that Lehigh got a guy who will come in and contribute right away.
But the 5'9, 205 lb Brisker's strength, too, has impressed the coaching staff and fans, making it seem a lot like offensive coordinator Drew Folmar might wish there were two footballs on the field at once.
They'll join some known underclassman quantities in the starting lineup.
Sophomore WR Troy Pelletier, another preseason all-Patriot League team member, is pencilled in on everyone's depth chart at wideout, joining team captain senior WR Stefan Sansone and senior WR Derek Knott, now healthy after missing most of 2014 with a leg injury.
More underclassmen on this unit will also be involved, too.
|Sophomore WR Gatlin Casey|
And on defense, 295 lb sophomore DE Tyler Cavenas is also penciled in on Lehigh's defensive line as well.
"I think the defense will be improved," Coen said. "We've got a good depth of defensive linemen, and I think Cavenas is going to be a dominant player in this league. The guys on this unit are vastly improved, and junior NG Jimmy Mitchell is improved, too."
Overall, too, a lot of underclassmen impressed coach Coen during the preseason practice session.
"Of the underclassmen I've been impressed with sophomore TE Drew Paulsen, and freshman OL Liborio Ricotilli and freshman OL Eric Hawkinson have done a nice job," he said. "Freshman QB Brad Mayes has impressed and will be in the two deep. Defensively freshman LB Jake Buskirk and freshman LB/LS Mark Walker have impressed, and freshman DB Sam McCloskey and freshman LB Jake Scott have done very well at secondary and linebacker. I like how freshman DB Donavan Harris and freshman DB Kareem Montgomery compete and they may see their selves on the field."
The Mountain Hawks will certainly need to lean on their senior leadership to right the ship from their 3-8 season last year. But it will also hinge on the performance of some important underclassmen, who will be expected to make big-time contributions early, and often.