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Lehigh Picked Tied for 3rd At Patriot League Media Day, Eager To Get To Work

The Patriot League officially kicked off the 2016 football season with football media day at the Green Pond Country Club, and Lehigh was picked in a tie for 3rd.  Colgate was picked 1, Fordham was picked 2, and tied with the Mountain Hawks was Holy Cross at 3.

Senior OL Zach Duffy and senior LB Laquan Lambert, were asked what they thought of the preseason pick.

In other years, you might have gotten a bit of a chest-thumping response, but this year's group was notable in the calm way they answered the questions.

"I think that's fair," Zach said.  "It's where we finished last year, and we haven't proved much yet.  We haven't achieved our goals yet.  I wouldn't have wanted to be picked any higher since we haven't earned it."

"We have high expectations on ourselves," Laquan added.  "This fuels the fire for us.  We're just going to have to take it day by day if we want to win a championship."

No cries of disrespect - just a quiet sense of needing to return to work, which seems to summarize fairly well the attitude I sensed from the Lehigh table at Media Day.  "Workmanlike."

Lambert, a senior from Chichester, PA, knows the value in hard work in particular after last year's lost season.

Penciled in at the new position of Rover linebacker, Laquan got injured at the first game of the season at Central Connecticut State and was out for the season.

Granted a medical redshirt year, Laquan had to work hard to get back to his final year of eligibility, something bittersweet for him.

"It was very frustrating for me," he said.  "I put in a lot of work to play [a new position] last season, and it's always good to go out with the guys you came in with.  I was able to come back with the help of a great coaching staff, great teammates, great strength and conditioning coaches, sports med - they all helped me on my journey, and I've very thankful for that, because I couldn't have done it without them."

Laquan's injury wasn't the only reason Lehigh's defense was an Achilles heel at times last season, especially in two conference defeats to Fordham and Colgate, but it certainly didn't help.

Laquan was on campus this summer, along with Zach and a host of other Mountain Hawks, to get ready for the upcoming season.  He's dedicated to being a leader in the secondary.

"It's a game we've been playing our whole lives," Laquan said, talking about the responsibility of being penciled in as starting Rover this season.  "It's just another game: you prepare as hard as you can, you trust in your coaching staff, you trust in your players.  I'm just going to go out there and play football like I have my entire life."

Going into the coming season, head coach Andy Coen think the ingredients are there for a better defense, especially with the number of leaders

"Evaluating the schemes from the spring, I think we've really improved.  I think we have some guys who are more veteran back there this fall.  Last year, we started a bunch of young guys on the defensive front.  This year they'll have the opportunity to come back bigger, faster, stronger.

"A guy that nobody knows about in the league, senior LB Pierce Ripanti, he can be as dynamic as any player [in the Patriot League].  He's maturing a lot, and learning how to play the game of football at this level rather than just running around."

"We have other great leadership inside the secondary, like sophomore DB Sam McCloskey who's taken a huge leadership leap," Lambert said.  "He was thrown in the fire early with the injuries we had in the secondary last year.  There's also junior CB Quentin Jones, another great leader, and senior CB Brandon Leaks, a scrappy guy that will be one of the biggest contributors on our defense.  We're excited to have them all back."

"The offseason saw us put in a lot of work as a team both with the older guys and the younger guys," Laquan added at "We've got that camaraderie together and we're very excited. Camp is a very long process, but we're all excited to get better and take that next step and try to win a championship."

(For the Lehigh athletes staying over the summer, that camaraderie was helped by senior QB Nick Shafnisky and his dad.  Laquan mentioned that they "love to grill", and the Whitehall, PA natives frequently had the guys over for grilled delicacies.)

The excitement to getting back to work was also evident with Zach Duffy, as was the theme of leadership.

The Reading, PA native is entering his third season as a mainstay on Lehigh's offensive line, and like Laquan was in Bethlehem over the summer.

He was quick to mention how there were going to be five new offensive linemen that will need to be mentored the way he was mentored when he came to Lehigh.

"It's very important for me, senior OL Brandon Short, and junior OL Tim O'Hara and the other seniors to guide them," he said.  "The transition coming here to college, and especially playing football, is not easy by any means.  Camp especially is very strenuous, and it's really important for us to show them that we're all brothers here, and we're here to guide them through the process.

"I was very fortunate to have a bunch of great guys here before me, OL Matt Lippincott, OL Ned Daryoush, OL Wenner Nunes... they were able to show us what it's supposed to be like and how it's done."

Certainly Lehigh Nation enjoys the continuity of the offensive line, and hope for a repeat of the Mountain Hawks' offensive performance from last season, ranking 13th in all of FCS in total offensive yards.

"Last year's statistics were awesome, but that was also last year," Zach said. "This season, the biggest thing we've been trying to preach to the younger linemen who got reps in the spring was consistency."

Coach Coen agreed.

"We have to replace two guards on the offensive line, Zach is an all-league guy, I think Brandon can be an all-league guy when he plays a full season, and Tim has a great future,"  he said.  "We want to be a balanced team, run and pass like we did a year ago, and you need the guys up front to do it."

Coach Coen, too, got a little sparkle in his eye when talking about the offense.

"I saw sophomore RB Dominick Bragalone the other day - holy cow.  Wait 'til you see him, he's a freak," he said.  "As you know, he's a really good player, and we're hoping for him to get even better."

Junior WR Troy Pelletier made the preseason all-Patriot League team, along with Duffy, O'Hara and senior LB Colton Caslow.

"They're looking great and eager to get things going," Coen said.

2016 Patriot League Football Preseason Poll
1. Colgate (10) 70
2. Fordham (3) 63
T3. Holy Cross (1) 47
T3. Lehigh 47
5. Bucknell 31
6. Lafayette 19
7. Georgetown 17

2016 Patriot League Football Preseason All-League Team
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham (Jr.)
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Diener, LB, Colgate (Sr.)

QB Peter Pujals, Holy Cross (Sr.)
RB Chase Edmonds, Fordham (Jr.)
RB James Holland, Colgate (Jr.)
FB/HB Matt Buckman, Georgetown (Sr.)
WR Will Carter, Bucknell (Sr.)
WR Brendan Flaherty, Holy Cross (Sr.)
WR Troy Pelletier, Lehigh (Jr.)
TE Phazahn Odom, Fordham (Gr.)
OL Anthony Coyle, Fordham (Jr.)
OL Jordi Dalmau, Colgate (Sr.)
OL Julie'n Davenport, Bucknell (Jr.)
OL Zach Duffy, Lehigh (Sr.)
OL Timothy O'Hara, Lehigh (Jr.)

DL Pat Afriyie, Colgate (Jr.)
DL Abdullah Anderson, Bucknell (Jr.)
DL Dewayne Cameron, Holy Cross (Sr.)
DL Ben Schumacher, Bucknell (Sr.)
LB Colton Caslow, Lehigh (Sr.)
LB Kyle Diener, Colgate (Sr.)
LB Mark Pyles, Bucknell (Jr.)
LB Ben Richard, Bucknell (Jr.)
LB Niko Thorpe, Fordham (Jr.)
DB Luke Ford, Holy Cross (Sr.)
DB Chris Morgan, Colgate (Sr.)
DB Alim Muhammad, Holy Cross (Jr.)
DB Jihaad Pretlow, Fordham (Sr.)

Special Teams                                  
PK Henry Darmstadter, Georgetown (Sr.)
P Alex Pechin, Bucknell (So.)
RS Jihaad Pretlow, Fordham (Sr.)
Non-Specialist Player Jethro Francois, Georgetown (So.)


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