Since the conclusion of Lehigh's championship 2016 football season, head coach Andy Coen and all of his assistant coaches have been on the trail recruiting the next great Lehigh football players. While it's a "quiet period" now, as per the NCAA, the Mountain Hawks have been busy.
But what, exactly, does Lehigh need in regards to the offseason?
I forgot; that's why you're here. Let me share what I think.
For the first time in a long time, to this longtime observer of the Lehigh football team, it's not so much about the quantity of football players who will be graduating, but more in terms of quality in terms of leadership and what I think are "team intangibles".
Senior QB Nick Shafnisky and senior LB Colton Caslow weren't just team captains for the 2016 Mountain Hawks - they were the emotional and energetic core of both the offense and defense, respectively. Things felt different when they were in the game. Teammates rallied around them, and they seemed to bring out the best in their teammates around them as well.
|LB Evan Harvey and LB Colton Caslow (Brown and White)|
Senior NG Jimmy Mitchell, who went to the weight room as a freshman defensive tackle weighing 255 lbs and ended his senior year as a 285 lb linchpin noseguard for the Mountain Hawks' 3-3-5 defense.
Senior WR Derek Knott, and senior WR Trevor Soccaras, players who knew their roles on the offense and brought to it the utmost. They didn't always pack the stat sheet, but there is no way Lehigh wins a championship in 2016 without big plays by both of these guys versus Fordham and Bucknell.
Senior WR Jarrod Howard, who made himself a name as a fearsome special teams tackler and was always around the ball pretty much on every special teams play of note.
In the group that will graduate, Shafnisky and Caslow were the most-quoted stars, but it was the hard work and the emotional contributions of these other great Lehigh players that could be missed even more - not so much the numbers, but their individual work ethic. Will this Lehigh team be able to keep up the momentum that these guys brought to the less-publicized portions of championship play, the weight room stuff, the emotion?
|Zach Duffy and Brandon Short (Brent Hugo/Lehigh Athletics)|
"I wasn't sure on Brandon because he'd been banged up a lot as a young guy, so I actually asked him -- I didn't have to ask Duffy," Coen said. "I asked Short and he said, 'Coach, I want to come back and play.' Those two guys are awesome. Good football players, great kids, great people. We are fortunate we have a lot of guys like that."
There's also the matter of quarterback, where sophomore QB Brad Mayes has already gained a ton of experience over the last two years during the times where Shafnisky was unable to play. It's rare that a team can graduate their QB that has started games during the last four years of his playing career, yet the heir apparent has enough playing experience to make the transition seem seamless, but that's what Lehigh apparently has at their disposal at QB.
Last season, Mayes played in seven games, including starts against Yale, Holy Cross, and New Hampshire, and the Tampa, Florida native completed 67% of his passes, notched 13 touchdowns and only had 3 interceptions - amply establishing himself as the guy to beat at QB this offseason.
So Mayes, Duffy, and Short seems like they will return excellent continuity on the offense.
LFN's Biggest Recruiting Areas Of Interest In The Offseason
1. Linebacker. Not only have all three starters in Lehigh's 3-3-5 exhausted their eligibility - Caslow, Ripanti and Harvey - there are only six linebackers on the roster after they and senior LB Evan Kauffman graduate. There are some good candidates to jump in and compete for roster spots in the spring already here, but it's also clear that the upcoming recruiting class will need to fill some critical areas at linebacker, too, and maybe even finding their way onto the depth chart.
2. Running Back. With sophomore RB Dominick Bragalone returning this may not seem like a recruiting area of need - until you realize that Dom, junior RB Nana Amankwah-Ayeh, sophomore RB Micco Brisker and sophomore RB Nick Thevaganayam will all be upperclassmen next season. I think that recruiting one or more running backs should be a priority.
LFN's Recruiting Stocking Stuffer Areas of Interest
1. Defensive Backs. In the 3-3-5, there is always going to be a need for good corners, safeties and rovers, and with Lambert and Leaks graduating, the Mountain Hawks will need some quality players to enter the mix.
2. Linemen. It might not seem like it with Duffy and Short sticking around for a 5th year, but numbers are always critical in the trenches. I am never unhappy seeing a big lineman on the recruit list, and if their a 285 lb nose guard or offensive lineman, I'm thrilled.
3. Wideout. With two all-Patriot League receivers returning for their senior seasons, it might seem daunting, but after those two stars, there's loads of opportunities for underclassmen to work their way into a list of very strong candidates. Lehigh uses a lot of different receivers, and the Mountain Hawks are always looking for the next superstar to emerge.