Posted: 03/22/2013 | Last updated: March 22, 2013 at 11:44 AM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh football program returns to the field for the start of their spring practice segment on Friday, eager to get back to work following the disappointment that came with being denied a playoff berth despite a 10-1 overall record. The Mountain Hawks are 31-6 over the last three seasons, with three-straight ten-plus win campaigns, but after being left out of the postseason party last year, the Mountain Hawks are hungry to get back to business in preparation for the 2013 season.
“This group is all going to be about being hungry,” said head coach Andy Coen, who enters his eighth season. “They can’t wait to get out on the field to prove themselves and give themselves an opportunity to help win us another championship. We won’t talk a lot about it, but every kid on our team feels wronged by about not having the opportunity to play in the postseason. The only way to make us feel better about that is to make sure we make it to the postseason this year, but that’s easier said than done.”
Coen enters his eighth season with just eight returning starters, including just three on defense. The Mountain Hawks return just two of their 11 All-Patriot League selections in 2013, so the coaching staff will be looking for a new wave of talented players to emerge.
“We are graduated 20 kids and a lot of those kids played so there are some big challenges ahead,” Coen said. “There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of jobs that are up for grabs here. For a lot of our guys, earning those positions really starts with spring ball.
“The biggest goal is to assess personnel,” Coen continued. “Some guys will definitely earn a spot by how they play. Other guys will be making strides to get themselves ready to play. That’s what we need to assess, really at every positional group. I feel good about the attitude that I’ve seen and the guys in our program. Guys are ready to take that next step to become that guy at all those position groups. This spring goes a long way to get these guys to be ready to be on the field in the fall.”
Lehigh will to the practice fields on Friday afternoon for the first of 15 practice sessions, with the second practice taking place Saturday morning. The Mountain Hawks return five starters on offense plus a number of skill players who have seen significant playing time. The biggest question mark surrounding Lehigh in the spring may be at the quarterback position, where the Mountain Hawks lose All-Patriot League performer Mike Colvin to graduation. Rising senior Brandon Bialkowski is expected to compete with juniors Matt McHale, Gerard Poutier and A.J. Visconti throughout the spring and into preseason camp.
“We need someone to step up,” Coen explained. “Brandon really matured and developed last year as our number two but never really got to play significant snaps. He understands our offense and has a very accurate arm. Matt McHale has a lot of similar characteristics to Mike Colvin in that he is a great athlete with a strong arm. Gerard Poutier is a bit of a gunslinger. He has good feet, a strong arm and never wants to give up on a play.
Coen continued, “The spring can’t be all about the quarterbacks because there are other groups to evaluate as well. We will put these guys in the best positions we can to simulate game situations. While the spring will be really important for the quarterbacks, I don’t know if I’ll be ready to name a starter. Our track rack record has been good waiting until fall camp to make sure we make right decision.”
The Mountain Hawks will lose several key skill players to graduation, including All-America wide receiver Ryan Spadola, running back Zach Barket and tight end Jamel Haggins, but Lehigh returns a number of players who saw significant game action at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Seniors Keith Sherman and Cody Haupt along with junior Rich Sodeke lead the returning group of runners, while the receiving corps will be led by seniors Lee Kurfis and Sergio Fernandez-Soto plus junior Josh Parris. Senior Max Anderson and juniors Tyler Coyle and Dylan Colgate have all seen action at tight end and will be in the mix this spring. Lehigh also has plenty of experience at fullback with seniors Zach Hayden and Sean Farrell.
The offensive line features three returning starters, led by junior left tackle Ned Daryoush, who earned second team All-Patriot League honors last season. Junior Kyle Moore emerged as the starter at right tackle late last year but is expected to move to center. The spring season will provide repetitions for a number of talented linemen including seniors A.J. Hood, Matt Lippincott and Shane Rugg, juniors Matt Douglas and Wenner Nunes and sophomores Matt Ford, Ryan James and Terez Owens, among others.
“The offensive line is a group I’m very excited about,” Coen said. “We have some really good young players and some strong veteran guys. The last two recruiting classes were very strong, so I’m looking forward to seeing those guys come together as a unit. There should be lots of great competition and I think we’re going to feel really good about that group coming out of the spring.”
Defensively, Lehigh returns just three starters as the Mountain Hawks will have to replace their entire starting defensive line, both inside linebackers and three-quarters of their secondary. There are a number of returning defensive players who saw time in the rotation last season, but a number of players will be relied upon to step into expanded roles.
On the defensive line, senior Rickey Layton and juniors Tim Newton, Arturo Gyles and Reed Remington all saw playing time in 2012 and will look to take on larger roles in 2013.
At linebacker, the Mountain Hawks return experience on the outside with senior Nigel Muhammad and sophomore Matt Laub on the strong side, plus senior John Mahoney and junior Isaiah Campbell on the weak side. Lehigh loses its top three inside linebackers to graduation so the coaching staff will be looking for new leaders to emerge at that unit. Cody Raup is the senior member of the inside linebacker group, with junior Tashan Mitchell and sophomores Cody Kondas, D.J. Bourgeois and Noah Robb – who moves inside – will all in the mix as well.
In the secondary, Lehigh must replace two veteran cornerbacks, and safety Billy O’Brien. Rising seniors Rickie Hill and Tyler Ward have seen significant time at safety and will be joined by senior Jamil Robinson, juniors Stephen Wilmington and Paul Schroeder and sophomore Laquan Lambert. Senior Courtney Jarvis has seen considerable playing time as Lehigh’s third cornerback and will look to move into a starting role. Rising junior Jason Suggs will be in the mix in the fall, but will miss spring ball as he recovers from surgery. Three promising sophomores, Randall Lawson, Russhon Phillips and Olivier Rigaud will also battle for time at cornerback.
“I feel a little better about our front group (defensive line) because so many of these guys played,” Coen said. “We really played three guys at inside linebacker who all graduated so we need these new guys to step up this spring. They’re a very athletic group and I’m excited to see those guys establish themselves. In the secondary our cornerback group should be very competitive and there are players at safety who have done well.”
Lehigh likely will not do a lot of kicking or punting in its spring segment, with punter Tim Divers returning for his senior season. The Mountain Hawks will devote some attention to the return game however, as they work through a number of options on kickoff returns and look to sure up the punt return spot.
Last spring, Lehigh spent a lot of time working on red zone situations, something that paid off for the Mountain Hawks in 2012. This year Coen wants to emphasize turnovers, both taking care of the ball on offense and taking it away with more regularity on defense.
“Our emphasis on the red zone worked well for us last year,” Coen said. “We were among the best in the country in red zone offense efficiency and will look to continue to do that. What’s important for us this year is ball security and ball disruption. I was disappointed by the lack of turnovers created on defense. We did a lot of good things and were almost as good as we had been over the previous two years but we did not do a good job forcing turnovers.
“We have to get the ball back for the offense,” Coen continued. “The one game we lost, he couldn’t get the opposing offense off the field. It’s hard to practice because of its physical nature but goal line and short yardage defense is not as good as we’d like it to be. We can only practice it so much because of the nature of it, but we’ll look to improve there.”
Lehigh will conclude its 2013 spring season on Saturday, April 20 with the annual Brown and White game inside Goodman Stadium. The event, which will begin at 10 a.m., is free of charge and open to all.
2013 Lehigh Football Spring Practice Schedule
Friday, March 22 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 23 – 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, March 26 – 4:30 p.m.
Friday, March 29 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 30 – 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, April 2 – 7:15 p.m.
Friday, April 5 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 6 – 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, April 9 – 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 11 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 13 – 11 a.m.
Monday, April 15 – 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 16 – 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 18 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 20 – Brown and White Spring Game, 10 a.m.^
^inside Goodman Stadium
Please note that all practice dates, times and locations are subject to change due to adverse weather conditions and other factors.