The 2011 Lehigh football season will go down as one of the finest in school annals. The Mountain Hawks won 11 games, highlighted by a ten-game win streak and fourth straight win over rival Lafayette. Lehigh captured its second straight and league-leading tenth Patriot League football championship with its second consecutive undefeated league season. Following a first-round bye, the Mountain Hawks returned to the NCAA playoffs and pulled out a thrilling 40-38 second round win at Towson to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001. With Walter Payton Award runner-up Chris Lum leading the way, Lehigh finished in the top six in both national polls and won the program’s eighth Lambert Cup to go along with ECAC FCS Team of the Year honors. With the program’s recent success, expectations remain high for Lehigh in 2012 as the program enters year number seven under Andy Coen. A number of key contributors will be lost to graduation, but the Mountain Hawks return 11 starters, including seven All-Patriot League selections. Coen will also look for new leaders to emerge as the Mountain Hawks gear up to make a run at a third straight league title.
Lehigh’s offense blossomed in year two under Offensive Coordinator and former Lehigh All-American Dave Cecchini ’95. With quarterback Chris Lum and wide receiver Ryan Spadola setting records, the Mountain Hawks ranked fifth nationally in passing offense, and third in the nation in total offense averaging nearly 470 yards per game. Lehigh averaged 32.5 points per game and reached the 30 point mark in ten of its 13 contests in 2011. While several key skill performers return, including two-time All-America Spadola, Lehigh must develop a new quarterback and replace three veteran starters on the offensive line. If the new components can pick up the offense quickly, the weapons are in place for what could be a very potent Lehigh offensive attack.
After emerging as the clear-cut starter in 2010, Chris Lum grew into one of the top players in the football championship subdivision in 2011, throwing for 4,378 yards and 32 touchdowns, while earning numerous All-America honors and finishing second in the balloting for the Walter Payton Award, given to the outstanding player in the FCS. Lum’s graduation leaves a void at the quarterback position, and senior Mike Colvin will get the first opportunity at filling that void. Colvin has seen significant playing time in each of his first three seasons, as a dual threat quarterback who has relied on his legs more than his arm. The New Jersey native has rushed for 549 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons. He has also attempted 75 passes with 33 completions for 272 yards and three touchdowns. He has one career start to his record, as a sophomore in 2010. Colvin has proven to be a terrific all-around athlete and possesses a strong right arm, but his success, and that of the Mountain Hawks may rely on his ability to understand, take control of, and lead Lehigh’s offense from the quarterback position.
Junior Brandon Bialkowski will battle for time at quarterback after spending last season as Lehigh’s No. 3. A lefty with a strong arm, Bialkowski will continue to hone his skills in the Mountain Hawks system. Also in the mix at quarterback will be rising sophomores Gerard Poutier and Matt McHale, along with sophomore walk-on A.J. Visconti.
The receiving corps is led by senior All-American Ryan Spadola, who put together one of the finest receiving single-seasons in school and Patriot League history in 2011. Spadola followed up his breakout 2010 campaign by hauling in a school-record 96 passes for a school and league record 1,614 yards and 11 touchdowns. A first-team All-Patriot League selection, Spadola earned All-America recognition from numerous outlets, after finishing 98 yards shy of the FCS single-season receiving record. The New Jersey native had 214 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a win over Princeton in September, and then set a career-high with 216 yards in a win at Fordham.
While Spadola will be the focal point of opposing defenses, Lehigh will be looking for younger players to step up into the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receiver roles. Jake Drwal capped off a brilliant career with an outstanding senior season where he also eclipsed the 90 reception and 1,000 yard receiving marks. Reliable third receiver Jimmy Jefferson is also lost to graduation. Juniors Lee Kurfis and Sergio Fernandez-Soto are the top candidates to move into the lineup. Kurfis caught just four passes last year but saw significant action in the playoffs, while Fernandez-Soto hauled in 12 passes in 12 games.
The coaching staff is also excited about the prospects of sophomores Josh Parris and Alex Buford who showed promise in their freshman seasons. Sophomore Derek Gaul is expected to move to wide receiver from the secondary. He will be in the mix for playing time along with senior Tony Kablan, junior Ryan Burke and sophomore Deshawn Murphy.
The running back position should be an area of strength and depth for the Mountain Hawks heading into the 2012 season. Lehigh returns its top two rushers from a year ago, in senior Zach Barket and junior Keith Sherman, plus two quality fullbacks.
Barket enjoyed a breakout campaign as a junior, rushing for 706 yards and totaling nine combined touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury in Lehigh’s Patriot League Championship-clinching win over Georgetown. The former Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year from Schuylkill Haven still earned first team All-Patriot League honors. Barket will miss spring practice, but should be ready for camp in the summer. Sherman added 340 yards on the ground to go with five total touchdowns, and should continue to complement Barket well with his speed and athleticism.
Senior Marcus Dormevil, a speedy, shifty former walk-on, did some nice things in a limited role last season. Junior Cody Haupt and sophomore Rich Sodeke have impressed in spring practice and will vie for time as well.
Juniors Zach Hayden and Sean Farrell will compete for time at fullback. Hayden emerged as the starter at fullback last season, and impressed with his blocking ability and his hands, as he caught ten passes, including the game-clincher in Lehigh’s playoff win at Towson. Farrell impressed as a freshman, but was slowed by injury and illness as a sophomore. Now at full strength, he will be in the mix, looking for a bounce-back campaign.
Lehigh returns four tight ends in 2012 but only one who has seen significant playing time. Senior Jamel Haggins emerged as a weapon in the passing game last season with 27 receptions for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Haggins had games of five receptions and over 60 yards receiving in wins at Colgate and Towson. Junior Max Anderson has the second most experience of the group, as he appeared in four games last season, and caught a pair of passes in a win over Yale at Goodman Stadium in October.
Sophomores Dylan Colgate and Tyler Coyle round out the group of Mountain Hawk tight ends. Both men gained valuable scout team experience last season and will vie for larger roles in 2012.
Despite the graduation of All-American Will Rackley, a third-round draft choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Lehigh’s offensive line remained an area of strength for the Mountain Hawks in the 2011 season. The Mountain Hawks started three seniors, and all three earned All-Patriot League honors, while left tackle Troy McKenna and center Jim Liebler garnered All-America honors in their final seasons in the Brown and White.
The Mountain Hawks’ top returnee on the offensive line is senior Mike Vuono, who settled in as the right tackle and appeared in 12 games en route to first team All-Patriot League honors and a second team ECAC All-Star nod. Junior Matt Lippincott also returns after starting 12 games at left guard. The 290-pound Lehigh Valley product from Wilson High School may also get an opportunity to take over for Liebler at center.
Junior A.J. Hood should be in the mix at one of the tackle spots. At 6-6, and 295 lbs., Hood possesses prototypical tackle size and should see an increased role if he can stay healthy. On the interior line, seniors Vinny Pellegrini and Tom Ruley and junior Shane Rugg will compete for an increased role. Pellegrini returned to game action late last season after missing almost two years with a shoulder injury and has been granted a fifth-year of eligibility. Ruley and Rugg both saw significant time on the offensive line and will battle to play an expanded role. Senior tackle Lex Utt rounds out the upperclassmen on the offensive line.
Lehigh’s rising sophomore offensive linemen have impressed with extra repetitions in spring practice, and the group of Ned Daryoush, Matt Douglas, Cornell Harriott, Kyle Moore and Wenner Nunes will vie for an expanded role.
While Lehigh’s offense grabbed many of the headlines in 2011, the Mountain Hawks defense was equally as effective. With a veteran front seven leading the way, the Mountain Hawks ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. Lehigh once again led the Patriot League in sacks and ranked 16th nationally in that category. Five defensive players earned All-Patriot League honors, with All-America linebacker Mike Groome leading the charge. Not only does Lehigh’s defense lose six starters, including five from the front seven, but defensive coordinator Dave Kotulski left to coach the inside linebackers at Stanford. Longtime assistants Donnie Roberts and Gerard Wilcher will serve as co-coordinators and will look to continue the tradition of a fast, physical and opportunistic unit.
The defensive line was one of Lehigh’s biggest strengths in 2011, but the Mountain Hawks will have to work on developing some new contributors in 2012. Lehigh will have to replace All-League tackles Ben Flizack and Andrew Knapp and nose guard Billy Dokouslis. Senior All-League performer Sajjad Chagani returns at the nose guard spot. One of the strongest players on the team, Chagani started ten games last season and recorded 30 tackles including four for loss. Senior Tom Bianchi is expected to step up into one of the tackle roles. Bianchi had 23 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season, including the eventual game-winning safety in Lehigh’s 40-38 playoff win at Towson.
Senior Anthony Verderame is one player that will be called upon to step up on the defensive line. Lehigh also hopes its rising sophomore class can provide some depth, a group that includes Scott Grossnickle, Tim Newton and Reed Remington. Others who will compete for time include junior Ryan Kuntz and Rickey Layton and senior Arturo Gyles.
Lehigh’s linebacking corps was once again a major area of strength for the Mountain Hawks defense in 2011, but the unit will have to replace six players from the two deep who saw significant time last season, including defensive captain and leader Mike Groome on the inside. The Mountain Hawks still have a number of able bodies looking for an opportunity to prove themselves.
The Mountain Hawks return the most depth on the inside where the trio of seniors Billy Boyko, Jerard Gordon and Sam Loughery will look to step into expanded roles. Boyko emerged as the starter alongside Groome in the second half of the season, finishing fourth on the team with 44 tackles. Loughery enjoyed a strong start to the season with 39 tackles before seeing his season derailed by an injury. Gordon saw significant action on special teams throughout the season and saw more time at linebacker as the year wore on. He led the Mountain Hawks with 14 total tackles in Lehigh’s season-ending quarterfinal loss at North Dakota State.
At the strong side linebacker position, junior Nigel Muhammad should get the first opportunity as he replaces seniors Fred Mihal and Tanner Rivas. Muhammad saw time in 12 games last year, mainly on special teams.
On the weak side, Lehigh loses Colin Newton and Shane Ryan to graduation. Junior John Mahoney could get the first crack at the position. Mahoney transferred to Lehigh from Bryant and sat out all of last season due to transfer rules, but was a valuable member of the scout team. Sophomore Isaiah Campbell could also figure in on the weak side.
There are also a number of younger linebackers waiting in the wings for an opportunity. The coaches will be looking from some depth to come forward from a group that includes senior Adam Francis, juniors Cody Raup and Chris Geist, and sophomores Tashan Mitchell, Michael Emery, Ryan Wills, Jared Heschke and John Gonos. Mitchell plays lacrosse for Lehigh during the spring, but saw some action on Lehigh’s kickoff return unit last season and was Lehigh’s defensive scout team MVP.
Lehigh entered last season needing to replace four senior All-Patriot League selections who graduated from the Mountain Hawks’ 2010 league championship team. Despite their relative inexperience, Lehigh’s secondary came together during the 2011 season and will now serve as the most experienced unit of the Mountain Hawks’ defense in 2012. When the Lehigh coaching staff goes in search of players for its secondary, they are looking for kids that can run and are physical. Three of Lehigh’s four starters from last year return to the secondary, including a pair of All-Patriot League selections, while several talented younger players are waiting in the wings looking to prove themselves at the college level.
At cornerback the Mountain Hawks return two very talented and capable performers in seniors Bryan Andrews and Gabe Johnson. Andrews is widely regarded as Lehigh’s top cover corner and is coming off a strong junior season where he tied for the team lead with four interceptions on the way to second team All-Patriot League honors. The Georgia native picked off two passes in Lehigh’s Patriot League championship clinching win over Georgetown, including one in which he returned 26 yards for a touchdown. Johnson bounced back from a knee injury suffered late in the 2010 season to start 11 games, making 42 tackles while picking off a pair of passes and recording four pass breakups.
Behind Andrews and Johnson are juniors Courtney Jarvis and Winston Williams. Jarvis appeared in all 13 games, and recorded his first career interception against Lafayette. Sophomores Jason Suggs and Stephen Wilmington will also battle for time in the secondary. Suggs contributed as a freshman as Lehigh’s leading kickoff returner, and should push for more time on defense.
At safety, Billy O’Brien was solid in his first year as a starter and returns for his senior season. O’Brien ranked third on the Mountain Hawks with 54 tackles from his free safety position, and was named to the All-Patriot League second team. Juniors Rickie Hill and Tyler Ward will team with O’Brien to give the Mountain Hawks three very capable safety men. Ward made 24 tackles while appearing in all 13 games. Hill saw time in nine games, primarily on special teams. Junior Jamil Robinson and sophomore Paul Schroeder will also vie for time in the defensive backfield.
Lehigh’s special teams units featured several new faces in 2011, many of whom will be back in the mix in 2012. There are several spots where the Mountain Hawks have players in new roles.
Junior Tim Divers did well in his sophomore season as Lehigh’s punter and eventually its placekicker as well. Divers averaged close to 37 yards per punt and after taking over the placekicking duties in week three, converted on 11-of-17 field goals and 37-of-41 extra points. Senior Jake Peery handled Lehigh’s kickoffs last year and will once again be in the mix for the placekicking job along with sophomore Nick Marcello.
Chris Lum’s graduation not only leaves Lehigh looking for a new quarterback, but a new holder as well. Quarterback Brandon Bialkowski will get an opportunity to hold, while wide receiver Lee Kurfis handled some holding duties early last season. Junior Kyle Lechner returns as a long snapper, but he handled placements for most of last season, so the Mountain Hawks may look for a new snapper for punts.
In the return game, cornerbacks Jason Suggs and Courtney Jarvis held most of the chances and did well, as the Mountain Hawks averaged 20.5 yards per return as a team. Senior Marcus Dormevil also returned 13 kicks and could figure in here along with sophomore Rich Sodeke. Lehigh must replace its punt returner in Jake Drwal, but juniors Sergio Fernandez-Soto and Keith Sherman could be in the mix there.
For the complete 2012 Lehigh Football Spring Prospectus, please click on the link above