My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

2006 Patriot League Preview: #2 Lafayette

Well, I'm back. And while I won't scoop the Patriot League coaches and media anymore with my picks, I do hope you'll enjoy what you read.

#2 Lafayette

Recent History

When the clock struck midnight in Newark, Delaware in 2004 following Lafayette's playoff loss to the defending national champion Blue Hens, a funny thing happened. Apparently nobody told the boys in Easton to read the script. Cinderella didn't return home in 2005 to find the ugly step-sisters still lording over the Patriot League; Head Coach Frank Tavani didn't turn into a dormouse and the championship carriage ride didn't turn into a pumpkin. In fact, the Leopards went straight to video with their Cinderella II sequel and decided that the party was so much fun, why not do it again? So they did - with another Patriot League championship and another playoff appearance.

With back to back co-championships under their belt, suddenly the landscape looks a lot different for the Maroon and White. Three wins out of the past four Lehigh games, championship rings, playoffs, national rankings, solid recruiting class after solid recruiting class... One might think if you were to transport Lafayette fans such as internet favorite 'Andy' right off the street in 2000 and plopped them in the center of Fisher Field this fall, they would probably mistake Easton for Bethlehem, and would be wondering why the Mountain Hawks are in Maroon.

But behold! This really is Lafayette! Of any program in the Patriot League, the 'recent' history of Lafayette College is the most dramatic upswing to recount. In this decade the program has gone from a two win per year schedule to one with bonus games after Thanksgiving. All-Americans are on these squads. Yes, this really is Lafayette, and their beyond arriving. They're staying.

Off Season Developments


Hmmm.... off-season developments.... off-season developments... what could have possibly happened at Lafayette that might be worth talking about? Coaching staff? Nope. This staff is becoming very 'Colgate-like' in their stability and one can't help but notice that when a school is successful. (Note to self: given some of the changes in Hamilton this fall, perhaps next time around the correct phrase would be 'Lafayette-like'. Remember that.)

OH, I KNOW! How about a $23 million dollar renovated football stadium as an off-season development? Would that interest you? Well, all sarcasm aside now, it probably does, and it should. For a school that once talked about a move to Division III, the winds are certainly blowing in another direction. While not going from 'worst-to-first' with this change, Lafayette is certainly making their case known for 'first'. Time will tell if the fans in Easton can support the Leopard program to the extent that that other school west down I-78 does, but if they can't, it won't be because of the facilities. We're talking new seating, field turf, lights, a varsity house, new restrooms and vending. You get the idea. I personally can't wait to see this stadium in soon.

As previously mentioned, Tavani continues to successfully sell a great education and a top I-AA program to recruits. Look no further than the fact that over 75% of recruits that choose to visit Lafayette end up signing on the dotted line. Clearly when the time comes, student-athletes like what they see and hear.

The emphasis in this class was clearly in three areas: lineman, linebackers and defensive backs. Looking at what Lafayette graduated, this area of concern should come as no surprise. Some standouts: Michael Bolton, TE 6'5" 220 lbs. First, that poor, poor child! Go by 'Mike', please! But I have a hunch about names like this. In Johnny Cash fashion, they tend to toughen somebody up. Think of all those NFL types named Leslie, or Stacey, or Kim. I'm not about to mess with them.

Spencer Brown, LB 6'1" 215 lbs. looks to have some nice athleticism to his credit. Keith Heaney 6'3" 220 lbs. looks to be a beast of a linebacker; DeAndre' Morrow could be a speedster tailback to look out for at 5'10" and 180 lbs; Andrew Poulson has some nice size to build on as a defensive lineman and looks to be a good athlete by virtue of his wrestling skills; finally, keep an eye on Allan Whitesell DL 6'6" 220 lbs. He was a hot commodity around the league in recruiting time.

2006 Schedule

The Pards make up for their seven home games in 2005 with only five (scheduled!) contests to speak of in the new Fisher Field this fall. The real head scratcher is their opener, an away game at Sacred Heart. One has to think this trip to a 'mid-major' is connected in some fashion to the stadium construction and perhaps it was a buffer put in by the administration to account for the completion time. But, with Lafayette also opening against Marist away last year, maybe this isn't the case entirely.

The Pards then waste no time with the Patriot League schedule as they travel to Bucknell before the inaugural game in the new stadium against in-state foe Pennsylvania. Penn is the start of a four game Ivy League stretch that follows with an away game at Princeton, a home contest against Yale, and a trip to Cambridge and Harvard to end it. This is do or die time for Lafayette's at-large playoff hopes, as historically the Ivy teams have given the Leopards some of their toughest matchups in the past. Going three out of four here would be a big monkey off the program's back.

Climbing down the Ivory Tower a flight, the rest of the Patriot League schedule continues. It's Holy Cross up first and then a certainly circled date in a trip up to Hamilton to try and address the other program monkey: a win against Colgate. The season chugs on to an away game at Fordham, before some end of the year home cooking against Georgetown and arch-rival Lehigh. This will be a big one, like it is every year, but even more so. Lafayette has not one three in a row against Lehigh since the early days of the Patriot: 1989-1991.

Season Outlook

If last year's season was a test to see if the Leopards were a flash in the pan, this year's test will be to see if this is a 'reload' or a 'rebuild' type program. It would be tough to argue against the fact that the outstanding defense of Lafayette in 2005 carried this team to the finish line.

Unfortunately, some important players from that unit are gone. The linebacking unit of Maurice Bennett, Blake Costanzo and Dion Witherspoon are gone. Starting corners Larry Johnson and Tye Murphy are gone. These are not names you easily replace.

But, it's not all bad news for the fans. The defensive line will be good; real good. Marvin Snipes will be the leader of this line, and perhaps the entire defense. Pair him up with Dan Liseno, Kyle Sprenkle and Keith Bloom, and you've got a base to build on. The linebackers will be lead by an experienced senior, Justin Stovall and sophomore Andy Romans might emerge as a top linebacker in the Patriot League one day. And while the corners are gone, the safeties are not. Led by Torian Johnson, three safeties have started a combined 52 games so far. Of all the spots to really be nervous about as a Leopard fan, it's the corners. Adrian Lawson will most likely team up with Marvin Clecidor to try and keep opposing receivers in check. This will not be an easy task as the Patriot League has some serious receivers that require attention. It will most likely be up to Snipes and the defensive line to cause pressure and hurry quarterbacks to give the corners some help.

It is on offense where Lafayette really has the potential to shine. Led by two year starter Brad Maurer at quarterback, the Pards are in excellent hands. Maurer's an superb passer who is also been known to run the ball effectively. The only knock on Maurer has been his health, and unfortunately an experienced back up like Pat Davis is not waiting in the wings this year. Getting some backup quarterback experience has to be on the minds of this staff, and if the situations allow, look for Michael DiPaola to get some snaps if games are not in question.

Jonathan Hurt also returns in the backfield and opponents take heed: he may have underachieved a bit last year, but he has ever bit of a chance to lead this league in rushing, especially behind this offensive line led by Mike Saint Germain. Germain is a horse with some All-American accolades under his belt. He's got some help by another senior Ryan Nase, and all indications are that Jesse Padilla, Joe Moore and Leo Plenski will be carrying on the tradition of excellence established under offensive line coach Bob Heffner.

Maurer also gets some help from the receiver corps with the return of Archie Fischer and Joe Ort for fifth years. Fischer and Ort are reliable possession receivers that have played with Maurer for 3 years now. That familiarity can make up for a lot when a quarterback gets in trouble or needs someone to come through in a clutch. The two fifth-years are complimented by a dose of speed in sophomore Shaun Adair. Adair was picked early to have an impact on this program, and he didn't disappoint when given the chance last year. Look for his role to increase, and his name to be announced a lot.

When it's time to kick, the Pards will also enjoy some experience here as well. Both starters are back; senior Rick Ziska will handle the kicking duties and junior David Yankovich will take care of the punts. Neither led the league but they are both very reliable. Previously mentioned Adair will also be asked to fill some big shoes on returns, as Larry Johnson graduated after breaking some records in his time in Easton.

Predicted Finish

Second. And it's only by a hair. Just one linebacker returning, or maybe if Hurt had a better year in 2005 or if there was a corner returning, I think I would have penciled them in at #1. But when I think about how the defense carried this team to a championship, and how the other #1 up for consideration is Colgate, well... it's tough to pick them to win it all when a trip up to Hamilton in late October is in order. Please don't mistake this for homerism; with the streak and the success Colgate has had at home, I'd do the same even if the tables were turned around.

Lafayette will be successful on offense, there should be no doubt about it. Solid offensive line and veteran skill players virtually assure that. While they won't win shootouts, they will put points on the board and control the ball. This formula worked in 2005, so the 2006 season should be all about the following three questions:

1. How good are the upcoming linebackers?

2. Can the cornerbacks prove adequate?

3. Can the Leopard defensive line dominate opponents enough to lower or negate the importance of the first two questions?

Nothing will be turning into a pumpkin in 2006 as Lafayette should clearly win some ball games. If any of those three questions are answered positively, then Lafayette has as good a chance as anyone to win this league. If two of those three questions are answered positively, then Lafayette's heading to the playoffs. If three... well, Leopard fans can daydream from there!

3 Comments:

  • Great over view of the patriot league so far, cant wait for clogate. THe job done on laffayette was great.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:49 AM  

  • It's obvious that you were well rested when you wrote this one. The whole Cinderella metaphor almost got me a little misty. Great job. I feel like I know this team as well as I know Georgetown's. I look forward to my first visit to Easton--I guess the Hoyas waited three years for the new stadium.

    By Blogger LBPop, at 3:14 PM  

  • A very informed (big surprise) and very fair assessment. To my chagrin, nothing to bitch about. Nice job!

    On Oct. 10, there is a plan to test the higher visitor numbers on that new gizmo scoreboard. Yeehaa!

    By Anonymous andy, at 10:19 AM  

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