Expectations Have Changed
Feb. 5, 2009
By Scott D. Morse
With yesterday's national signing day information out and available right here on GoLeopards.com, the focus of the Lafayette football program is rightfully on the future.
"National Signing Day Yields 17 Student-Athletes for Lafayette Football" is the headline splashed on the front page of Lafayette's official athletic website. On the surface, 17 is the lowest number of commitments on national signing day since Frank Tavani took over as the Leopards' head coach. A knee-jerk reaction might signal something's wrong - why only 17? A closer look at the student-athletes, however, shows that Coach Tavani and his staff went after quality. And by quality, we're talking solid scholars with superior talent.
It's also very important to note - as Coach Tavani states in his comments - the Leopards will graduate just 15 seniors come May. Thus, this class didn't need to be as large in number as recent classes.
Looking at it more globally, this is just another sign that expectations surrounding and within the Lafayette football program have changed dramatically over the past five-plus years. It's also another sign of just how well Coach Tavani and his staff run the program - on and off the field.
Let's start with the latter.
Coach Tavani regularly stresses the importance of education throughout his personal contact with Lafayette student-athletes, from the time of the first recruiting visit through graduation and beyond. In fact, he and his assistant coaches can often be found roaming through the College's Skillman Library and other team study locations on campus ensuring that the Leopards are tackling their academic workload as vigorously as their opponents.
It's paying off - four of the last seven Patriot League Scholar-Athletes of the Year have been Leopards. Sure, the last three seasons haven't yielded the scholarly award Lafayette had been accustomed to receiving, but that's still more than half of the last eight years that a Leopard has earned this prestigious honor. We're talking about past superstars in the classroom and on the field like Brad Maurer '07 (Neuroscience major), Maurice Bennett '06 (Economics & Business major) and Stephen Bono '05 (Civil Engineering major). The Leopards also boast 23 Academic All-District honors under Coach Tavani's leadership.
The off-the-field "work" extends well beyond the classroom. Coach Tavani prides himself and the program on producing solid citizens with high levels of character and integrity.
One needs to look no further than how these young men handle themselves. Listen to them during an interview with the media or speaking to young fans following a game. All you will witness is dignity, respect and class.
One moment in time stands out - immediately following the Leopards toughest of just four losses during the 2008 season. No, not the Lafayette-Lehigh game. Sure, it's always tough losing to the rivals ... even though Lafayette holds a commanding 76-63-5 lead in the all-time series. The toughest loss was to Holy Cross one week prior. With the crowd fully engaged, the Leopards saw a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead - along with their Patriot League championship and NCAA Playoff bid possibilities - disappear at the hands of a potent Holy Cross offense. The Crusaders, after converting two fourth-downs earlier in their final drive, completed a 37-yard touchdown pass and converted the ensuing extra point with just six seconds left.
The easiest thing for Coach Tavani and the Leopards to do following a heart-crushing loss like this would have been to exit the Fisher Stadium playing surface for the privacy and warm confines of Bourger Varsity Football House. Coach Tavani isn't about doing what's easy. He is about doing what is right.
One "tradition" he started shortly after becoming head coach consists of the team lining across the field and facing the home grandstand at Fisher Stadium while the pep band plays the alma mater. It's very likely that no one would have even noticed if Coach Tavani and the Leopards skipped this tradition following such a difficult loss. But that's not what Coach Tavani is about. The Leopards and the coaching staff stayed on the field for the Lafayette alma mater that day - every last verse - and were classy in defeat, performing the usual on-field interviews and other post-game procedures.
That type of character-building and "doing what is right" mentality has helped turn Lafayette into one of the elite football programs not just in the Patriot League but in the nation.
The facts regarding the Leopards performances on the field over the past five seasons are both aplenty and striking:
Coach Tavani knows better than anyone associated with the program the pressure that accompanies higher expectations. It's a safe bet that he welcomes it because that pressure is always a part of a well-run program.
Scott Morse is the director of athletic communications and promotions at Lafayette and a frequent columnist for GoLeopards.com