2009 Lafayette Spring Football Propsectus
April 1, 2009
It's a tribute to the recent sustained success of the Lafayette football program that a 7-4 mark, which included a road victory over a Top 25 team, was considered a disappointment. Consider that since 2004, Lafayette is 36-22 overall and 22-8 in Patriot League play, covering five seasons. A pair of 8-4, 5-1 marks began a Patriot League championship run of three straight years in 2004 and included a 6-6, 5-1 mark in 2006. The last two seasons, Lafayette has finished 7-4 overall, with 4-2 and 3-3 league marks, respectively.
Lafayette stands as the only Patriot League program to record a winning record in each of the last five regular seasons while also holding a Top 25 national ranking in each season.
With that as the background, the Lafayette coaching staff and players take to the turf of Fisher Stadium in preparation for a return to championship football that begins with the Leopards' spring season. Lafayette will practice 15 times beginning March 27, and the spring season will culminate with the Annual Maroon and White Spring Game on April 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Defense has been the strength for the Leopards in recent seasons. Under the direction of coordinator John Loose, the Leopards will have to find a way to make up for the loss to graduation of two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and All-American Andy Romans. Senior Mark Leggiero, a two-time All-Patriot League selection at linebacker, likely will be asked to pick up the defensive leadership reins.
Offensively, there are a lot of question marks and potentially an equal amount of correct answers to positional openings at the skill positions under new offensive coordinator Mickey Fein. At quarterback, the coaching staff will likely decide between senior Rob Curley, who started the first eight games of 2008, and junior Marc Quilling, who started the final three games. As far as running the ball, the tailback spot looks to be wide open with seniors Maurice White, Tyrell Coon and DeAndre' Morrow all vying for time along with sophomore Jerome Rudolph. That group will be able to run behind a line that will return three starters from 2008 and will most likely add a fourth member, Joe Moore, who has starting experience from 2007.
Overall 14 starters, including three All-Patriot League selections, return along with 40 letterwinners.
With the nature of football, the spotlight shines brightest at all times on the quarterback spot and that will certainly be the case when the spring season opens. Senior signal caller Rob Curley and junior Marc Quilling will battle for the starting spot.
Curley posted a 3-1 mark as the starter down the final stretch in 2007 and went 6-2 in starts for the 2008 season. The senior completed 57 percent of his passes in 2008, finishing 121-for-212 for 1,424 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Curley entered 2008 at the top of the depth chart and started the first eight games of 2008. Against Georgetown in the conference opener, Curley racked up Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week honors after a 14-for-24 effort for 175 yards when he also rushed for two touchdowns.
Curley played into week eight, but was knocked out of the Colgate game on Nov. 1 with a concussion. Subsequently, he sat out the Nov. 8 game vs. Bucknell as a precautionary measure, but it was a coaching staff decision that kept him out of the lineup on Nov. 15 vs. Holy Cross and at the start of the Nov. 22 game vs. Lehigh. Trailing 17-12 at halftime vs. Lehigh, Tavani made the move to Curley who was the MVP of the 2007 Lafayette-Lehigh game. He finished 10-for-19 with an interception.
Quilling made the most of his opportunities in 2008, completing 59 percent of his attempts (45-for-76) while throwing for 555 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His standout game came in his first start against Bucknell when he was 17-for-26 for 274 yards, the highest single-game output for either QB in 2008.
The coaching staff points to Curley's game experience and winning record as a starter, but does not overlook the strength of Quilling's arm.
A third horse in the race is sophomore Ryan O'Neil who brings a skill set equal to that of Curley and Quilling and will challenge for the starting spot.
"Our quarterback situation is up in the air," Tavani said. "Right now, I would say that Quilling and Curley are neck and neck. We're also going to take a long, hard look at O'Neil during spring ball."
When the team convenes for camp in August, incoming freshman Andrew Shoop will join the QB rotation. The three-sport athlete at Danville (Pa.) High School threw for over 5,100 yards and nearly 50 touchdowns in two and a half seasons as a starter.
The passing game, and the entire Leopard offense for that matter, will be under the purview of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mickey Fein. Previously the offensive coordinator at Murray State and Tennessee-Martin, was a standout player at the FCS level, graduating from Maine where he was a four-year starter and two-time team MVP. Fein spent the 2008 season as the passing game coordinator and has taken over the offense with the departure of Bob Heffner to Northwestern University.
The Lafayette running game has been tailback by committee the last two seasons because of injury and four players are looking to establish themselves as the committee chairs as the '09 spring season starters.
DeAndre' Morrow has also shown the ability to run the ball for the Leopards. Morrow was third on the team in rushing with 58 carries for 336 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Morrow had 111 of those yards vs. Holy Cross and managed two touchdowns with 38 yards and also caught five passes when he was exceptionally elusive in a win over No. 14 Liberty.
Tyrell Coon carried 102 times in 2008, the most on the team, and finished with 454 yards and two touchdowns. Coon ripped off a career-best 169 yards on 30 carries at Bucknell in week nine. He also managed 96 yards on 14 carries vs. Georgetown.
Fifth-year senior Maurice White has been tabbed to be the Leopards' No. 1 the past two seasons, but injuries have interrupted those plans. Despite playing in only five games last fall, White led the team in rushing with 80 carries for 469 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. The powerful White averaged 94 yards per game in 2008 and will have an extra season of eligibility in 2009 due to a medical redshirt. He will not, however, be participating in spring practice.
Sophomore Jerome Rudolph is the lone underclassman representative in the murky waters of the tailback competition. The shifty Rudolph made the most of his appearances in four games, rushing for 199 yards on 35 carries (5.7 yards per carry). His breakout effort came at Fordham when he churned out 140 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.
"Tailback is one of our deepest positions on the roster coming into the season," Tavani said. "It looks like De'Andre' Morrow is going to be our stater entering spring ball, but there is an awful lot of talent back there with Mo White, Tyrell Coon and Jerome Rudolph."
For the first time since 2005, someone other than Joe Russo will occupy the starting fullback spot, a position that has been used primarily as a run blocker and pass protector in recent seasons. The Leopards lost the two-time All-Patriot League First-Team selection to graduation and will look to fill his proverbial shoes with senior Jeff Cumming and sophomore Alex Rivas.
Cumming played in all 11 games in 2008 with a start at Columbia where he had two carries and caught two passes. He also started the final two games of the 2007 season.
Lafayette lost its top two receivers, Shaun Adair and Tim Watson, to graduation. Adair was a three-year starter, two-time All-Patriot League honoree and the team's top receiver in 2008 with 52 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns. He left Lafayette with 2,190 receiving yards and 148 career receptions which ranked him third and fourth, respectively, all-time at Lafayette. Watson was the Leopards' most improved player for the 2008 season and ended with 19 catches for 266 yards and a touchdown.
Two juniors and two sophomores will vie for a spot in the wide receiver rotation. Juniors Mark Layton and Nathan Padia bring the most experience. Layton was third on the team in receiving in 2008 with 17 catches for 194 yards in 10 games while Padia reeled in two catches in eight games.
"Mark had a lot of bright spots last season, and was able to make some big plays in critical situations," Tavani said. "We're looking for more of that in 2009."
Sophomore Mitchell Bennett made six grabs in 11 games while classmate Greg Stripe played in nine games, but had more of an impact running the ball from the wideout spot, carrying 10 times for 80 yards.
"We have a lot of talent at the wide receiver spot, but we have guys who need to make the adjustment from `part-time' to "full-time'," Tavani said. "Last year we relied mostly on Adair and Watson and our younger guys played smaller roles."
The starting tight end spot for the last two seasons has been vacated by the graduation of two-time All-Patriot League selection Mike Conte. Senior Michael Bolton and a sophomore Kevin Doty will both likely spend time at a position that has been de-emphasized on offenses around the Patriot League but continues to be a crucial component in the Leopards' offensive structure.
Bolton played in 10 games last season with three catches while Doty saw action in five games as a freshman.
The Leopards' senior-laden front five will be a strength of the team in 2009. They will be guided by first-year offensive line coach Stan Clayton who took over for Heffner. Clayton has experience playing and coaching at the highest levels of football. He was a member of Penn State's 1986 national championship team and went on to play four seasons in the NFL. His 15-plus years of coaching have taken him to Penn State, Massachusetts, Princeton, Alabama State and most recently Toledo. He also spent six summers participating in the NFL's minority coaching fellowship program with the Chicago, New York (Giants), Philadelphia and Tennessee.
The left side of the line will remain intact as seniors Ryan Hart-Predmore and Brian Wycinowski will reprise their roles as starting tackle and guard, respectively. Hart-Predmore will enter his third season as a starter on the offensive line. Wycinowski started all 11 games in 2008 after playing in seven as a sophomore.
Michael Wojcik enters his third season as a starter at the center spot. He started eight games in 2007 and all 11 in his junior season and will again make the line calls.
Junior Michael Butler is projected as the starter at right guard after playing in seven games last season. The right tackle spot is likely up for the most competition with senior Joe Moore returning for a fifth year after a medical redshirt. Moore sat out 2008 with a knee after playing in eight games with four starts in 2007. Moore will sit out the spring season.
Moore will battle with junior Mike Eck and sophomore Bilal Butt who both played sparingly in 2008. Junior transfer Zach Schleimer (guard) started 11 games at Iona College in 2008 before the school dropped its program, so he brings game experience to the mix. Senior tackle Roy Wotring played in the majority of the games in 2008 and along with sophomore Matt Welch (C), and Scott Biel will make their case for playing time.
"Everything really starts with Ryan Hart-Predmore on the line," Tavani said. "He's our leader on the line, and along with Mike Wojcik brings a lot of playing experience."
Statistically, Lafayette has featured one of the top defenses in the country over the past several seasons under the direction of defensive coordinator John Loose. Lafayette ranked 10th in the nation in rushing defense (92.2 ypg), 36th in pass efficiency defense (115.9 ypg) and 20th in total defense, surrendering just over 300 yards per game. More impressively, Lafayette ranked eighth in the country in scoring defense, allowing 17.5 points per game, including four games in which the Leopards held their opponents to fewer than two touchdowns. In 2007, the Leopards were first in the nation in total defense, fourth in rushing defense, eighth in scoring defense and 15th in pass efficiency defense.
Senior linebacker Mark Leggiero, a two-time All-Patriot League selection, returns as one of the team's top playmakers. He will face the 2009 season without two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Andy Romans who graduated. Leggiero's play over the past two seasons speaks for itself. He finished 2008 with 93 tackles, two sacks and an interception while starting all 11 games. He was inserted into the starting lineup as a sophomore and finished second on the team with 77 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and tallied three sacks.
Juniors Neil Goldsmtih and Michael Schmidlein are expected to hold down the SAM and WILL linebacking spots in the Leopards' 4-3. Goldsmith intercepted three passes (one per game through the first three games of the 2008 season) and finished with 30 tackles and a sack while playing in nine games and starting six. Schmidlein played in 11 games with 27 tackles and a sack.
Senior Spencer Brown, junior Nate Dixon and sophomores Ben Eaton and Leroy Butler will also challenge for time at linebacker. Brown (13 tackles) and Dixon (7 tackles) each played in nine games. Butler played in all 11 games with 23 tackles and received a start vs. Bucknell. Eaton missed the season with a broken hand.
"Our linebacking corps certainly looks to be strength of the defense," Tavani said. "We have a lot of depth and experience at that spot, especially with Leggiero."
The front four will likely be comprised of three seniors and a junior after suffering the loss of both starting ends -- All-Patriot Leaguer Jason Mills and fifth-year senior Luke Schade. Senior Alan Whitesell made 17 tackles with two and a half sacks in 2008 while playing in 10 games with four starts at end. The other end will likely be junior Lewis Irving who made the move from linebacker after playing in 10 games in 2008. Junior Doug Gerowski and sophomore Mike Grimaldi will challenge for time at end.
Seniors Andrew Poulson and Ian Dell are penciled in at the tackle spots after each starting nine games last season. The duo combined for 9.5 tackles for loss in 2008 while accumulating a combined 52 tackles. Poulson will likely line up in a nose position as he did for much of the past two seasons. Junior Michael Phillips, who started three games in 2008, and sophomore Zack Patterson will also look for playing time at tackle.
The Lafayette defensive backs will work under the tutelage of first-year coach Doug McFadden. McFadden most recently served as assistant head coach from 2005-09 at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, working as the secondary coach and special teams coordinator.
Lafayette lost a starter at cornerback (Marvin Clecidor) and strong safety (Nigel Bryant), but will return starters experienced players at corner, free safety and strong safety. Hard-hitting senior Eric McGovern comes back to his free safety spot where he started 11 games with one interception and was third on the team in tackles (58) in 2008. The versatile senior Nick Oliver is the likely starter at strong safety. Junior Nick Nardone and sophomores Evan McGovern and Kyle Simmons will challenge for playing time at the safety spots.
Senior Carlos Lowe started 10 games and made 43 tackles with two picks in his junior campaign. He will likely be joined by junior Donald Ellis who started one game and played in all 11. Sophomore Brandon Ellis, who played in the final seven games, and sophomore Carl Knowles will also vie for time at corner.
ON SPECIAL TEAMS
With the exception of long snapper, the primary players on special teams will stay the same. Junior Davis Rodriguez was one of just five underclassmen from any Patriot League team to earn All-League honors in 2008. The Leopards' place kicker made 13 of 15 field goal attempts and was 4-of-5 from a distance of 40 to 49 yards, including a career long of 47 at Colgate. Rodriguez also converted 32-of-33 PATs, and at one point had a streak of 48 straight dating back to 2007.
Senior Chris Cosgrove will serve as Rodriguez's backup and will handle kickoff duties for the third straight season.
Junior Tom Kondash will reprise his role as the Leopards' punter. Kondash averaged 37.7 yards per punt on 57 attempts and placed 22 punts inside the 20-yard line. He booted a career-long 79 yarder vs. Holy Cross and connected for seven punts of 50 or more yards.
Lafayette lost its long snapper of the past three years with the graduation of Leo Plenski. Sophomore tight end Kevin Doty and senior center Michael Wojcik will be No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the depth chart.
As much as Lafayette will miss Adair in the receiving game, he may be an even bigger loss on special teams, as he served as the kick returner for four seasons and as the punt return specialist for his final three campaigns and was a conference leader in both categories. Sophomore Greg Stripe and senior DeAndre' Morrow are poised to take over the kick return duties. Stripe was named the Patriot League Special Teams Player of the Week on Nov. 27 after recording an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Lafayette's 48-13 victory at Fordham. It was the first kick return for a TD since 2006. Morrow returned two kicks in 2008 for an average of 27 yards apiece.
Lafayette is scheduled to play an 11-game slate that kicks off on Sept. 12 at Georgetown and concludes with the 145th playing of College Football's Most-Played Rivalry at Lehigh on Nov. 21. The schedule includes six Patriot League contests and five non-league games with four of the Leopards' non-league opponents boasting winning records in 2008.
The Leopards' season opener at Georgetown comes one week after the bulk of the nation's Division I schools open the 2009 season, as Lafayette's open week will be Sept. 5 instead of during the season as it has been each season since 2002. The matchup at Georgetown will be the Hoyas' first night game since the team made Multi-Sport Field its home during the 2005 season.
After the initial Patriot League battle with Georgetown, Lafayette will play five straight non-conference games beginning with a home tilt vs. Liberty on Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. Liberty captured its second straight Big South Conference title in 2008. Lafayette won the first matchup between the two schools last season, knocking off a Flames' squad which was ranked No. 14 in the nation at the time and went on to a 10-2 mark.
The first of four straight Ivy League opponents will come to Fisher Stadium Sept. 26 when Penn makes the short trip north from Philadelphia for Lafayette's Family Weekend. The two teams will meet for the 86th time with Lafayette having won the last two meetings. Lafayette secured a 24-17 victory in 2008 and eked out an 8-7 thriller in 2007.
Lafayette will play Yale for the first time since 2006 when the Leopards travel to New Haven, Conn. on Oct. 3. Head coach Frank Tavani will face first-year head coach Tom Williams who takes over for Jack Siedlecki who retired after 12 seasons as Yale's head coach. When the two teams last met, Lafayette was on the short end of a 37-34 shootout in Easton.
Columbia and Lafayette will play in week five and have squared off every season since 2000 with the exception of 2006. Lafayette is 7-1 during that span, but had to battle for a 13-3 win in New York City in 2008. The game will be the final of three home night games all beginning at 6 p.m.
A second New England trip in three weeks potentially will pose the biggest challenge of the Leopards' slew of Ivy League opponents. Harvard is emerging from its second straight Ivy League title after posting a 9-1 record. The Crimson have won the last eight meetings, all of which have come since 2000.
October 24 marks homecoming weekend at Lafayette when the Leopards will take on Fordham at 1 p.m. at Fisher Stadium. Lafayette roughed up the 2007 Patriot League champs last season, notching a 48-13 victory behind 484 yards of total offense and 140 on the ground from Rudolph. Lafayette has won four out of the last five against the Rams.
The Leopards' second most-played opponent, Bucknell, comes to Easton on Halloween for the second of three straight home games. Lafayette has won seven straight over the Bison, recently having slowed Bucknell's spread option attack with defensive coordinator John Loose's deft manipulation of the playbook. Lafayette leads the all-time series 48-32-6, having played one more game all-time against the Bison (86) than against Penn (85).
The final of six home dates comes against reigning Patriot League champion Colgate on Nov. 7. The Raiders and their running game have given Lafayette the most trouble of any conference opponent in Tavani's tenure, as the Maroon and White are 1-8 vs. Colgate since 2000 with the Raiders twice accounting for the Leopards' only conference losses in Patriot League championship seasons.
The 145th meeting of college football's most played rivalry will close out the regular season on Nov. 21 when Lafayette and Lehigh square off. Lehigh made it a rivalry again in 2008, snapping Lafayette's four-game win streak.