Let's Get It Started

Go Leopards! Head coach Frank Tavani is ready for the 2010 season.
Head coach Frank Tavani is ready for the 2010 season.

Aug. 11, 2010

2010 Preseason Central

EASTON, Pa. - The 2010 Football Preseason has officially begun with the freshmen and seniors checking in early this morning. The freshmen received their physicals this morning, as well as got both their headshots and ID cards squared away before having lunch with their families. This afternoon, freshmen will take part in impact testing and then adjourn for a meeting with head coach Frank Tavani. Tomorrow the upperclassmen will report and the freshmen practice will take place at 2:30 p.m.

Coming off an 8-3 mark and a second place conference finish in 2009, Lafayette stands as the only Patriot League program to record a winning record in each of the last six regular seasons while also holding a Top 25 national ranking in each season.

In 2009, Lafayette returned 14 starters and 28 letterwinners, but the 2010 installment will be a younger group, counting on eight returning positional starters (plus two on special teams) and 28 letterwinners. The Leopards will rely on a number of sophomores to fill spots on the depth chart, and after one of the most prolific passing seasons in school history, Lafayette will be looking for a new quarterback.

While the quarterback situation is yet unsettled, who will be catching the ball is more established. Lafayette returns perhaps its strongest corps of receivers during Frank Tavani's tenure and boasts the top group in the conference. All-Patriot League selections Mitchell Bennett and Mark Layton return along with Greg Stripe, Nathan Padia and Kyle Hayes.

Tavani had four tailback options in 2009 and the group will be just as numerous, although less experienced, in 2010. Junior Jerome Rudolph heads the group which also includes sophomores Vaughn Hebron, Alan Elder and Emery Young and senior Jarred Ricks. The offensive line lost three starters, but returns juniors Scott Biel and Anthony Buffolino.

Defensively, the Leopards used a mix of the 4-3 and 3-4 last season. Senior defensive end Doug Gerowski is the only returning starter up front, joining Mike Phillips and Lewis Irving who played in every game in 2009. In the middle, senior linebacker Mike Schmidlein was the team's leading tackler in 2009 on his way to All-Patriot League Second-Team laurels and will look to fill the leadership void left by three-time all-league selection Mark Leggiero. In the back of the defense is junior cornerback Brandon Ellis, also a Patriot League second-team selection.

"As a group, we are a young team," Tavani said. "We'll probably be picked in the middle of the pack this year and we'll use that as motivation to get better."

QUARTERBACKS Tavani and offensive coordinator Mickey Fein will have to decide who is going to be under center following the graduation of Rob Curley. Curley, the team's MVP in 2009, put together one of the top seasons in Lafayette history, setting single-season marks for passing yards (3,044), touchdowns (28), completions (231) and completion percentage (68.8, 231-of-336). He was third in the nation passing efficiency (165.2) and threw for 300+ yards in his final five games.

In 2009, only nine other passes were thrown by someone other than Curley. That said, the Leopards are not without experienced options. Senior Marc Quilling saw significant playing time in 2008, completing 59 percent of his attempts (45-for-76) while throwing for 555 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Quilling's career game came in his first start against Bucknell when he was 17-for-26 for 274 yards, the highest single-game output for a Lafayette QB in 2008. Quilling missed much of the 2009 season with a back injury and was healthy entering the spring season before sustaining a leg injury during live scrimmaging.

Quilling is competing with junior Ryan O'Neil and sophomore Andrew Shoop for playing time. O'Neil played in the Penn and Bucknell victories in 2009, completing 4-of-8 passes. He has the ability to scramble and make plays with his feet.

Fein will again head the offense, which in 2009 placed a greater emphasis on an efficient passing game. Lafayette threw 47 percent of the time compared to 38 percent in 2008 and racked up 570 more total yards and 1,070 additional passing yards.

RUNNING BACKS Tailback was one of the most experienced positions in 2009, with three seniors and a sophomore returning to the fold, but in 2010, only one player, junior Jerome Rudolph, has seen significant playing time during his career. Rudolph was the Leopards' third leading rusher in 2009, racking up 215 yards on the ground with an average of 5.1 yards per carry.

Rudolph is also an able receiver out of the backfield or in the slot position where he can make tacklers miss. He made 17 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore. The Georgia native likely will also have a chance to return kicks as his did 10 times in 2009.

Rudolph battled injuries in the latter part of 2009 after a freshman campaign when he carried for 199 yards on 35 carries (5.7 yards per carry).

Sophomores Vaughn Hebron, Alan Elder and Emery Young will also be competing for carries along with converted cornerback senior Jarred Ricks. Hebron carried the ball just four times in 2009 while the remaining three did not take any hand-offs. He appears to be the frontrunner for the backup spot.

"In some ways, we have a similar situation to what we had last year at tailback with Maurice White, Tyrell Coon and DeAndre' Morrow all bringing different running styles," Tavani said. "Hebron is a bigger back who will probably play at 197-200 pounds. Elder is a shorter, quicker back and Young is like a jitterbug with speed."

The role of the fullback has changed significantly for the Leopards over the last three seasons with fewer carries being doled out in lieu of additional blocking responsibilities.

The Leopards' fullback spot is undergoing a transformation to that of H-back. Junior Kevin Doty will occupy that spot and will still play at tight end for the Leopards. Junior Erin Murray has made the unusual move from defensive line to fullback and will compete with freshmen Jake McTighe and Pat Creahan to replace the graduated Jeff Cumming and Matt Ferber who each spent time at fullback last season.

WIDE RECEIVERS Wide receiver is the deepest and most talented position on the squad. All five of the Leopards' top wide receivers return from 2009 led by All-Patriot League selections Mark Layton and Mitchell Bennett. And, all five are likely to be major contributors to the Leopards' wide-open offense that employs three wide receivers.

Layton caught 65 passes, the second most in Lafayette single-season history, for 838 yards (seventh in single-season history). He also pulled down 11 touchdowns, tying him for the second-best Lafayette single-season effort, and averaged 12.9 yards per catch and 76.2 receiving yards per game. Layton earned Preseason All-America Second-Team honors from The Sports Network, Phil Steele and Consensus Draft Services.

Bennett, who is serving as a team co-captain, reeled in 40 passes as a junior, catching touchdown passes in four games. He finished with 596 receiving yards, posting his best game of the season against Fordham when he caught six balls for 93 yards, both career highs. Bennett has the option to garner an additional year of eligibility in 2011 if he applies for a medical redshirt from his freshman season when he sat out with a knee injury.

Junior Greg Stripe made 20 grabs for 280 yards as a sophomore. He is also a threat to run, carrying 10 times for 38 yards and one touchdown. Stripe will also likely see time at punt and kick returner.

Classmate Kyle Hayes made 10 grabs for 153 yards with a pair of touchdowns in 2009 and will figure in the two-deep. Junior Rodney Gould is also making inroads at wideout while senior Nathan Padia may also be an option after making 10 catches for 127 yards with one touchdown in 2009.

TIGHT ENDS The tight end continues to be an important component in the Lafayette offense and may take on even a larger role with the lack of an experienced fullback. Returning starter Kevin Doty made eight catches in his sophomore year with one touchdown catch and will likely split time between tight end and H-back. The 6-3 Doty will be joined by sophomore Zach Midulla (6-3) and a pair of towering freshmen in 6-7 Brandon Hall and 6-5 Morgan Donohue.

OFFENSIVE LINE The front five lost Ryan Hart-Premore and Mike Wojcik (both three-year starters) and Brian Wycinowski (two-year starter) to graduation, so offensive line coach Stan Clayton will have his work cut out for him.

The Leopards return two starters, juniors Scott Biel and Anthony Buffolino. Biel started all 11 games at right guard and Buffolino started 10 games at right tackle in their sophomore seasons. They will make the move to the left side of the line at their respective positions. Biel and Buffolino will be backed up by sophomore Mike Murphy at guard and freshman transfer Andrew Anastor at tackle.

Senior Mike Eck, who played in more than half of the games in 2009, is the frontrunner to take over at the center spot vacated by Wojcik. He is competing with Matt Welch.

Senior Zach Schleimer and sophomore Tyler Swoyer are battling for the right guard spot in 2010 while junior Jake Crooks and sophomore Greg Krieger are vying for playing time at right tackle.

"We have two very experienced players returning in Biel and Buffolino, but they will be making the switch to protecting the quarterback's blind side this season," Tavani said.

DEFENSE Defensive Coordinator John Loose begins his 11th season in charge of a unit that is perennially one of the top defenses in conference and the country, especially against the run. The Leopards employed 4-3 and 3-4 schemes in 2009 and more of the same is expected.

Statistically in 2009, Lafayette was 11th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 99.6 yards per game. In 2008, 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 (300 ypg). Lafayette also ranked eighth in the country in scoring defense (17.5 ppg). 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.

"Our defense is going to be active, as it has always been and I don't just mean blitzes from the second level," Tavani said. "We will continue to place an emphasis on line movement, quickness, penetration and generating pressure."

LINEBACKERS The linebacker position has traditionally been one of the strongest and deepest positions on the Lafayette defense. That wasn't necessarily the case in the spring, in terms of health, as injury is kept three potential starters out of the lineup while Lafayette looked to fill the void left by the graduation of three-year starter Mark Leggiero.

Linebacker Mike Schmidlein is serving as a team co-captain in 2010. The senior had off-season shoulder surgery and sat out spring ball, but will continue to patrol the middle of the field during the regular season. The All-Patriot League Second-Team honoree led the team in tackles in 2009 with 10 stops per game in his first season as a starter. Schmidlein was third on the team with seven tackles for loss and also registered a pair of sacks.

Fellow linebacker junior Ben Eaton also sat out the spring, undergoing shoulder surgery in January. Eaton played in 11 games, making 11 tackles in 2009.

Senior Nate Dixon's shoulder is healthy, but the senior tore his ACL in the sixth game of the 2009 season and missed the spring game. He played six games and made 13 tackles. Junior Leroy Butler, senior Greg Mandile, sophomore Sam Stuart and freshman Lucas Yocum will be competing for playing time. Butler played in every game in 2009, making 25 tackles, while Mandile saw time in nine games.

Yocum enrolled at Lafayette beginning with the spring 2010 semester and competed in the spring season.

"Our linebacking corps comes back strong and most of them have solid game experience," Tavani said. "They are very physical and athletic, can turn and run for pass coverage, but certainly can come downhill and make physical plays to stop the run."

DEFENSIVE LINE Lafayette featured what most considered the top defensive line in the conference last season with a combination of all-league tackles Ian Dell and Andrew Poulson and defensive ends Allan Whitesell, Doug Gerowski and Mike Phillips. Gerowski and Phillips are the lone holdovers following graduation. Gerowski started seven games and played in 11, making 25 tackles (three for loss) with two sacks. He is a projected starter at end while Phillips looks to hold down a tackle spot. Phillips collected 20 tackles (2.5 for loss), forced two fumbles and recovered another.

"Mike Phillips has made the move to a full-time player and has asserted himself as a leader on the d-line," Tavani said.

Senior defensive end Lewis Irving played in every game as a junior and will look to secure a spot at defensive end while competing with juniors Andrew Holmes and Mike Grimaldi.

Sophomores Rick Lyster, Jason Marshalek and Tahir Basil will bolster the defensive tackle spot.

DEFENSIVE BACKS Lafayette's corps of defensive backs is a very experienced positional grouping, as four players who spent time in the starting lineup last season return.

Lafayette features senior Donald Ellis at the strong safety spot after making the move from corner. Ellis played in nine games with eight starts in 2009. He made 26 tackles and picked off a pass and recovered a fumble.

Competing for time at free safety are juniors Evan McGovern and Kyle Simmons. McGovern played in 10 games with four starts, along side his brother, Eric, who graduated. He managed 26 tackles and one interception, but will now be relied upon as a starter. Simmons, who made 32 tackles and started six games, saw a shoulder injury in the Colgate game cut short his season.

Senior Nick Nardone looks to be the backup at strong safety.

The two cornerback spots will feature a mixture of youth and experience. Junior Brandon Ellis, the team's second-leading returning tackler (53 tackles), started all 11 games in 2009. Ellis made two interceptions and also recovered a fumble for the Leopards.

Sophomore Kyni Scott or junior Carl Knowles will fill the other corner spot with Donald Ellis able to move over from his strong safety spot in certain personnel situations.

ON SPECIAL TEAMS The Leopards' kicking game should be a strength of the squad entering 2010. Davis Rodriguez, a 2008 All-Patriot League selection, returns at kicker while senior Tom Kondash, a 2009 All-Patriot League honoree, will hold down the punting duties.

Rodriguez made 8-of-16 field goals and 37-of-40 PATs in 2009, coming off honorable mention All-America honors as a sophomore when he hit 13-of-15 field goal attempts.

Kondash enjoyed another solid season. He punted 40 times for an average of 36 yards per attempt. Kondash had 11 kicks inside the 20 and had three efforts of 50+ yards. Junior Kevin Doty is expected to return as the long snapper on punts after occupying that position as a sophomore.

With the graduation of Chris Cosgrove, Lafayette lost the man who handled kicking off the last three seasons and the field goal/PAT holder in 2009.

The return game is far from settled, but Jerome Rudolph, Greg Stripe and Nathan Padia will have opportunities to reprise their roles on special teams. Rudolph brought back 10 kicks for an average of 27.9 yards per return while Stripe returned four kicks for an average of 17.2 yards per return. Padia returned a team-high eight punts followed by seven from Stripe.

THE SCHEDULE For the second straight season, the Lafayette football program will have no non-conference primer before jumping into Patriot League competition. The 2010 Lafayette slate kicks off during the second week of the college football season, opening with Georgetown on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m.

It is the first of 11 games for the Leopards, including five home games and the 146th meeting vs. Lehigh in College Football's Most-Played Rivalry.

The Georgetown matchup is the lone home night game on the 2010 slate following a 2009 season when Lafayette played three home night games. The Leopards have beaten their part-time Patriot League foe in five straight, including a 28-3 win in the season opener in 2009.

After the Georgetown tilt, Lafayette will play six straight games that will have no bearing on the Patriot League standings. The Leopards travel to historic Franklin Field to square off with Penn on Sept. 18. Lafayette is riding a three-game series win streak vs. the Quakers who won the Ivy league title in 2009 with a 7-0 mark in conference play and their only other loss coming to eventual national champion Villanova.

Following a one-year hiatus, Princeton returns to the schedule. The Leopards face the Tigers on Sept. 25 and Lafayette may receive an early indication of how it stacks up in the Lafayette-Lehigh matchup eight weeks later, as Princeton opens the season with Lehigh on Sept. 18. Princeton is led by first-year head coach Bob Surace, a 1990 graduate of Princeton, who most recently was an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The third of three-straight Ivy League opponents comes calling when Harvard visits Fisher Stadium during Family Weekend on Oct. 2. Kick-off is set for noon. Lafayette snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson, who finished as the runner-up in the Ivy League in 2009, with a 35-18 win in 2009, part of a 5-0 campaign against Ivy foes. The Leopards have not beaten Harvard in Easton since 1992 in the on-again, off-again series.

An Oct. 9 meeting with Columbia wraps up the four-game Ivy League stint. Lafayette eked out a 24-21 win over the Lions in 2009 to capture its eighth straight in the series.

Stony Brook, a member of the State University of New York educational system located on the north shore of Long Island, represents the only first-time opponent for the Leopards in 2010. Stony Brook, a scholarship program which competes in the Big South Conference, posted a 6-5 mark in 2009.

The Oct. 23 game vs. Fordham will have a decidedly different feel from recent seasons, as Fordham's move to a scholarship program beginning with 2010 has forced the Rams' program to associate member status in the Patriot League football realm. Fordham will not be eligible for the Patriot League title or the League's automatic bid to the NCAA FCS Playoffs. The game will not count in the league standings or statistics.

The end of October will mark the beginning, again, of Patriot League action when Lafayette travels to Bucknell. The Bison are under the guidance of first-year head coach Joe Susan, who most recently worked as an assistant at Rutgers. Lafayette has managed to rack up eight in a row against Bucknell.

November opens with a matchup of the second-place teams from the 2009 Patriot League standings. Both Colgate and Lafayette finished with 4-2 records, but the Leopards got the better of a 56-49 shootout with then-No. 20 Colgate, the first time since 1995 that Lafayette had beaten the Raiders in Easton.

The Leopards are still waiting for a pass interference flag to fly from Lafayette's showdown with Holy Cross on Nov. 14, 2009 that decided the Patriot League title. They will get their crack one day earlier, welcoming the Crusaders on Nov. 13.

Nov. 20 marks the 146th meeting of College Football's Most-Played rivalry. The game will take its rightful place at state-of-the-art Fisher Stadium in Easton where Lafayette will look to snap an unthinkable two-game slide to the Brown and White of Lehigh. Lehigh finished with a 4-7 mark in 2009, but was 4-2 in conference play.

 

 

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