Patriot League Preview - 2011 Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Coming off its first Patriot League title since 2006 and a first-round victory in the NCAA Division I Football Championship, Lehigh has earned the No. 13 ranking the preseason Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS top 25. The Mountain Hawks will go for a repeat with a squad that includes 13 starters and 44 letterwinners from last year's Patriot League champion led by Head Coach Andy Coen.
Offense (7 starters returning/4 lost)
After entering the 2010 season with a heated competition at quarterback, the Mountain Hawks have their man for 2011 in senior Chris Lum. After winning the battle for the starting spot, Lum proceeded to throw for 2,881 yards with 19 touchdowns last season. He finished the year with Patriot League postseason records of 35 completions and 362 yards in Lehigh's second-round loss at Delaware. Lum will have his top targets back, too, as junior Ryan Spadola (78 rec., 1130, 9 TD) earned All-America honors and Jake Drwal (54 rec., 622 yards, 3 TD) put up a solid season at the wide receiver position and Alex Wojdowski (20 rec., 249 yards, 5 TD) returns at tight end. Lehigh has less experience at running back with Jay Campbell (652 yards, 5 TD) gone, though Zach Barket and Keith Sherman did each gain over 100 yards last season. The offensive line has three starters back in Keith Schauder, Troy McKenna and Jim Liebler but the losses are significant with All-American (and current Jacksonville Jaguar) Will Rackley and All-Patriot League selection Ricky Clerge each moving on.
Defense (6 starters returning/5 lost)
The strength of the Lehigh defense should come in the front seven where six starters return. On the line, seniors Andrew Knapp (35 TT, 8 TFL) and Ben Flizack (36 TT, 5.5 TFL) each return after All-Patriot League seasons along with veterans Billy Dokousliks, Phil Winnett and Cody Connare. Even with the loss of first-team All-Patriot League selection Al Pierce (110 TT, 12 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Lehigh's linebacking corps has the potential to be on par with any group in the nation. Senior Mike Groome (131 TT, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks) has earned All-America honors as well as the Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year nod heading into the season, while Colin Newton (83 TT, 7.5 sacks) and Tanner Rivas (71 TT, 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks) each had a significant impact last season. The big question for the Mountain Hawks comes in the secondary, where all four starters (Jarard Cribbs, John Kennedy, John Veniero, Casey Eldemire) have graduated after an All-Patriot League season in 2010. Junior Bryan Andrews is the most accomplished of a group of players seeking to earn playing time.
Special Teams (1 returning/0 lost)
There is experience in the kicking game with both placekicker Jake Peery (3-7 FG) and All-Patriot League punter Alex Smith (38.3 avg.) returning. Lehigh will use some different players in the return game after Kennedy (KR) and Cribbs (PR) graduated after long tenures in the positions.
Lehigh will find out if its preseason expectations are justified when it welcomes a pair of top 25 opponents to Goodman Stadium in September. No. 10 New Hampshire visits on Sept. 10, while No. 22 Liberty comes to Bethlehem two weeks later. Lehigh also has non-League road games at Monmouth (Sept. 3) to open the season and at Princeton (Sept. 17), as well as a home date with Yale (Oct. 1) to close out the non-League portion of the schedule. Lehigh opens League action with a three-game road trip to Bucknell (Oct. 8), Fordham (Oct. 15) and Colgate (Oct. 29 on CBS Sports Network), then plays its entire month of November at home when it welcomes Holy Cross (Nov. 5), Georgetown (Nov. 12) and archrival Lafayette (Nov. 19).
For more on the 2011 Lehigh Mountain Hawks, read the team's pages from the Patriot League Football Media Guide and watch interviews with Coen, Groome and Lum from Patriot League Media Day below.