2014 Football Team Preview: Lehigh Mountain Hawks

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Lehigh's Isaiah Campbell
Lehigh's Isaiah Campbell

Aug. 22, 2014

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - Lehigh has emerged as an elite team in the FCS with a 39-9 record over the past four seasons, but the Mountain Hawks will have to overcome change to maintain that consistency in 2014.

Lehigh has new coordinators on both offense and defense, and just eight returning starters from last year's 8-3 squad. The Mountain Hawks will have a new quarterback for the third year in a row, and have to replace almost all of their skill position players on offense and the entire starting secondary on defense.

Lehigh still earned the respect its peers with a second-place selection in the Patriot League preseason poll. The Mountain Hawks have some new faces, but ninth-year head coach Andy Coen hopes that the winning culture from the past four years will prove to be a lasting imprint in the program.

A preview of the 2014 Lehigh Mountain Hawks season is included below, with a look at the offense, defense, special teams and schedule, five burning questions and links to information and video previews for the season.

For more on all of the teams, read the 2014 Patriot League Football Preview and watch all of the preseason video features on the Youtube Football Playlist

Record Book

HEAD COACH: Andy Coen, 9th Season (59-33 overall/Lehigh, 35-13 Patriot League)
2013 RECORD: 8-3 overall, 3-2 Patriot League (T2nd place)

PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Ned Daryoush (Sr., OL); Tim Newton (Sr., DL)
PLN VIDEOS: Lehigh to rely on senior leadership | Defense switching things up | Shafnisky, McHale to contend for starting QB

OFFENSE: The Mountain Hawks featured a senior-laden offense in 2013, so there will be plenty of new faces this time around. An injury to Brandon Bialkowski allowed both Nick Shafnisky and Matt McHale to gain experience at quarterback down the stretch last year, and both players return to the fold in 2014. The Mountain Hawks also lose 1,000-yard players at running back (Keith Sherman) and wide receiver (All-American Lee Kurfis). No returnee rushed for more than 100 yards, so the competition for carries seems to be wide open. Josh Parris (41 rec., 443 yards) appears ready to step into the No. 1 receiving role, and Tyler Coyle (21 rec., 230 yards) put up solid numbers at tight end. Preseason All-American Ned Daryoush leads the way on the offensive line.

DEFENSE: Tim Newton will anchor the Lehigh defensive line as the Preseason All-Patriot League pick registered 58 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season. Colton Caslow (64 TT) is the team's leading returning tackler and heads the linebacking corps which also features Noah Robb (55 TT) and Isaiah Campbell (46 TT). The biggest question mark comes in the secondary where the team's leading tackler, Tyler Ward, departs along with starters Rickie Hill, Courtney Jarvis and Damien Brown.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Lehigh has to find a punter with the departure of Tim Divers, who excelled as a senior with a 41.2 average. Ryan Pandy is back after making 8-of-12 field goals last season, while primary return men Brandon Leaks (kickoffs) and Josh Parris (punts) also come back in 2014.

SCHEDULE: The Mountain Hawks play four non-League games to open the year in September, and the first two are tough as Lehigh hosts James Madison (Sept. 6) and visits New Hampshire (Sept. 13). The non-League slate continues with a trip to Yale (Sept. 20) and home date with Monmouth (Sept. 27) before a bye leading into the Patriot League opener at home against Bucknell (Oct. 11). After wrapping up the non-League slate at Cornell (Oct. 18), Lehigh has Patriot League games at home against Fordham (Oct. 25) and Colgate (Nov. 15) and at Georgetown (Nov. 1) and Holy Cross (Nov. 8) before the anticipated 150th meeting against rival Lafayette at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 22.

Five Questions

1. Will coaching changes affect the continuity?
Lehigh has won as consistently as any FCS program not named North Dakota State in the past four years, as the Mountain Hawks have put up a 39-9 record with no season worse than last year's 8-3 campaign. The players in college football will always change from year to year, but Andy Coen had a pretty steady coaching staff through most of his previous eight seasons. That changes this year, as offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini left to become head coach at Valparaiso and Gerard Wilcher, one of last year's co-defensive coordinators, also departed. Drew Folmar joins the staff as the offensive coordinator after serving as head coach at Kutztown, while Joe Bottiglieri, who re-joined the staff last year, was promoted to the defensive coordinator position he held at Lehigh in 1998 and 1999. With few returning starters and a handful of new coaches, there is plenty of change at Lehigh. But the Mountain Hawks will hope it does not affect the impressive won-loss record of recent years.

2. Can Lehigh find another star quarterback?
One of the amazing parts of the run of success the last four years was that three different quarterbacks all provided stellar play. Chris Lum led Lehigh to the Patriot League title and an FCS playoff win in both 2010 and 2011, and finished as the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award in the latter season. Michael Colvin stepped right in and directed Lehigh to a 10-1 record in 2012, and Brandon Bialkowski put up 2,647 passing yards last season despite missing the final three games due to injury. Nick Shafnisky and Matt McHale each played down the stretch with Bialkowski sidelined, and each went through some growing pains while showing some promise at the same time. Shafnisky, a sophomore, would give Lehigh a long-term answer at the position while McHale, a senior, would look to duplicate Colvin and Bialkowski's single-season success. Whoever takes the role will face a greater challenge than their predecessors with few experienced playmakers after the loss of a 1,000-yard receiver (Kurfis) and running back (Sherman). Lehigh will need a lot from its quarterback position with new skill position players, and the role will be critical to the team's success as a handful of Patriot League contenders already have accomplished players under center.

3. How can the Mountain Hawks fix the defense?
You wouldn't expect a team that went 18-4 the past two years to have a major hole, but Lehigh's defense needs some re-tooling. The Mountain Hawks got by more because of offense than defense the past two years, and gave up a combined 85 points in losing games with the Patriot League title on the line at home the last two seasons. The unit appears pretty solid in the front seven with five returning starters, and Newton is a preseason All-Patriot League pick. The secondary is another story with four new starters trying to make an impact. One key could be getting contributions from younger players, as Lehigh did not feel the impact from freshmen that other teams in the Patriot League received in the first scholarship class. Bottiglieri provides a new voice as the coordinator, and in this area change would be a good thing after giving up 31.1 points and 436.9 yards per game last season.

4. Can the seniors show the way?
Lehigh has enjoyed great success the last four years, but most of the players that contributed to the 2010 and 2011 Patriot League championship teams are now gone. The juniors and seniors know about winning games, but also the pain from losing a pair of League title contests at home. With only three starters back on offense and five on defense, the veterans will be counted on to guide the many younger players in the winning ways of the program. They were able to learn from some outstanding players as freshman and sophomores, and now the upperclassmen have to convey that same message to help Lehigh remain successful in the Patriot League.

5. Can Lehigh keep winning the close games?
Lehigh has not lost a contest decided by single digits since an overtime defeat at home against New Hampshire in the second game of the 2011 season. The Mountain Hawks have run off an amazing 13 consecutive wins in games decided by seven points or less, and it's 19 straight in that category until you can find Lehigh's last regulation loss by less than a touchdown back in 2009. That type of success really is amazing, but it can go two ways. It means that Lehigh is familiar with the territory, and the players on this team have been through it even if their roles are now different. But it could also mean a correction is coming, because Lehigh's success has been statistically improbable. The Mountain Hawks hope it's the former, and that the players in new roles this season can take the lessons from their predecessors in how to close out victories in the final minutes.