Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mrazek: 'a major character-building moment'

Matt Mrazek has thought about being a lawyer and a professional football player “my whole life”, and choosing which path to take after his final season at Lafayette “would have been a difficult decision no matter what,” he told me on the day on which he started his final semester at the college.

“This decision would have been more difficult had the season gone differently and had I put up numbers similar to my junior year,” the 6-4 wide receiver said.

He was on track to become Lafayette’s all-time leading pass receiver and at the same time help first-year head coach John Garrett turn around the program after it posted just three wins in 2015 2016 combined. He needed only 58 catches to pass Mark Ross for the top spot. It seemed like a no-brainer. Instead, he wound up with just 28.

“If a player has a complaint, he’s quick to be branded as selfish or something, but it was never about me,” Mrazek told me. “The whole point was I knew I could do more to help the team win. I thought we could have competed and won the league championship this year if I was used more. It was very frustrating.”

But even as the numbers on the field didn’t come – “this year was tough, without any sort of an explanation,” he said – “the more I researched (law) schools and the opportunities I would have, it just felt like the logical progression.”

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Matt Mrazek will close one door, open another

When I first learned that Matt Mrazek had been invited to participate in an NFL Pro Day at Northwestern University, I was thrilled for him.

If ever there was an opportunity for poetic justice to be administered, this was it.

After a 71-catch 2016 Lafayette football season, the 6-4 wide receiver from La Grange, Ill., who had been offered a chance to walk on with the Wildcats in 2014 but elected instead to accept a scholarship offer from Lafayette, was, through some mysterious circumstances that may never fully be explained, rendered almost invisible in the offense directed by first-year Coach John Garrett.

Twenty-eight catches, nine of them in the season opener and only 10 of them in six Patriot League games combined, were enough to put him into the No. 2 spot in career receptions at Lafayette.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The rest of the Joe & Marcia Hackman story

When Joe Hackman graduated from Eastern Mennonite University, he took a job as a teacher in a Christian school rather than going to work for his dad at Hackman’s Bible Book Store in Allentown.

“Dad never forced me to work at the store,” Joe said. “He knew the work is overwhelming. There are so many naysayers. Why don’t you do this or why don’t you do that, they say. So much criticism.”

Joe also got married, so he felt teaching might not adequately provide for him and his wife. He could no longer think only of himself. His wife Marcia’s father gave the newlyweds a piece of advice: “If you’re going to move, move now; don’t wait.” They took the counsel, and J. Walter Hackman welcomed him aboard with open arms.

“Dad immediately made me manager at age 24,” Joe said. “He wanted me to succeed. He was a tremendous encourager.”

So, did you fulfill a dream wish for your dad?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Lafayette football: views from the press box

This is an important week for John Garrett. On Wednesday, he will reveal the names of the first early signees for his 2018 Lafayette College football team; and a couple of days later, he will observe the first anniversary of his first year as the man occupying the office in the corner of the Bourger Varsity Football House.

For the record, Lafayette will make its signing day announcement during the halftime of the women’s basketball game, according to sports information director Phil LaBella. LaBella said Garrett will be interviewed by Mike Joseph of the Lafayette Sports Network. That will bear watching. Game time is noon.

I asked Phil if a student-athlete who signs a letter of intent and who graduates from high school in the middle of the 2017-18 year would be able to enroll at Lafayette for the second semester in January and thus be eligible to participate in spring practice.

Phil said he had to check with the compliance people on campus and he later responded by email, saying, “As long as a student-athlete has graduated, they are allowed to enroll early and participate in practice. All of the NCAA requirements must be completed along with initial eligibility requirements (proof of grad, amateurism, test scores sent to eligibility center).” So, we’ll see how that plays out.

But for now, I’m going to attempt to put together my thoughts about my 10th year as the Lafayette football beat writer for The Morning Call. I don’t think anything I’ve written in my 53 years as a journalist has been more challenging in many ways.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

After a brief hiatus, a press box opinion of the 2017 season

It's Sunday evening and  I'm getting ready to take a few days off after a busy football season.

I haven't forgotten about the Leopards, and I'm planning to do a recap of the season in my own mind when I return.

I can say that Anthony Giudice has to serve a 365-day suspension, as Kevin Zataveski did, and he won't be able to get that season back as a fifth-year kind of guy. This is not a medical issue.

That is a bummer. Zataveski lost his junior playing season but was able to practice. Giudice, unless something unforeseen right now happens, will have only a game or two left because he will be a senior in 2018.

I expect some things may happen within the program in the time I'm laying back. If I find out about them, I'll address them when I return.

One teaser. I'm wondering why Coach Garrett never requested a review of the Mrazek catch that, from what I'm told, was apparently inbounds and should not have been ruled incomplete. It happened right in front of the Lafayette bench. It was impossible to see the thing clearly from the press box, but I'm told the TV replays showed it to be a catch. What might a first down at that point have meant in the grand scheme of things. Hmmm.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Lafayette-Lehigh sidebar: 30 years ago, the Garretts stunned the Engineers

Who said it?

"I remember sitting there last year after we lost to Lehigh … and it was downright embarrassing, I remember thinking how badly I wanted to beat Lehigh. We had also lost the previous year to them and there was just no way the seniors on this team were going to go out having had their tails kicked by Lehigh three years in a row. We planned to turn it around this time."

Answer: Dean George Tanaka.

Ring any bells? No?

The quote was made by “Superman.”

Better known as Dean Cain, who played the Man of Steel in the television series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Supewrman.”.

So what?

Ask Lafayette head football coach John Garrett.

Dean Cain was a superstar defensive back for the Princeton Tigers in 1987 when they played Lehigh in Princeton’s Palmer Stadium.

He intercepted three passes in that game, the last one coming at the Princeton 2-yard line. From that spot, the Tigers drove down the field, with Jason Garrett, the quarterback; Judd Garrett, the running back, and John Garrett, the wide receiver, making the plays.

And, with eight seconds left in the game, Rob Goodwin booted a 38-yard field goal to give Princeton a 16-15 victory.

A couple of days later, Keith Groller, who covered Lehigh football that season, wrote in The Morning Call, “The officials helped the drive, too, stopping the clock several times when Tiger receivers had to roll several feet to get out-of-bounds after being tackled. The refs also generously stopped the clock for a first-down measurement with eight seconds left when there appeared to be little need for one. The Tigers, out of timeouts, used the assist from the striped-shirts to get Goodwin on the field and e poised and ready to boot his game-winner.”

John Garrett had a good laugh when he shared the story of that game with a couple of us at Tuesday’s media luncheon previewing the 153rd Lafayette-Lehigh game.

I don’t know if Lehigh will be looking to get revenge on Garrett Saturday in Goodman Stadium. I do know that the comment made by Cain could easily come out of the mouth of lots of Lafayette senior if the Leopards upset the Brown and White in #153. Lehigh has won the last two games in the series by 45-21 and 49-35.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Leopards postgame: Talking to Coach G

I thought I'd try something a little different in the aftermath of today's Lafayette-Colgate showdown in Fisher stadium.

Coach John Garrett meets with the media in Kirby after each game. Today, there were just two of us -- the writer for The Lafayette and myself. 

The questions, in bold are, mine. I get to use very few quotes in my game story in the newspaper, so here are the rest.

 OPENING REMARKS – I was really proud of how our team competed defensively to make them earn every yard they got and to not give up big plays. I was pleased how they made it hard for the Colgate offense to score. They did get us on the trick play, which was very well executed by them. And then offensively, I really liked how our guys competed and drove the ball. We just didn’t finish drives. Their trick play and then the interception for the touchdown (are) two scores, and other than that, the game’s right there in the balance.

ON A DAY LIKE TODAY, DO YOU COME WITH EXPECTATIONS THAT MAYBE YOU ARE GOING TO RUN BETTER?  -- Well, Paul, what we do is we construct a game plan to see what’s the best way to move the ball and it’s typically a combination of running it and throwing it. There were some formations we thought we could get some run, and we did. We were able to pop a couple early and gain some yards but then the game started to turn, and we had to throw it more because we were behind.

IT’S A MATTER OF HOW LONG UNTIL THEY FINALLY SCORE, AND THEY DID WITH THE END AROUND PLAY – It was very well executed and they were not only able to call it at a good time but also get the edge blocked and get outside.

TELL ME ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE OF (SEAN) O’MALLEY – I was really proud of how he competed. He got the ball out. He made good decisions throughout the day. The interceptions were just really location. One ball was out front of an open receiver and there just happened to be a defender right there. Nine times out of 10 that ball just falls incomplete. And then the other one was off a receiver’s shoulder pad and that popped up into a defender’s hands, and nine times out of 10 that just falls incomplete. So, the ball didn’t bounce our way on those two plays and it impacted the game, one for a score and the other for a big flip of field position that gave them an opportunity to have the ball down in close. But I was really pleased how our defense responded and held them to a field goal.

WAS SEAN OKAY ON THE HIT THAT WAS RULED TARGETING? – Yeah, he bounced right up and really had no ill effects of it at all. I thought the next play he was the same Sean O’Malley, the great competitor that he is.

WHEN YOU SAY YOU CONSTRUCT A GAME PLAN TO DO DIFFERENT THINGS, IT DOESN’T GO TOWARDS 18 RUNNING PLAYS AND 49 PASSES, OR DOES IT? –We always react to the events of the game, Paul. And when you get behind you need to try to advance the ball quickly and the best way to do that is to throw. So, when it gets behind 14-0, then 21, then 27, you get into two-minute mode and you need to throw quickly. That’s really where the imbalance comes.


HOW ABOUT COLGATE – They’re a good football team. Coming into the game they ranked highly offensively running the ball and defensively they’ve really been able to stop all aspects of opposing offense; and that’s where I thought our team really competed well. We made it really hard for them to advance the ball, even though they had a lot of rushing yards, it was really because of a lot of attempts. We really limited a lot of long runs. They didn’t get many. And then passing, there were hardly any significant passing yards at all. They completed five of 17 passes; our defense made them one-dimensional because we got pressure on the quarterback when they decided to throw it and I thought our secondary and linebackers really did a good job of covering the guys. There really were not many open receivers. They made them earn everything and I really just liked how our team competed and responded to the different adversity during the game. The turnovers, we get a stop or a field goal. The defense really responded. And even when we were down offensively, our kids just kept competing and were able to move the ball in every instance of the game, whether it was early, when the game was in the balance, or responding to a negative play. They really showed some resiliency. I was really proud of how they played.

AND NOW IT’S LEHIGH. YOU DON’T KNOW LAFAYETTE-LEHIGH, DO YOU? Well, I’ve heard about Lafayette-Lehigh all my life because it was my dad’s first coaching job. In 1958 he was a member of the Lehigh staff, so he’s often said that’s the best rivalry he’s ever been around, and he’s been around football a long time. So, I’m really excited about this week. It’s a huge game not only for the Lafayette community, for our team, but also for the league as well because obviously a win by us can knock Lehigh out of it. So, the stakes are high, and it’ll be a great week of preparation and a great atmosphere. Really looking forward to it.

DYLAN WADSWORTH’S INJURY? – Yeah, he injured … his knee at Georgetown. And pretty significant, so he’s not ruled out of the Lehigh game and we’ll see how that goes during the week.

AND GIUDICE? – Anthony is ruled ineligible by the NCAA. It was unfortunate that we didn’t have him.