Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Freeman: 'need to do a lot with a little ...' and other observations

I finally had a chance to meet Lafayette’s new director of athletics, Sherryta Freeman, at the Maroon & White football game last month. We had about 12 minutes together during halftime of the game. I’d have liked more time, but she was having a busy day.

When The Morning Call agreed to use our interview as its Newsmaker Q&A feature in Sunday’s paper, I knew there was no way everything we talked about would be covered because of space constraints. So, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on what was in print and to add to that to give Leopards’ sports fans – a passionate bunch – more to think about.

I was really interested in getting a handle on the results of the long-awaited study of the entire athletics program, which started in the fall of 2016 and had an original target date of April of 2017. That date came and went, and before anything was made public, the athletic director under whose watch it all began, Bruce McCutcheon, announced his retirement.

I was told that none of the candidates for McCutcheon’s successor was given access to the study’s findings at that point, so it wasn’t surprising when things kind of went into hibernation, giving the new department leader time to digest it.

Freeman told me she’s aiming for “the end of the summer” as the time when a new “strategic plan” will begin implementation over a period of five years. “The (old) study just gives us information; it doesn’t give us direction,” she told me. “It doesn’t tell us what we need to do. That’s what my job is,” she said.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Leopards' spring game: Cleaning out the notebook

The Lafayette College spring football game is history. I’m still uncertain what the fall has for me, but here are some random comments about the 2018 Leopards after watching them for only the second time.

I was looking for something new from the Lafayette offense, which has a new offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach, John Van Dam, in place. There may have been a little bit more rollout in the passing game, and some of that paid dividends.

But things didn’t start out well. I was surprised to see Mike Dunn at tailback in the opening series, but since this was only my second time at practice, I wasn’t around to watch him challenge Selwyn Simpson for the job. The offense was 3-and-out in its first series; and after a false-start penalty and an intentional grounding penalty and a timeout call by the offense, it was a second straight 3-and-out.

The third series brought Nick Pearson into the game, and with a speed sweep, an end-around run and a pass completion from Sean O’Malley, Pearson finally gave the offense a lift. Angus Evans finished things off with a touchdown catch from O’Malley. The series also included a successful quick-pitch run by Simpson on a fourth-and-1. I liked that one. It also included a nice defensive play by Major Jordan, who batted down an O’Malley pass.

A fair catch was signaled on the ensuing kickoff, and we learned about a new rule for this year. A fair catch of a kickoff in the field of play puts the ball on the 25-yard line to start the series. Just another attempt at curbing some of the vicious hits on kickoffs. It’ll be interesting to see how many teams use this, and how often.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Lafayette FB: A trip to Spring camp

Offensive coordinator John Van Dam works with three qiarterbacks at spring camp./
Twelve players who were in the starting lineup the last time Lafayette’s football team played a game – and a good number of others who saw a good deal of action against arch-rival Lehigh last November – are back for 2018, but earlier this week head coach John Garrett said, “Every year, you have to put the team back together.”

What he means is after losing two dozen seniors and several others who left the program early to seek more playing time elsewhere, and after another 18 rising sophomores are coming through their first winter weight training program, are not the same.

“It’s obvious that you lose the seniors and the (2018) freshmen aren’t here yet, but everyone who’s here is a different person (than last fall),” Garrett said. “They could be 10 pounds heavier; they’re stronger, faster, so they assume different roles, too. We have to identify who can handle that and lay out expectations and challenge them to achieve on one side of the ball or some aspect of the game. They are just a year older and more comfortable with the system. They assume roles – leadership roles within a position or a certain side of ball.”

When I visited Fisher Stadium for the first time on Tuesday, the first thing that struck me was the small number of players in pads for the first time this spring. I counted heads during the pre-practice stretch and got just 18 defensive players in white and 31 others in the offense’s maroon jerseys. 

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.