Monday, August 29, 2016

A wish list for Lafayette's Friday night opener at CCSU

Can  C.J. Amill get Lafayette's football season off to a fast start Friday night?

 Some things I’d like to see Friday night in New Britain, Conn., where Lafayette opens the 2016 football season against Central Connecticut State and hopes to break a six-game losing streak it carries over from last year:

A game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown – by C.J. Amill or Yasir Thomas.  I think either of these guys is as fast and as elusive as Matt Smalley, and I remember how Smalley electrified the Fisher Stadium folks on the opening KO of the 2013 season with a 98-yard return touchdown. Amill had 698 return yards in 2015, but no TDs. Thomas returned two punts for scores in his senior year in high school. No KO TD? I'd settle for a punt return TD. I'm not greedy, am I?

A four-wide-receiver set that has Matt Mrazek and Joey Chenoweth on one side and Nick Franzese and Yasir Thomas on the other. I think as a group, they would be uncoverable. Mrazek and Chenoweth combined for 90 receptions last season, but only four touchdowns. Franzese has been a guy on a mission in summer camp, where he and Mrazek have caught almost everything thrown their way. Thomas? Just watch him fly.

Five sacks from the defensive front seven. LB Brandon Bryant is a beast and can light up the place. While it would be nice to have Matt Rothrock at DT, the thought of a quick inside tandem of Lavel Ramsey and Andy Labudev teaming up with DEs Collin Albershardt and Beau Bosch is intriguing. It’s time for that Art Link 4-2-5 to assert itself.

Mike Donnelly
A game without a presnap penalty.  This is really wishful thinking, given the Leopards’ annual battle with this egregious offensive mistake. But I know Coach Stan Clayton has been constantly on his troops about their discipline. The left side is solid; on the right, Logan Grieser makes his first start after missing 2015 with an injury and Mike Donnelly fills in for injured Nick Zataveski. The 0-line is thin but perhaps the most athletic group the Leopards have ever had. Frosh Jake Marotti and Dylan Murphy came with great credentials. Both will certainly play. When they do, they’ll need to not let the moment overwhelm them.  

The “old” Drew Reed -- or, maybe I should say, the "younger" Drew Reed . Even if the senior quarterback is at his absolute best, and there are some pretty good examples of that type of play in the Lafayette archives, winning is going to take more. He is, after all, only one guy. But the example he sets from the opening snap is going to be noticed by everyone. No holding back allowed.

A 30-yard run by one of the Lafayette tailbacks. DeSean Brown and C.J. Amill both have the speed and agility to cause that to happen if they get a crease. Both seem to be in great physical shape. Going hand in hand with the 30-yard run is the matter of ball security. Fumbles are right there with dropped passes on the list of things to avoid. Is a no-turnovers opener too much to ask for? Bonus: Total rushing yards: 150.  

At least two pass interceptions. Opposing teams threw 310 passes against the Leopards last year, and the ‘Pards had just five interceptions. Clay Rush is the only returning player who had a pick in 2015. “I think our secondary is very, very athletic, but very young and inexperienced and people will be picking on that. But we’ll be doing some picking back because this group is athletic and the more they play, the better they’re going to be. They’re going to make some plays.” The return of Draeland James, who played less than one game last year, and a healthy Phillip Parham, who had three interceptions in 2014 but played only six games last year because of injury, are keys. Rookies Tre Jordan and Eric Mitchell have pushed hard in summer camp and will see plenty of action, but they’ll have to mature in a hurry to be effective against some outstanding opposing QBs.

The bottom line is that I’d like to see the Leopards E.A.A.T. their way to a confidence and morale-building performance.

E – EFFORT. I don’t think this is going to be a problem for this group. I’ve watched a number of practices, and I haven’t heard much barking about anyone slacking off on his effort. The 'Pards won't be outworked by anyone. There may have been several lapses during last year’s demoralizing season, but the way in which the Leopards were able to pick themselves up and play their best football in the final three games was a pleasant surprise.

A – ATTITUDE.  Again, this looks to be a strong point for this team. I’ve seen no hanging of heads when making a mistake; players seem to be hustling from one practice segment to the next without a lot of grumbling, even when the heat index was high enough to affect anyone’s attitude for a hard practice. At the few practices I attended, I saw only one incident that could have been classified as a skirmish. The fact that I don’t remember who the combatants were means it was short and uneventful.

A – ACCOUNTABILITY – The four Leopard captains certainly must have accountability high on their priority list, but I really think that some others will factor large into that equation. I think, for example, that Brandon Bryant, who goes at about 130 percent every play, is going to be after the defensive guys. I think that even though he’s not the starting quarterback and he’s not one of the captains, Blake Searfoss will stand tall in the accountability department for the sake of the team. This trait is a two-way street. Players have to accept accountability when things on their own end should be better and they also have to make sure their teammates do the same.

T – TOUGHNESS. Among the adjectives for toughness that I like are iron will, backbone, obstinance, resolution. You don’t have to be a trash-talker or a chest-pounder to show toughness. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” was popular in my high school days, and it worked for the 1957 Allentown High School team which went 9-0-1 against some pretty tough guys. It sounds kind of hackneyed now, but I think it’s still the bottom line. Tough times demand tough responses. In the words of the late Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up; don’t ever give up!” That’s toughness.

Lafayette has lost its last three season openers. It's time for that streak to end.

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