Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bryant, Reed injuries and other Leopard notebook stuff

No more tackling in 2016 for Lafayette's Brandon Bryant. Bummer.

It doesn’t seem right to start a blog like this with an injury report, but this isn’t just any injury. It’s Brandon Bryant, a guy who was on target to put his name among the best linebackers in Lafayette history before this year was finished.

Now, the 5-11, 225-pound junior from Cherry Hill, N.J., will be spend the rest of this year and probably the first half of next year rehabbing his knee after a freakish accident in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game with Holy Cross.

Here’s how Bryant put it in an email to me: “I was blitzing off of the edge and as I was grabbing the QB (Crusader Geoff Wade), my body swung out to the side. My knee bashed into his and caused my leg from the knee down to wipe.”

What makes the thing freakish is that the “his” in Bryant’s statement is Leopard teammate Beau Bosch, who also was chasing down Wade.  Wade got away and Bosch and Bryant went down to the turf in opposite directions. Bryant tried to get up and walk, but he was unable to do that. When he went back down, I knew it was not good. I just didn’t know what not good meant.

Both players got back to the bench. Bosch was able to return to the game a bit later. Bryant was done.

An MRI on Sunday revealed torn ACL and MCL. End of season, And, because it came in the fifth game of the year, no possibility of a medical red-shirt – if I understand the rules correctly. Anything beyond the fourth game is considered a full season.

Brandon had registered two tackles before going out, giving him 41 for the year and 249 for his career. He had 114 last year and was on pace to get the same or more this year. He was snubbed by the Patriot League coaches and sports information directors in voting for a pre-season all-league team and he was using that as a motivating factor. In an article in “The Lafayette” last week, he was quoted as saying he wanted to be an All-American this year. I happen to believe he might have reached that goal.

“Brandon is very well respected and very well liked on this football team,” Coach Frank Tavani said after the game Saturday night. . “I know he’s crushed and brokenhearted, and I’ve seen this way too many times in my career. I just told a group of recruits today, 30 kids and their parents in the room, I said, you better make a decision, regardless, of the best academic situation for you because football can be taken away from you – you get hurt walking across the street, stepping off a curb, getting hurt in a football game. These things happen. You see it on the pro level, on the college level, everywhere. It’s a physical game and things happen.”

I’d almost guarantee you that, not long after his surgery, Bryant will be back on the sidelines, crutches and all, to be encouraging his teammates.  Because Tavani doesn’t name junior captains, Brandon didn’t qualify this year, but on the field, no one was a more positive role model of the Effort, Attitude, Accountability and Toughness that has been the Lafayette mantra this year. He plays with abandon, smiling all the while. He was Mr. Dependability in that 4-2-5 setup. I’ll miss not seeing #33 flying around there.

“I will miss being out there, but next year I will come back even stronger! Since he’ll have all winter to work on his upper body strength, I don’t doubt him for a minute.     

DREW REED -- Quarterback Drew Reed’s short-term future is in limbo at this point, too, although Coach Tavani said he was amazed at how good the senior quarterback looked Sunday after taking a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Crusader linebacker Nick McBeath at the end of a 10-yard gain on the opening series of the game Saturday.  Reed was on the ground a long time before finally being escorted back to the bench with what was immediately called “a head injury.”

It’s an injury that went unpunished despite college football’s increased attention to such things. And Coach Tavani wasn’t happy about it. He addressed it with the media after the game and then again with me on Sunday.

“(Game officials were) telling me (Reed) wasn’t defenseless,” Tavani said Saturday night. “That guy led with the top of his helmet, crown to crown. That play will be reviewed, even though it wasn’t called. That will be reviewed by the league, and you can believe I’ll be sending that out. I’m surprised he actually seemed better than I thought he was. We’ll see how that protocol goes; something like that is a 24-to-72-hour thing.”

On Sunday, Tavani said he had spoken with Jim Maconaghy, the Patriot League’s coordinator of football officials, who will review Tavani’s video of the play along with league officials. Tavani said that there’s still a chance that McBeath could have to sit out for the hit, even though no penalty was called at the time.

“That rule was made just for a play like that,” Tavani said. “I don’t know if they’ll do something, but I’m anxious to hear his explanation. The other officials told the refer that Drew wasn’t defenseless. The referee told me that’s not the rule, but he couldn’t make the call. “

Tavani said the Lafayette medical people were concerned because Drew was on the turf for so long. Reed will not be able to do anything Monday or Tuesday, and Tavani said that by Wednesday, doctors could, after testing him, allow him to start working out on a stationary bike or jogging. He would not be able to practice until Thursday at the earliest, and Thursday is the team’s lightest practice day. “We have to be careful with this things,” Tavani said, “our our people have always thought it was better to err on the side of caution.”

Tavani said Reed didn’t complain of a headache on Sunday and that he had slept and had eaten on Saturday night, all good signs. But the coach was quick to caution not to jump to any conclusions because the concussion protocol is pretty specific and will be adhered to in this case.

I can’t for the life of me think of any good reason why a defensive player would lead with his helmet when such a collision could be just as damaging to him as to the other guy. I don’t pretend to know anything about a kid’s intent, but I surely hope that this was not a matter where a Holy Cross player saw an opportunity to level the playing field somewhat by going after Reed. Holy Cross was playing without its star QB, Peter Pujals, who suffered a lower leg injury against Dartmouth.

BLAKE SEARFOSS – When Reed went down, the job turned over immediately to the player who has been competing with him for the starting job for all four years of their Lafayette careers. As Searfoss said after the game, “When it comes that time that you’re called upon, you’re ready to go. I mean, as far as film watch and practice, I get the reps in practice; I understand defensive tendencies and what our offense is trying to do. It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been in this role. I’ve been in this role since my freshman year, so, you have to know your role and be a great team player. I feel that I will go to the best of my ability when called upon and I did today.”

Tavani praised Searfoss. “That takes a tremendous individual to do that. I said to him the week before last, how you doing, hanging in there? I said I’ve never been in that situation so I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t think I could do it. But he has handled it as well as you can handle it. He had his best preseason camp; it was a fine line, and maybe the other guy got an edge because he’s been there. But (as the backup), you have to be able to keep your focus in practice, and he’s got to prepare. He’s got to be on the sideline during every game watching and seeing what happens and what would I have done in this situation. And it’s not easy when you get out there to be perfect, but he did an exceptional job stepping in there. And that’s what I told you guys in preseason. It’s a luxury to be in that situation with two quality senior quarterbacks who are outstanding people as well.”

I looked at Lafayette’s four touchdown drives. They were:
·         13 plays, 74 yards, Searfoss completed 9 of 10 passes for 59 yards, including a 7-yard TD to Matt Mrazek.
·         8 plays, 75 yards, Searfoss was 5-for-6 for 49 yards, including a 13-yard TD to Mrazek.
·         10 plays, 78 yards, Searfoss was 4-for-4 for 35 yards, including a 3-yard TD to Mrazek.
·         7 plays, 73 yards, Searfoss was 5-for-7 for 68 yards, including a 16-yard TD to Dylan Wadsworth.

In the fourth period, Searfoss was sacked by Dewayne Cameron. The ball squirted away and was picked up by Ryan Smith, who ran it eight yards for a defensive touchdown. But, get this, Coach Tavani told me Sunday that the film shows that should never have happened.

“Searfoss is lying on the ground and the ball rolls out … but it was no fumble,” he said. “I was standing right there.”  He said that play is another video clip that will go to Mackonaghy for review, even though it won’t change anything. But, apparently, it’s a touchdown the Crusaders never should have gotten credit for.

NOT-SPECIAL TEAMS – Coach Tavani cut our Sunday conversation a bit short because he was to attend a special-teams meeting. “That’s a meeting I don’t think I want to be at,” I told him, and he said, “No, you don’t want to me there.”

Tavani thought before the season that with so many quality young athletes on the roster, he’d be able to use some of them on special teams to give starters a break. But the plan isn’t working well. It’s most noticeable on kickoff return, where the Leopards haven’t had a quality return in five games. Freshman Yasir Thomas is the leader with 16 returns but only a 17.1-yard average. Since he has never returned kickoffs until this year, he can get a bit of a break, but he’s not getting help from his friends, either. Thomas’ long return is 30 yards.

But the Leopards’ problems go deeper than that. Placekicker Jacob Bissell, a Parkland High grad who can be seen regularly kicking 40-50 yard field goals in practice and pregame, is just 4-for-7 for the year, with a long of 36. He missed a 38-yard straightaway kick on Saturday after Lafayette had driven from its own 14 to the Crusaders’ 21 while trailing 13-0.  Last season, he hit five 40-and-longer field goals on eight attempts.

Bissell has put nine of his 21 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, kicked one ouot of bounds. Holy Cross returned two on Saturday, one for 28 yards and the other for 29.  Punter Ryan Forrester was having a great year, but on Saturday, he hit one punt just 29 yards and one just 36. He also hit a 52-yarder, but the coverage broke down and allowed Jake Wieczorek to get a 41-yard return. “There was no one between the hash and the sideline,” Tavani said. “You could have ridden your bike through that. Our special teams play was probably as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”  My guess: there will be some changes on the kick-coverage unites this week when the Leopards go to Fordham.  
ATTENDANCE: 4,948 – I know it wasn’t the best weather, and Lafayette’s 1-3 record wasn’t the best drawing card. But, it was Homecoming, for goodness sake. Fisher Stadium was deserted. I couldn’t believe it. Just for kicks, I looked back at Homecoming games for the years since I came back to the Lafayette beat in 2008.  This year’s number is far and away the worst of the lot.  Here are the others, right off the stats sheets:  2008 – vs. Penn, 7,561;  2009 – vs. Fordham, 7,288; 2010 – vs. Stony Brook, 6,036; 2011 – vs. Fordham, 5,567; 2012 – vs. Holy Cross, 8,521; 2013 – vs. Bucknell, 7,814; 2014 – vs. Holy Cross, 8,892; 2015 – vs. Harvard, 7,108.  I think the lack of Lafayette student support of the football team is pathetic.  The biggest gathering of students on Saturday was the black-shirted protest group that stood and raised a “black power” fist in air during part of the pregame, then performed the “Kaepernick sitdown” for The National Anthem. I’m told the group was slightly larger than one that protested a week earlier, but by halftime on Saturday, almost none of the protester were still in the house.  



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