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.   

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Lafayette-Colgate: How far have the Leopards come?

Lafayette Coach John Garrett checks the play card with quarterback Sean O'Malley.
Photo courtesy of Lafayette sports information.
One of the first salvos of the week was fired on Monday when, on the Lafayette Sports Fan Forum, a poster named “killaBee” asked a question: “So, does anyone believe the defense can shut out Colgate?”

Later the same day, another poster named “edge29” posted, “I’m hoping Garrett was playing possum with the offense up until this week.”

No Lafayette football game since “Lehigh 150” has meant as much as Saturday’s matchup with the Raiders. I mean, the college has a “Fill the Hill” promotion in which the first 1,000 fans entering Fisher Stadium will receive a free T-shirt – which will leave out all those Markle parking garage tailgaters who wait until the last minute.

Or, you can bring non-perishable food items to the gate and receive a free ticket for each item. That’s a steal-deal if I ever heard one.

And it’s Senior Day, when a bunch of players who have gone from the peak of a Lafayette-Lehigh game that brought nearly 49,000 spectators to Yankee Stadium and ended in a 27-7 Leopards’ rout, to the valley of two seasons that produced a total of just three wins in 22 games. The thought of this gang ending the frustrations of 2015-16 is interesting.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Bison OT TD: 'Freak play' or not, it was that kind of night

At some point of the second half of Saturday’s Lafayette-Bucknell football game, I turned to Jim Finnen, for 50 years the voice of Lafayette College sports before retiring and a long-time friend of mine from the Schaefer 500 at Pocono days, and said, “This game’s gonna end on some kind of a long play. Maybe a goofy one.”

I wasn’t talking about a 95-yard interception return for an overtime touchdown.

I was thinking more along the lines of a long punt return or a hail Mary pass. After all, for most of the evening, punters were the stars.

Offense? It was hard to come by – 394 total yards for both teams combined.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Leopards-Crimson: The Livestats view wasn't very pretty

My wife thought I was crazy. At times, I agreed with her.

I didn’t travel to Cambridge, Mass., today for the Lafayette-Harvard football game.

I didn’t see the Ivy League Network feed because for some reason, the username and password didn’t connect and I was eventually locked out.

When I saw on Twitter that Lafayette president Alison Byerly was listening to the game on internet radio, I tried to get it. I failed and failed and finally gave up.

So, I didn’t hear the game, either.

I READ the game. That’s correct, through the Livestats feature on the Lafayette and Harvard websites, I was able to sit in the quiet of my family room, in front of my computer, and READ a play-by-play account and keep up with running statistics at the same time.

Nuts, right? Well, maybe not.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Leopard report: Don't give up on the offense

Lafayette's C.J. Amill (2) looks for the end zone. Photo courtesy of Lafayette College.

Given the ongoing struggles of the Lafayette offense’s running game, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sooner or later, Coach John Garrett was going to have to address the situation for the media.

Actually, he talks about it a lot in bits and pieces, but at Tuesday’s luncheon, it got more than usual attention when someone asked the first-year head coach whether the complications of the new offense might require more time and patience to install than the defense. The questioner said he saw offensive progress, but not to the degree of the defense.

“Well, there are a lot of ways to answer that question,” Garrett began. I knew then and there that the answer was goingnto be a complicated one. Here it is.
“We are looking at each game and figuring out the best ways to advance the ball, and we have had a lot of players who we were expecting to play on offense NOT play. So, we had younger players playing earlier than you would expect and these kids have done a remarkable job competing against veteran teams.”

When talking about expected players who are not playing, Garrett was undoubtedly referring to a group that includes at least four offensive linemen – Tanner Kern, Nick Zataveski, Cam Smith and freshman John Burk O-line coach Gordon Sammis has had his hands full getting the pieces to fit together successfully.

“It’s funny, I had to ask (sports information director) Phil (LaBella) before the press conference last week when I looked at Fordham’s depth chart and I said, ‘What is GR next to their name?’ He said, ‘That means he’s a fifth-year graduate player’ and I said ‘Oh, okay, we don’t have any of those guys who played a lot of football.’

“Offense has more volume than defense. Offense has more plays, that type of thing. Younger players are having to learn not only how to play, but how to execute in the game, so I’m just concerned about us improving each week – and we’re improving each week in every aspect of it. We don’t look at it like this side’s ahead or that side’s ahead. I’m sounding like a reporter right now, but, after the first couple games, you’d say, Oh gosh (the score) might have been reversed (if some key players were in the lineup). So, we really don’t concern ourselves with that. We just concern ourselves with the next play and trying to execute it to the best of our ability.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Scouting report: Harvard looking to bounce back

Lafayette will be a part of the 700th Harvard football game in iconic Harvard Stadium on Saturday.
The Harvard two-deep chart for this week has fifth-year senior Joe Viviano listed as the starting quarterback, but in his teleconference on Tuesday with Lafayette media, Crimson Coach Tim Murphy declared true freshman Jake Smith as the top guy.

“We have two very good quarterbacks (including) potentially a special one who is a freshman,” Murphy said. “It’s been a great competition that has made them both better and it beats the heck out of trying to find a quarterback. I’m not a great believer in a two-quarterback system, but it’s a bit of a luxury from our standpoint. Obviously, not so great for both kids.”

Asked if Smith is now the top gun, the 24th-year head coach said, “He’s the No. 1 guy, but he’s just a kid that is so natural, not unlike the (Sean) O’Malley kid from California who’s playing for Lafayette. He has great pocket skill, improbability, he throws guys open. He’s much more advanced than we thought when we recruited him.”

Smith didn’t play in the season opener against Rhode Island, but after Viviano was sacked five times in that narrow victory, it may have opened the door. Against Brown, Smith became the first freshman to start at quarterback since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2001 and was 5-for-7 for 72 yards but was sacked three times. Viviano, who started nine games last year for Harvard, was 11-for-13 in the game.

Smith threw two interceptions while completing 16 of 30 against Georgetown; Viviano was 5-for-10 in the game and one of the completions was for a touchdown. And last week in the Crimson’s loss to Cornell, Smith was 8-for-14, completed his first TD pass but also was sacked five times and intercepted once.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

14-10 win: A mid-term exam with mixed grades

Cleaning the notebook from Win No. 2 in the John Garrett era.

The Lafayette football team hit the halfway point of Coach Garrett’s first season on Saturday, and it pretty much failed the "midterm" in one of the coach’s most fundamental classes: “Hard to Beat 101.”

But at the same time, it came up with an A+ in “Fourth Quarter 110.”

“Hard to Beat,” Coach Garrett told us on Tuesday, is the mantra with which he challenged his team from the very beginning. It consists of a lot of factors that can end in victory or defeat. The mid-term exam came at the beginning of the second quarter of Lafayette’s Patriot League game against Fordham.

I thought it was going to be the start of a slide that would render all that good stuff from the Holy Cross game as an aberration.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The name of the game for Leopards' Garrett: Details

Details matter. If there’s a phrase that I believe defines the first season of the John Garrett regime at Lafayette, that’s it. He uses it freely.

Tbe Leopards’ head football coach often seems pretty secretive and somewhat evasive, and I took some of that as being wary of the media. But on Tuesday, in the aftermath of his first victory as a collegiate head coach, he really opened up at the weekly media luncheon.

For example, while most of the talk centered around Jeffrey Kordenbrock, who booted the game-winning field goal at Holy Cross, or the defense, which callowed just seven points and 319 total yards, or even the screen pass play that accounted for Lafayette’s only touchdown, Garrett really broke out when asked about the play of freshman quarterback Sean O’Malley, who threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and yet directed the Leopards to the win.

“Sean is a fantastic competitor, extremely smart,” Garrett said. “There were a couple plays where he wished he had thrown to other guy and it would have been good play. These are great opportunities to learn from. He battles all game, he’s under duress, he makes good decisions – other than a couple. For him, it was a great example of how the games are meant to be played. It’s not always perfect. You have to block out that last play. He grinded it out. We talked (here) about Rocco (Palumbo’s touchdown against Holy Cross), about the run (after the catch), about the type of play it was, about the three linemen (who blocked it). No one talked about the throw (O’Malley) made around a blitzing corner and put the ball on his front shoulder, a key to getting the plav started. It’s a tribute to him to execute the way he practiced it. I have no concerns over Sean O’Malley. He’s the leader of our team.”

Coach Garrett said his main mesasage in his first meeting with the Leopards was that he wanted them to be “hard to beat.” Here’s how he describes that phrase.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fordham scouting report: The Rams are having problems

This Fordham football team is in trouble. And it all starts with a capital C -- as in Chase Edmonds.

Coach Andrew Breiner told us on Tuesday during a media teleconference call that he has a policy not to talk about injuries, but someone who watched the Rams’ game with Yale last week said Edmonds, who missed the previous two games with an injury,  was reinjured in the second half and didn’t return.

If the senior running back is out again this weekend when the Rams come to Fisher Stadium, it’s an immense advantage for the Leopards, who have been unable to shut him down in three previous tries. Edmonds has only 198 yards rushing for the 2017 season and only one touchdown. He probably has not been 100 percent healthy in any game.

A 170-pound freshman has been playing in his place, and while Zach Davis has made no big mistakes, he’s no Edmonds.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

No more disrespect for 'Pards after this one

Andy Labudev (90) takes on Crusader running back Diquan Walker. Photo courtesy of Lafayette College.
I didn’t think about it until I was re-reading my Lafayette-Holy Cross story this morning, but it’s very likely that not a single kid on that team has any clue what I was getting at in the league – unless he’s a sports history nut and has watched the YouTube clip.

That USA ice hockey victory over the USSR in the 1980 Olympic Games is one of the true classics, and Al Michaels’ TV call – “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!!” – really did say it all in Worcester. The Lafayette kids were not even born, but their parents may recall it.

Based on other 2017 performances by both teams, this one didn’t figure to be competitive. Sure, Gary Laubach questioned HC Coach Tom Gilmore about a possible “hangover effect” from the tram’s previous two games. And, sure, we wondered it Leopards’ defensive coordinator Luke Thompson would find preparation for the Crusaders a lot more comfortable than for Villanova, Princeton, Sacred Heart or Monmouth.

But there were too many hurdles to clear for the winless Leopards to slay the Crusaders – in a Patriot League game, against an opponent that should have been hungry to get back on track after a heartbreaking loss the previous week, on historic Fitton Field, with its beautiful, like-new natural-grass surface, no less. “This was a hard game to play,” Coach John Garrett told me after it was over.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Some leftover thoughts from Leopards' loss to Princeton

Cleaning out the notebook from Lafayette's 38-17 loss to Princeton.

It was as though someone from Princeton had gotten his hands on a copy of the Lafayette football game plan.

The Leopards lined up for the first play at the 35-yard line after the Tigers’ kickoff went out of bounds. Good field position without having to take a hit.

Lafayette Coach John Garrett called a simple running play. Instead of it being stopped for no gain, DeSean took it for five yards. Nice.

Second-and-5, and another running play, with Brown gaining another four yards.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mrazek mystery continues and the Leopards languish

It was the second game of the 2014 season. Freshman wide receiver Matt Mrazek made the first start of his Lafayette College career. The guy people were proclaiming as the next Mark Ross didn’t have a catch as Lafayette won 50-3.

That was the only game in which Mrazek, native of LaGrange, Ill., did not catch at least one pass.

Until Saturday night.

And this time I couldn’t blame it on the fact that Lafayette freshman quarterback Sean O’Malley has a closer rapport with sophomore Nick Pearson. Pearson was injured while returning the opening kickoff, and I’m told he was on the sideline with an arm in a sling, watching as the Leopards laid another offensive egg – literally this time, being shut out 59-0 by No. 7-8 ranked Villanova.

I wrote last week how Mrazek seems to be getting the cold shoulder from someone. How else do you explain the fact that he has just one catch in the first half of the season opener against Monmouth and then no catches until the fourth quarter of the second game against Sacred Heart?

Now this!

Leopards’ coach John Garrett gave a long explanation on the Mrazek question at least week’s media luncheon, and you can read that on my blog.  I’m thinking Garrett would probably have pretty much the same answer this week, because nothing else has changed.

The Lafayette running game did nothing to relieve the pressure on the aerial attack. Yet the game stats show Mrazek was the targeted receiver only once.

Is that possible? Apparently so. Last season, Mrazek caught 11 balls in one game and nine in two others. His low for the year came against Villanova and Bucknell – three catches in each.

He would have had to be a miracle man to change the outcome of Saturday night’s game, but A SHUTOUT??

Involving Mrazek is only one of the Leopards’ problems. For example, they now rank 122nd of 123 FCS teams in average rushing yards per game (9.0), 114th in third-down defense (allowing 21 of 38), 110th in rushing defense (241.3 ypg), 107th in total defense (476.3).

Some of the glaring stuff against Villanova was the Wildcats’ 38:34-to-21:26 advantage in time of possession; 50-72 in offensive plays; 45.0-63.4 average yards per kickoff. Trivial stuff, you say. Maybe not.

Lafayette won only one thing: fewest penalties. The Leopards committed two for 25 yards, the Wildcats 11 for 107.  In the last two games, opposing teams have given Lafayette a total of 262 penalty yards.  Didn’t matter, though.

I can’t take any more sadness, so I’m stopping for now. They should be burning the midnight oil in Bourger Varsity Football House. Somehow, all the rhetoric has to be turned into reality, and that’s not going to be easy. Lafayette hasn’t defeated Princeton since 2003 and won’t be favored in this one, either.

If you thought 59-zip was ugly on Saturday night, you should have been there to see just how bad it could have been if the Wildcats had played all night. 

If this season was a boxing match, it would have been stopped long ago. Coach Garrett brought out the Monday Night Football song to put some fire into spring practices. Maybe he needs to bring "Rocky" to Fisher Stadium Saturday night. Think outside the box. It can't hurt. Can it? 


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Where's Matt Mrazek? Here's the answer

John Leone was probably asked many times during his career as a basketball coach why he didn’t get the ball more to this guy or that guy.

So, it was somehow appropriate that Leone, who now works as the sideline reporter for the football game coverage on the Lafayette Sports Network, should ask about Leopards’ wide receiver Matt Mrazek during Tuesday’s media luncheon.

Mrazek was the target for just one first-half incomplete pass, then none in the third quarter against SHU. He finished the game with three catches in the fourth quarter, one for a touchdown. He and freshman quarterback Sean O’Malley didn’t connect on four other attempts in the final 15 minutes.

This came on the heels of a Monmouth game in which Mrazek had just one catch in the first half. In the second half, O’Malley’s first pass to Mrazek was incomplete, but the two then teamed up for eight straight completions – one a 17-yard touchdowns.

Garrett’s answer is textbook stuff. So, rather than paraphrase it, here it is in its entirety.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sean O'Malley: A late addition, but a fast learner

Freshman Sean O'Malley will be Lafayette's starter on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Lafayette College.
Is Connor Wedington the new Christian McCaffrey at Stanford? The freshman receiver is wearing McCaffrey’s #5, and he caught six passes for 82 yards in a 62-7 win over Rice in the first game of his college football career last week.

Why should we care, you wonder. Or, why should we care about Hunter Bryant, a tight end at the University of Washington, or David Cormier, a running back at Air Force, or Parker Cardwell, a wide receiver at the University of California.

I mention them only because, in May of 2016, they had four of the top five scores in an Elite 11 Seattle camp featuring mostly high school juniors. The camp had more than 40 quarterbacks among the group and one of them was a kid named Sean O’Malley of Beverly Hills, Calif. 

It was a truly elite group, and O'Malley fit right in.

Maybe O’Malley didn’t have the reputation of those other four guys at the time, but he was ranked second best among the quarterbacks. That should have been enough to get him some strong looks from premier football schools, but when National Signing Day 2017 came and went, he wasn’t among the signed players. 

He was not forgotten, however, and about six weeks after NSD, he was announced as committing to Lafayette College.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Leopards-Monmouth: A home game for Garrett? Not!

George Webber, the lead character in Thomas Wolfe’s classic, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” didn’t like what he saw when he returned to his home town.

John Garrett, Lafayette’s first-year head football coach, isn’t expecting to have the same kind of feelings on Saturday when he and his Leopards open the season against Monmouth University in the Haswks’ brand new $16-million stadium.

Speaking about it on Tuessday at the weekly football media luncheon, here’s what Garrett had to say.

“I’m really just excited, getting to play back in my home town. My parents live 15 minutes from Monmouth University in Monmouth Beach. It’s going to be fun; it’s going to bring back great memories. We moved to New Jersey in 1970 when I was 5 years old and my dad was coaching for the Giants.

"They had training camp at then Monmouth College, so I would go see practices at Monmouth College when I was 5, 6, 7 years old. To have your first game there is pretty ironic and pretty cool stuff, so I’m excited about that personally, but also excited for our team. They’ve really work hard and improved immensely. They’re excited for what they’re about to do and I’m happy for them that they get this chance."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leopards football preview: TV, Internet and roster news

Coach John Garrett addresses the Leopards at the end of the final training-camp practice.

This is the day! At noon, we’ll get together with Coach John Garrett and a couple of is players to talk about the season opener at Monmouth.

My preseason stories appeared in today’s Morning Call, but when I checked The Call’s website, I didn’t see the schedule and the possible starting lineups that ran in agate in the paper.

The schedule includes the television and computer online coverage of the Leopards’ games. Pretty impressive stuff by Scott Morse and the crew at Lafayette, with the LAFAYETTE Sports Network Carrying most of the load – on RCN cable Channel 4 and on WBPH Channel 60.

But the Monmouth game will be on ESPN3 only. And LSN will not be covering the Harvard or Georgetown games, although I don’t understand for the life of me would not want as much coverages As possible. Harvard’s game will be on North East Sports Network and the Ivy League Network; and Georgetown will be available only online through the Patriot League Network. The PLN online will carry all except the Monmouth game, so there is plenty of chance to see the Leopards without leaving home.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lafayette football: The QB search continues

John Garrett knew it was coming. The new Lafayette College was facing the media at the annual Media Day luncheon last week, and it was inevitable that he would have to face questions about his quarterback battle at some point.

It came at the very beginning of the question-and-answer period, and I’m happy to say I was not the first to bring it up. I might be accused of being a broken record on the subject, so I waited patiently and let Express-Times writer Brad Wilson throw it out.

Garrett delivered some of the familiar phrases like “great group of guys”, “we don’t make the depth chart,” “a really competitive situation”, “when it is clearly determined by the players by their performances on the field”, “a meritorious situation.”

He said the process of evaluating all these quarterbacks hadn’t slowed the progress of installing the offense the Leopards will use when they open the season at Monmouth on Sept. 2. So, finally I asked how long he could continue to evaluate before deciding which QB would prepare for the opener as the designated No. 1.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Leopards' Garrett tips his hand on a lineup -- but no guarantees

Well, on the opening day of summer training camp, Lafayette football Coach John Garrett issued his first official two-deep chart. It’s been a long time in the making, and it was still being tweaked as of Wednesday. I’m almost afraid to say much about it because it could be different again before the week is out.

It surely is interesting, though.

Where do we start? Why, at QUARTERBACK, of course, because that is still be biggest plum on the tree. It should come as no surprise that senior Josh Davis is listed at No. 1 because he had the best spring of the four guys in the running at the time. Sophomore Austin McCrum, who has had some individual training with Tony Racioppi last month, and who was probably the heir apparent to the job before Frank Tavani and his staff departed early in the year, is listed at No. 2. Seven QBs were throwing on Thursday, with Mike Lewis standing around with his arm in a sling.  Davis may be hard-pressed to hang on to that job, but watching things develop will be intriguing. We still don’t have a complete picture of what the John Garrett offense is going to look like.

But I can give you a hint. I looked at the 2016 statistics for the Richmond Spyders, who had Garrett as their OC. I put them up against the same numbers for the anemic Lafayette offense of last season.
                                                RU                  LC
Rushing attempts                502                 334
Yards per rush                      3.9                   2.3
TDs rushing                          18                    9
First downs rushing            95                    44
Passing attempts                  436                 430
TDs passing                           27                    17
Yards per pass                       8.7                   6.8
3rd-down conversions         83/197           53/160
Sacks allowed                       31                    33
TDs scored                            47                    27
Red-zone TDs                       31-58              20-36
Points scored                        401                  216
% running plays                   53.6                 43.7   

RUNNING BACK – Easily the most experienced of the lot is DeSean Brown, and he is listed on the first team. But past experience – unless it’s off the charts – probably doesn’t count a lot with Garrett and his staff, who have this open-door policy all along the line. Sophomore Mike Dunn showed good drive in the spring, and oft-injured senior Rajhan Meriwether looked the fastest of the crop and his due for a full year. They are the No. 2 spot at the position. Tyler West transferred out and took himself out of the mix. C.J. Amill is somewhere out there, and the Leopards have depth at the position. It’s a matter of who fits into the Garrett scheme. Get to the hole quickly and with authority. Meriwether is wearing Ross Scheuerman’s old number. If only …

FULLBACK – This is really a hybrid spot held by a guy who can double as a fullback or, in the right formation, a second – or even third – tight end. Junior Will Eisler has played in only one game in his first two years but must ha e made a good impression in the spring because he’s at No. l, with sophomore Ryan Monteyne behind him. Monteyne also saw no game action as a freshman.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Patriot FB coaches talk numbers, etc.

Colgate opened the 2015 football season at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, and Raiders coach Dan Hunt, answering a question about roster sizes during the Patriot League’s football teleconference on Thursday, quipped, “(The Midshipmen are) still coming out of the tunnel, they had so many guys.”

I thought pretty much the same thing last season when Lafayette played at Army West Point. The Cadets have 92 players listed on a 2017 roster I examined – and that doesn’t include freshmen. The academies bring in 80-90 freshmen a year. It’s brutal!

The Patriot League has a 90-player cap on roster size and considerably smaller number on travel-team size.

Bucknell has the earliest opening date for preseason camp – the Bison reported today (Sunday). Coach Joe Susan said, “We’re bringing in 85 and I know that some of the Ivy League teams we’re playing against are bringing in as many as 120. You’ve really got to be disciplined about how you handle yourself on field, in terms of contact. Because we’re bringing them in early, they’ll actually have a couple of days off. I think that’s intelligent on our part. That gives them a chance to regroup mentally and physically.” The Bison had a freshman class of 19 players, including four each at OL and DL and safety.

I decided to pursue the roster size with the coaches on the conference call. As it turns out, only Georgetown’s Rob Sgarlata reported that he is at the limit, and his 90 includes 27 freshmen and a transfer. Because he has so many new players, he said he said he doesn’t mind having an extra week of practice before opening Sept. 9.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lafayette's Garrett: Staff 'may be even stronger'

So, you thought new Lafayette football head coach John Garrett had done a pretty good job of putting together a staff that would change the direction of the program.

Well, consider this. I talked with Coach G last week, and during our discussion of the staff, he said, “I really feel good about the staff – the makeup and the structure of it. It may be even stronger than [what] we originally had.”

Having to research two vital components of a Division I staff at a time when the most obviously qualified candidates have already been picked doesn’t sound like fun.

Unless you’re Garrett.

When offensive coordinator Rich Bartel and tight ends coach Luke Chiarolanzio surprisingly left first-year coach Garrett’s staff during the first week of June, it left him with deep holes to fill, little time to do it and a smaller pool that he might have had to work from five months earlier.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lafayette football players are not the only ones needing to adjust

Far be it from me to “let down” the guys (and maybe women who don’t want to be officially recognized) who frequent the Lafayette Sports Fan Forum. So, to “Yankeefan1922” and the rest, here I am.

I’m familiar with the word “shill,” but until YF1922 used it the other day, I don’t think I had ever been referred to with that word. The English language allows some words to mean any number of things. So, I went to www.thesaurus.com and researched the word “shill.”

Above the initial set of synonyms is a definition: It says a shill is a “person peripherally involved in illegal activity.” I can only hope YF1922 didn’t have that in mind when he posted his response on LSFF. I’ve never thought of anything Coach T or I were involved in to be illegal.

Over the course of nine years covering the Leopards in my second time around – the first was during the reigns of Harry Gamble and Neil Putnam, both of whom I also considered friends – I got to know a good bit about Coach T, personally and professionally. I make no apology for that. He bled maroon and there were not enough hours in the day for him to work at trying to produce more victories. I wanted him to win – I wanted the kids to win, and it was because of Brandon Bryant, Matt Mrazek, Kaizer Butler et al that I’m considering continuing on the beat this season with Coach Garrett.

YF1922 is correct when he states my position. I’m a freelance guy, not a staffer. When The Morning Call downsized its staff in 2008 and then Lafayette beat writer Don Bostrom left, the paper was without a Lafayette writer. Even though retired, I, as an old sports editor, columnist and reporter, was concerned that the Call would drop coverage of the Leopards. I said so, and the guys at the paper said, “Do you want to do it?” So, I put my fingers where my mouth was and have been at it ever since.

I really enjoy covering the Patriot League. I’ve gotten to know a bunch of hard-working coaches, guys like Dan Hunt and Andy Coen and Tom Gilmore and Joe Susan. I know all of them better than I know Coach Garrett because knowing takes time – both ways. Rapport is not instantaneous. I don’t intentionally “slant toward the former regime;” And if I don’t “seem to be cutting Coach G nearly the slack (I) gave Coach T”, as “The Maroon” alleges, maybe it’s due in part to the fact that the modus operandi is so different.

Am I spoiled? Perhaps. Is Coach G trying to break me of that? Perhaps. Can I adapt to change? Perhaps. But the reporter in me continues to seek answers to questions only Coach G can answer. It’s not that I feel entitled; it’s just different. I’ve been at this for more than 50 years. Coach G is in his FIRST year as a head coach.

I don’t know if he’d admit it, but I’ll bet it’s different for him, too. But it’s his show. I’m along for the ride right now, and my seat isn’t in first class.  But I’m not looking out the rear window, either. I learned long ago that yesterday cannot be changed and there are no guarantees about tomorrow – at my age, I’m sometimes amazed how many tomorrows I’ve been given. (Pardon the commercial, but I can only thank God for that).

Only today matters.

Lafayette football is at an interesting intersection. While the 3-19 of the last two years might suggest otherwise, the cupboard was not left bare for Coach Garrett. The challenges are great, for sure, but not impossible to overcome. I happen to think this might be a great year to be a Leopard – on the field and in the stands. It’s time and lots of good old-fashioned work.

There are a lot of really good stories to be told. Am I up for it? Perhaps.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer is busy time for Leopards and Coach Garrett

Lafayette players and coaches joined Chicago Cubs manager and former Leopard athlete Joe Maddon and his wife for a team-building work project on a playground in  Hazleton. Photo courtesy of Lafayette.
Forty days until the Leopards report for preseason camp. And, frankly, a lot of loose ends still need to be tied together.

So, here’s a look at some of issues facing the football team and the college athletic program in general.

Tony Russo was a behind-the-scenes guy with the Lafayette football program, but his contribution should not be trivialized.

Tony was the Leopards’ Equipment Services Director, and according to a bio of a former ESD director that appeared on the Lafayette website, the job description says the ESD is “responsible for purchasing equipment, overseeing game and practice uniforms and overall equipment maintenance … negotiates and facilitates all apparel/equipment contracts …”

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Leopards sacked by Bartel's surprise decision

Lafayette freshman quarterback Reed Aichholz arrived in the Lehigh Valley from his Cincinnati, Ohio, home last Saturday.

Lafayette freshman quarterback recruit Sean O’Malley arrived in the Lehigh Valley from his Beverly Hills, Calif., home Wednesday.

Lafayette freshman quarterback recruit Cole Northrup will be arriving in the Lehigh Valley from his St. Augustine, Fla., home on Sunday.

All three players will become intimately acquainted with Leopard strength and conditioning guru Brad Potts and most of their future teammates during two condition-and-lift periods over the next couple of months as they take part in volunteer workouts in preparation for the start of preseason camp on Aug. 3.

The Lafayette coaches are not permitted to have a role in the workouts, but it’s a pretty good bet that Aichholz, O’Malley and Northrup, along with fourth QB recruit Brycen Mussina, were undoubtedly hoping to at least be able to talk with offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach Rich Bartel, who has an impressive reputation as a molder of top-notch quarterbacks.

That is not going to happen.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Maroon-White Game: The rest of the story

Coach Garrett talks with his quarterbacks. Photo by Rick Smith, Lafayette website.
If John Garrett wants someone to explain his football philosophy in the simplest terms, he should call on Jerry Powe.

“Everyone who’s playing … everyone in the room knows why they’re playing and who should be playing, so it’s not a surprise to anyone,” the rising junior defensive back said Saturday afternoon after turning in a strong performance in Lafayette’s Maroon-White Football Game.

That’s exactly the result the Leopards’ first-year head coach was out to achieve with his “no incumbents”, compete every day, get noticed, win the job decrees.

Powe had good reason for expecting to be cut a little slack. He was among the team leaders in tackles with 78 last year and he was second in tackles for loss with 9.5.  The STRIKE position on Art Link’s 4-2-5 defense was custom made for him.

He had a pick-six interception to open the scoring in Saturday’s game, had his hands on a second interception but couldn’t hold on and also had a couple of hard hits. When I suggested after the game that he’d now have to do it all over again in summer camp, he smiled.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Spring report: Add Meriwether to Lafayette's running-back picture

Warming up for Monday Night Football -- Leopards style.
Rajhan Meriwether came to Lafayette from Arizona with a high school highlight reel that had lots of peopleready to have him take over the running game that would soon be left all but vacant by the graduation of Ross Scheuerman.

But before he ever had a chance to really show anyone his potential, the Chandler, AZ, resident suffered a preseason camp injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014 season.

He is now a rising senior who, if he chooses to do so, could probably apply for a medical redshirt season that would allow him to play again in 2018.

If anyone fits the profile of the player first-year Lafayette Coach John Garrett is looking for, it might be Meriwether. His career undoubtedly has fallen short of whatever expectations he may have had when he accepted the scholarship in 2014. He has been slowed by injuries and has played in only 14 games and has carried the ball just 20 times for 59 yards and no touchdowns.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Non-stop action is the opening-day highlight for 'Pards

Lafayette offensive coordinator Rich Bartel talks with his quarterbacks on opening day of spring practice.

Well, we found out on Tuesday the John Garrett answer to how you go about giving four quarterbacks enough of a chance to make an impression on the coaches who will ultimately decide their fate.

You run concurrent passing drills on both sides of the 50-yard line, allowing the coaches to stand in the middle and look in both directions.

Austin McCrum, Josh Davis, Mike Lewis and Blake Meyer threw lots of passes in the brisk two-hour session in Fisher Stadium, and while it was impossible to keep an accurate count, I’m guessing there was not a big difference between first and fourth.

Davis is the only one of the four to have ever thrown a pass in his collegiate career – he completed his only pass in Lafayette’s Yankee Stadium win over Lehigh to end the 2014 season. It was the final play of the first half and was a 20-yard completion to Ross Scheuerman.

QB O'Malley, punter Turk are the newest Leopards

The quarterback competition at Lafayette got its eighth official candidate when Sean O'Malley of Beverly Hills, Calif., was added to the roster on the eve of the start of spring practice.

At the same time, Michael Turk, a punter who has a good pedigree, also was officially added to new coach John Garrett's class of incoming players, bringing the number to 21 for the year.

O'Malley and Turk won't take part of the spring camp that begins today, but both could make some waves in summer camp.

O'Malley is listed as a three-star recruit by 247sports.com. He's 6-2, 200 pounds and is his high school's all-time career leader in passing yards and touchdowns. Check out his video; impressive stuff.

His addition means that two of the eight players vying to succeed Drew Reed as the Lafayette QB have California roots. Josh Davis came to Easton from San Juan Capistrano as a QB, was moved to wide receiver last year and has switched back to QB to take part in the battle this spring. He will be a senior in the fall.

O'Malley joins Reed Aichholz of Cincinnati, Ohio, Cole Northrup of St. Augustine, Fla., and Brycen Mussina of Montoursville, PA, as incoming freshman quarterbacks. Davis, Austin McCrum, Mike Lerwis and Blake Meyer are in spring camp.

Punter Turk is from Dallas, Tex., and his uncle Matt punted in trhe NFL for 19 years and his uncle Dan was an NFL center for 15 years. His brother Ben was a punter at Notre Dame. Michael spent an entire year training with his uncle Matt in preparation for college. And with four-year Lafayette punter  Ryan Forrester graduating, Turk's arrival is perfect.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Zooming in on the Leopards' spring-camp roster and plans

OK, so John Garrett isn’t ready to talk about personnel on his Lafayette College football team.

But coming fast to the start of the spring-practice period, we need something to work with, don’t we? I doubt that I’m very good at this, but I’m going to take a shot at a camp starting lineup based on players who should be in uniform when things get under way on Tuesday (4:30 p.m.) in Fisher Stadium.

First, a bit of factual stuff. A look at the roster on the Lafayette website tells us that 11 Leopards will have different numbers than they wore last year. They area

PLAYER                     OLD #            NEW #
C.J. Amill                  26                    2
Rajhan Meriwether  5                     29       
Tre Jordan                27                    7
Kaizer Butler            29                    8
Mike Lewis                8                      15
Phil Parham             16                    22
Clay Rush                  15                    23
Chris Granjean         83                   25
Mike Dunn                42                    27
Nick Pearson            37                    84
Dmitry Smith           38                   26

And now, for a first unit. For entertainment purposes only.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ready for "new era" of Leopards football on March 21?

Are you ready for some football?

With snow on the way tonight, I thought I’d tease you with a little spring football notice.

Coach Garrett with 2017 recruit J.J. Younger
I sat down with Lafayette’s new head coach, John Garrett, earlier in the week. He was happy to talk about the official start of the football phase of his new job, but by the end of our 45-minute chat, I hadn’t gotten a lot of specifics out of him.

Why? Well, as of now, all he really knows about his Leopards is what he sees in the weight room or during conditioning workouts or on film of last year’s games. So, while we went round and round about some things, we barely touched personnel.

In fact, I did come away with the fact that there will be no two-deep chart at the start of the 15-practice spring camp, which begins at 4:30 p.m. March 21 – just 12 days from now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lafayette Signing Day: Can you believe 7 QBs?

As I was leaving the Bourger Varsity Football House today, I glanced into the weight room and spotted Josh Davis. Josh saw me and I motioned to him.

When he opened the door, I asked, ‘So, are you going to play quarterback this spring?”

I was half kidding, but with the quarterback situation that faces the Leopards’ football team at this time, I thought I’d ask the rising senior, who came to Lafayette from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and sat behind Drew Reed and Blake Searfoss for a couple of years before switching over to wide receiver.

Leopards coach Frank Tavani had always said what a good athlete Davis was, but for whatever reason, that athleticism never translated into playing time for the 6-2, 200-pound economics  major.

Josh smiled on Wednesday and said, “I am; I threw for the first time on Monday. It felt good. I’m going to give it a shot.”

Austin McCrum’s spring-practice competition is getting more intense. Neither rising junior Mike Lewis nor rising sophomore Blake Meyer, the other two quarterbacks on the Lafayette roster, figures to be a serious threat to Austin McCrum, the 6-4, 220-pound rising sophomore from Maine who most people think will be the Lafayette QB when the 2016 season opens at Monmouth in September.