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.
If McCrum has been paying attention, he knows, however, that new Coach John Garrett intends to turn not only his position, but every position on both sides of the ball, into a day-to-day competition from which a best-man-wins decision determines who gets the playing time.
In fact, Coach Garrett addressed that on Wednesday when I asked him if he had had a full team meeting yet. He said he had and I asked what was the gist of his talk.
“Whenever you start something, you lay out expectations and provide perspective and that’s what I tried to do,” he said. “We’ve also had individual meetings with the players to get to know them. The message is clear: we have big goals, to win Patriot League championship, but put that aside right now. It’s what you do today. It’s important to focus on what you do today, be the best player you can be, best student, best teammate you can be. That’s the message.
“Also, be competitive. There are no incumbents. This year is really important for everyone. There is no playing for the future. You have to put the team together every single year, and we’re going to put together a fantastic team that’s going to compete. I encouraged the guys that if it's important to you, go earn a job and be noticed and make it clear you want this position and you want to be a starter on the team. We (coaches) just go by what we see.”
So, I asked, "Does that mean the word rebuilding is not in your vocabulary?"
“The games are too important,” he said. “We want to win the next game. We’re going to put the best team on the field to do it. The players decide that by how they play, and we choose best.”
If McCrum wants to be the quarterback in September, he’ll have to prove it over and over again in both the spring and the ball. Because, while the competition in the spring may consist of players who don’t pose enough of a threat, the trio of QBs in the recruiting class of 2017 includes lots of talent.
“We feel really good about the guys we brought in,” Garrett told me. “Cole Northrup (6-0, 200, St. Augustine, Fla.) was part of the class (committed early to Frank Tavani’s staff). He really impressed with the way he carries himself; he has natural leadership skills, He’s talented, he’s versatile, he’s a good athlete. Reed Aichholz (6-5, 225, Cincinnati, Ohio) is big and strong, had a lot of production in high school, a lot of versatility. Not only can he throw from the pocket, but he also would be hard to deal with running the ball because of his size and strength. Brycen Mussina (6-4, 185, Montoursville, Pa., son of former baseball star Mike Mussina), we really liked the way he plays, was productive in high school, He has a natural stroke, a real good demeanor, very coachable. Those three, along with the current quarterbacks on the staff, will make for a very competitive situation come this fall.”
This is the first year since 2007 that Lafayette has brought in three players who were recruited as quarterbacks. Parkland High grad Marc Quilling is the only one of the three who ever played for the Leopards – seven games as a sophomore and five as a senior. Pat Carey transferred to Bloomsburg, where he had a couple of good years in the PSAC. I was told that Peter Raymond transferred to a Division III school, but whether he ever played football couldn’t be determined.
Can you image what it might be like come late July or early August when Lafayette opens preseason camp with SEVEN quarterbacks on the roster? I think that might be even a little more than Garrett is hoping for, but at this moment, that is a possibility.
DISSA AND DATA FROM COACH GARRETT
How many players did you have to get to fill out the class? – “There were eight players who were (verbally) committed when we got here.”
Was it a scramble to get good kids at the last minute? – “It wasn’t a scramble. It was well thought out with the remaining spots. The No. 1 thing was that we were bringing in the right kind of guy. We had two great recruiting weekends – actually, it was three, but the first one was mostly players who were already committed.”
How do you feel about a class of 17? – “That’s about right. And we have room to add some, so we feel good where we are.”
Did you find that kids who had already committed were being recruited by other schools after Frank’s retirement? – “We didn’t get much of that. We felt that when we spoke to them and they called us, they had a great commitment love and devotion to Lafayette and wanted to continue with their commitment. We got great positive feedback with our new staff regarding them, how staff embraced, communicated, answered questions, visited.”
This season is going to be a learning thing for all the returnees, isn’t it? – “It’s a new system, with new coaches and we’ll see how they respond. Everybody’s going to have to earn it on the field. We just go by what we see. I don’t care if they’re walk-ons or scholarship guys – seniors, juniors, sophomores, freshmen – we’re going to play the best guys. There are no red-shirts here, so everybody’s going to get a shot to play. I’m excited to see who steps up, is noticed and competes every day.”
You come from a place where red-shirting is the norm, where freshmen usually sit out. What about freshmen playing here? – “The greatest opportunity to do that is on special teams and we will make it clear how important that is for a young guy to see some action in the game. But also with position groups, it’s up to them. Players make the roster. We’ll play the best guys … no jobs are won. I encouraged all of them to compete like crazy, to go and be noticed and earn the positions.”
Do you think you’ll have a full roster (90 players) by summer camp and how important is that? – “I do … it’s always important to have a full roster and depth because you have to be prepared for injuries or for whatever reason a player isn’t there. For the classes that are here, the current guys, and guys we’ve added and continue to add, we’ll have a really good shot to have a full roster.”
You talked about having seen some of these recruits when you were at Richmond. Which ones? – Major Jordan came to visit Richmond when I was there, so I was familiar with him. I think a lot of him as a player. Brycen Mussina came to camp at Richmond and competed, so I was familiar with him. Also, Gavin Barclay, an offensive lineman, came to Richmond as well. I was pleased with (Jordan and Barclay) being part of class. Brycen was not, but we expressed interest in him and he fell in love with Lafayette – everything, the school, the facilities, our program all attracted him.”
You were kind of thrown a curve when (defensive line coach) Ian Dell decided to take a job outside of football. – “That always happens. We wish Coach Dell well. We feel god about the coach we’ve hired, but we’re not going to announce it until after today. He will be a great addition to the staff. I’m always ready for it. I reach into the desk, pull out the list and interview the next guy.” (Note: on his Twitter account, Nick Lezynski identifies himself as a Lafayette football coach and has photos of all these Leopard recruits; maybe 1 + 1 = 2.)
I understand (defensive back) Kaizer Butler is back in the hospital. Is he OK? – “He’s dealing with a serious health issue (granulomatosis with polyangiitis) and he just went through a battery of tests and got some good news, that his condition and progress are trending in a very positive way. We hope he can get back as soon as possible. He’s doing well.” (Note: Butler was out of school last semester while recovering from his disease and he had attended a week of classes before having to be admitted to the hospital for the tests. He may be out by now.).