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Lafayette Opens Spring Practice
Parkland High School graduate Mark Quilling is a candidate to start at quarterback for Lafayette. Ryan O’Neil and Andrew Shoop are also competing for the job.
A quick glance at the Lafayette football team’s two-deep chart reveals a good news, bad news situation.
The good news: an abundance of opportunity.
The bad news: a need for leadership.
That’s bound to happen when a team graduates 27 seniors.
When a sideline observer mentioned that to coach Frank Tavani on the day before the start of spring football drills, Tavani was looking at the glass as half full, not half empty.
“This [senior] class is small, and this will be a young team compared to last year,” Tavani said. “But they’ve already worked hard in the offseason, and 50 kids will be staying around for the summer. Last year’s seniors set a tone, and these kids will have to make a mark of their own.”
Lafayette spring drills will begin at 4:30 p.m. today on Fisher Field. The spring will consist of 15 practices between today and the annual Maroon and White game April 16 at 7 p.m.
“There are no scout teams in spring ball. Every player will be coached every day at his position, and there will be plenty of reps for everyone,” Tavani said.
“We lost a lot of people, but that’s the beauty of spring,” said Mitchell Bennett, a wide receiver who will be a major contributor again in the fall. “You can come out and compete, no matter what you’ve done so far in your career. I’m looking forward to seeing who’s going to step up.”
“I don’t think you can ask for a better situation if you’re an underclassman,” said Mike Phillips, a defensive tackle who could become one of those senior leaders for the Leopards. “There are opportunities across the board, and anybody can come in and show what they can do. The offseason has gone real well. We’ve had positive gains and I’ve seen a lot of maturity from the younger guys and from the older guys who haven’t played a lot.”
Wide receiver is the only phase of the Lafayette game that was not riddled by graduation. Mark Layton (65 catches, 838 yards, 11 TDs) and Bennett (40 catches, 596 yards, 4 TDs) lead the way.
Who will get the ball to them? Good question.
Rob Curley, who set numerous records during his senior season, is now the quarterback for the Carlsdad Crusaders in Sweden.
Parkland grad Marc Quilling, a rising senior, has the most experience among the returnees. Ryan O’Neil, a rising junior, was No. 2 last season. However, that was mainly because Quilling was hurt most of the year. Andrew Shoop, a rising sophomore, has loads of talent, but has played more scout team QB than anything else and needs the work this spring to get the offense down pat.
“We’ll rotate those three every day in a different order, and we’re not looking to have anything resolved by end of spring,” Tavani said. “We don’t have enough live scrimmage situations. They’ll go into preseason camp, and it could go into a couple games before we know.”
Tavani said he would feel good about any one of the three as a starter, and Bennett said Quilling and O’Neil “are both really good guys and I would be comfortable with both of them. We never have any trouble. They help each other a lot, and they are bringing [Shoop] along, too.”
Lafayette was 8-3 last season – its sixth straight winning season and the sixth straight season in which it cracked the FCS Top 25 at some point. But for the second year in a row, the season ended with a loss to archrival Lehigh.
“An awful lot of people talk to me about [the Lehigh game],” Tavani said. “They place huge emphasis on that. It’s a great game. We’re proud to be a part of it. We’re not ashamed of our performance; we just came up short. I worry about that game only one week a year and that’s it. We celebrated our 8-3; we left disappointed, but we didn’t hang our heads. We had an awful lot to be proud of.”
Lafayette will open the season Sept. 4 at Marist. Its Patriot League opener will be against Georgetown at 6 p.m. Sept., 11 in Easton.
By Paul Reinhard, The Morning Call