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Mountain Hawks ready to take flight at Drake
Lehigh opens difficult schedule in Iowa.
Lehigh football coach Andy Coen said there was a point about 10 days to two weeks ago in preseason camp when it dawned on him that this season could be different.
“It was like bang, wow. … I looked around and really liked what I saw,” Coen said. “And it stayed really consistent for the next couple of days after that. A light came on and some guys who hadn’t proven themselves before really started to show what they can do.
“We had a good camp and I think we have a good football team. Now, I want to see them play.”
Coen and Lehigh fans will get that chance at 7 Saturday night (WFMZ-TV) when the Mountain Hawks begin the 2010 season at Drake in Des Moines, Iowa.
It is a season that begins with much promise considering 14 starters return from a team that finished 2009 with back-to-back wins.
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Lehigh is taking its first flight to a game since it traveled by chartered plane to Greenville, S.C., to meet Furman in the 2001 NCAA Division I-AA quarterfinals.
The Mountain Hawks hope another playoff opportunity looms this November, but first things first for a program that has had three consecutive losing seasons, and that first step is beating a quality opponent on the road.
Lehigh beat Drake 19-0 in the 2008 opener, but the Bulldogs have won 12 of their last 16 games and are coming off an 8-3 season.
“It’s a much better team,” Coen said. “They nearly won the Pioneer League title last year and that gets our kids’ attention. We’re not playing a bad football team. We’re playing a good one halfway across the country. Their strengths are the lines, particularly their front seven on defense.”
Drake senior defensive end Dain Taylor was named to four preseason All-America teams. Senior linebacker Ben Morrison was an all-Pioneer League selection and sophomore defensive back Tyler Moorehead was the league’s defensive rookie of the year in 2009.
They will all pose a challenge for an offense that just found out last week who would be its starting quarterback.
Junior Chris Lum is set to take the controls at quarterback after a heated competition throughout the spring and summer that resulted in J.B. Clark, the 2008 and ‘09 season-opening quarterback, leaving the team.
“When something like that happens you get worried about rumblings and grumblings in the locker room,” Coen said. “But I talked with the captains and some of the guys. They’re certainly going to miss J.B. as a person and teammate. However, everyone’s on board with the decision that was made. It was easy because Chris was the best performer. They all saw that.”
Junior wide receiver Jake Drwal is excited about Lum and the offense and he’s also excited about playing in front of a lot family and friends. He is from Omaha, Neb., about a two-hour drive from Des Moines.
“My family is chartering two buses, so I am going to have at least 60 or 70 people there,” Drwal said. “This is the closest game to home I’ve ever played, so it’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.”
Drwal said the offense is ready to put on a good show.
“It was a little hectic last week when the decision came down, but Chris won the job and has really come into his own,” Drwal said. “He has been putting the ball on the money and getting better at everything. He was pressing a little bit when he was competing for the job, but now that he has it he can kind of relax and just work on things. He’s definitely playing with more confidence.”
And besides the beginning of the Lum Era, Saturday’s game also marks the official return of former Lehigh All-American Dave Cecchini as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“Coach Cecchini really knows how to set up different plays, especially deep balls,” Drwal said. “Everything is coming together.”
For a team that was held to 21 points or less seven times last season, an offensive explosion on opening day would be a welcome sight.
With games against No. 1-ranked and defending national champ Villanova and No. 9 New Hampshire coming up later in September, a confidence-boosting win would make Saturday night’s red-eye back home a pleasant ride.
“We definitely know we need to get something going,” Drwal said. “We know we have the hardest schedule in FCS football to play. We know we have to get off to a good start.”
Lehigh lines: The Mountain Hawks are 8-4 in night games since 1999, but have lost its last two under the lights. … Lehigh is beginning a season on the road for the first time since winning at Buffalo to start the 2002 season, another night win. … Of the five other championship-eligible Patriot League members, only Lafayette is not in action on Saturday. Holy Cross welcomes Howard, Georgetown visits Davidson, Bucknell is at Duquesne and Colgate entertains Monmouth.
Mountain Hawks ready to take flight at Drake
By Keith Groller, OF THE MORNING CALL