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Lafayette College's hopes for 2011 success rest largely with bunch of improved, hungry seniors
Lafayette College isn’t picked to win the Patriot League in football this fall.
And that’s fine with head coach Frank Tavani.
“I think there’s only been one time the league preseason pick has ended up winning the league,” said Tavani said at the Leopards’ annual Media Day Monday. “This league is much-improved and it’s getting tougher and tougher.”
That all means Lafayette will have to be much-improved for a 2-9 mark (1-4 league) in 2010 to have any chance of contending for its first Patriot championship since 2006.
With 17 starters back, Tavani’s crew looks much more like a veteran team than in 2010.
“We’ve got a lot more experience than a year ago,” Tavani said. “Knock on wood, we get some good fortune and we stay healthy.”
The Leopards, who open at nationally-ranked North Dakota State on Sept. 3, the first of four away games to start the season, are definitely a year older. Are they a year better?
Senior wide receiver Mitchell Bennett thinks so.
“You have the experience, you have the confidence, you know what you can do,” Bennett said. “You know the tendencies and you know situations and you don’t have to think as much. That allows you to play faster.”
Faster would be just what Tavani wants. The coach has made a point of wanting big plays and turnovers on defense and reacting more quickly to the ball would help.
“The coaches are putting us in position to make more athletic plays and we’re working on creating turnovers by trying to rip the ball away from ball carriers,” said senior strong safety Evan McGovern.
The senior class – which Tavani introduced one by one to the gathering at the Pfenning Alumni Center – carries much of the hope for a better 2011.
Tavani waxed enthusiastically about his incoming freshman group and in interviews with the Leopards’ website has especially praised frosh tackle Luke Chiarolanzio, kicker Austin O’Brien (who may handle the kickoff chores) and running back Ross Scheuerman. And the current Leopard underclassmen include such standouts as sophomore guard Brad Bormann of Hunterdon Central and defensive tackle Rick Lyster.
But Tavani knows the class of 2012 carries his team’s fate in its hands.
“Each year the team is led and shaped by the seniors,” said Tavani, heading into his 25th career coaching football on College Hill, his 12th as a head coach, before he addressed the seniors directly: “This is your football team. This is the year that you’re going to remember the most, win or lose or draw or whatever, all the hard work and all the pain.”
There has been plenty of the latter already.
“(Head strength and conditioning coach Brad) Potts has put us through hell already,” said McGovern with a laugh.
The emphasis on conditioning and strength covers every spot on the team, starting with the quarterback, senior Ryan O’Neil.
“He’s a lot bigger this season; I can’t tease him about being smaller than me any more,” said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Bennett of the 6-2, 210-pound O’Neil. “He really stressed being in the weight room.”
O’Neil, Bennett and the rest of the seniors will have to continue to be leaders on and off the field, even after captains are named this week. But no matter what occurs in the classroom or the conditioning room, success for the class of 2011 will only be measured in one way.
“We’re not a weight-lifting team or a running team or a practice team,” senior wide receiver Kyle Hayes said. “We have to get it done on the field.”
And Hayes knows this is his class’ last chance.
“You never think during freshman and sophomore years that senior year will come,” Hayes said. “And now we’re down to just 11 games; we have to make the most of them.”
LEOPARD LINES: Tavani announced that junior Andrew Shoop from Danville, Pa., has won the job of being O’Neil’s backup, and that junior Ethan Swerdlow will likely do the punting and kicking except for kickoffs … Tavani on the 2010 Leopard special teams: “Terrible.”
By Brad Wilson, The Express-Times