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Orlando excited to return to Bethlehem to play against Lehigh
Increased pressure fell on Joey Orlando coming into the 2011 football season.
The University of New Hampshire redshirt junior was the top returning wide receiver from last year’s 8-5 team that advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals before losing to runner-up Delaware.
Orlando, a 2008 Liberty High School graduate, was one of five returning offensive starters for the Wildcats this fall.
“Each year my role has gotten more and more important, especially this season,” Orlando said. “We lost Terrance Fox who led the team with 80 receptions (821 yards and seven touchdowns). Coaches said I really needed to step up and lead the other young receivers. I’d prefer to be the leader. From when I started playing football, I’ve been a leader and that’s how my dad taught me.”
Orlando has a pretty good instructor. His father, Bo, starred collegiately at West Virginia before playing professionally for the Houston Oilers from 1989-98.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Joey Orlando caught 50 passes for 585 yards and six touchdowns, which ranked second on the team to Fox last fall. His biggest game was against his hometown team, Lehigh University, on Sept. 25 in Durham, N.H.
Orlando snagged a career-high 10 passes for 81 yards with a pair of scores as UNH had little trouble beating the Mountain Hawks 31-10. On Saturday, the two nationally ranked teams meet again. Kickoff between the No. 13 Wildcats and No. 14 Mountain Hawks is set for 12:30 p.m. at Goodman Stadium.
“I’m excited. It will be nice to play in front of my friends and my immediate family who can’t make it to every game or watch them on TV,” Orlando said. “I haven’t played here since 2008, my senior year at Liberty. I have no clue how many people will be at the game – I have people hitting me up every night saying they’re swinging by on Saturday.”
Orlando, who talks to his father each week about his previous game and his upcoming one, will get a chance to see his family this weekend. Unfortunately, due to team meetings tonight, he won’t be able to watch his younger brother, Anthony, a senior at Liberty, play against Northampton.
“I told my brother and dad to come to the hotel after the game,” Joey said. “It’s cool watching him (Anthony) growing up and maturing as a football player and young man, yet still trying to give his older brother advice on how to play football. He’ll text me after my games. He texted me after the Toledo game with some inspiring words.”
The season didn’t get off on the way Orlando, head coach Sean McDonnell and the rest of the UNH program would have preferred. Orlando had six catches for 49 yards in a 58-22 loss to Toledo last Thursday.
After Saturday’s game in Bethlehem, New Hampshire has a bye, but stays on the road in Week 4 with a trip to Richmond. The Wildcats finally return home Oct. 1 when they host Holy Cross.
“The big thing for all of us is that’s done,” McDonnell said of the Week 1 loss. “We talked about it bright and early on Friday; win or lose we have 24 hours to figure out what happened. Let’s get the next one. This one is important. We’ve got to improve drastically over our first game. It’s an important step in our season to get our first win.”
Not only has Orlando been a leader on the field by vacuuming in practically anything thrown his way by quarterback Kevin Decker, but his off-field work has drastically increased. Orlando stressed the weight room and watching film as a way to advance his game. McDonnell has noticed.
“He took everything to task over the summer,” he said. “He did a great job in the weight room, getting stronger and more physical. Joey’s always been a student of the game, who always understands what he has to do. Now he understands what people are trying to do to him. He understands how to run on leverage or find open spaces.”
Understanding Decker hasn’t been a problem for Orlando. The receiver and quarterback used to be roommates so their relationship didn’t start from square one in the offseason.
“We have a really good relationship that’s grown over the years,” Orlando said. “He ran the scout team when I was younger. He’s a heck of a quarterback. He knows where I’ll be and the tendencies I like to do. We’re always on the same page.”
Orlando and the Wildcats receivers are a concern for Lehigh coach Andy Coen.
“Joey’s going to get his catches. He’s one of those types of kids if the ball is up in the air he has a good chance to come down with it,” Coen said. “We’re going to need to chase the quarterback around so he doesn’t have a lot of time to sit back there and throw the ball.”
Orlando and McDonnell know last year’s meeting with Lehigh wasn’t a true gauge of how the Patriot League champions can perform. Orlando expects a different kind of game Saturday.
“It’s going to be closer. They’re going to come out high especially after last year,” he said. “They were a lot better team last year than what we played. It wasn’t the real Lehigh team we played; they’re going to come out and want revenge. It’s going to be a real tough one. It will be a tough challenge for us this year.”
Not only does Orlando make a return to the Lehigh Valley this weekend, so does teammate Mike Coccia. Coccia, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman, is a Freedom High School graduate. The 6-3, 282-pounder started at center against Toledo in Week 1.
McDonnell said he plans to rotate four players between center and the two guard spots.
“He’ll have his opportunities,” McDonnell said. “He’s got a great grasp of the offense and of what we’re doing.”
By Michael LoRe, The Express-Times