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Tavani is defending Lafayette's young O-line
Five players on the Lafayette football team have been maligned at times this season — not necessarily individually, but collectively— for the ineffectiveness of the Lafayette offense. But head coach Frank Tavani said Thursday, “I wouldn’t want to be facing them a year or two years from now, because they have memories and that’ll be their time and turn.”
That group in question is the offensive line — the biggest guys on the team and the group that is invariably noticed only when something bad happens. A false start. A holding penalty. A quarterback sack. A blocked kick. You get the idea.
The O-line has frustrated Tavani and offensive line coach Stan Clayton over and over again during Lafayette’s 5-3 season to date, but when an advocate is needed, Tavani is the first to step forward.
“We are not making excuses,” he has said more than once, and then he reminds anyone who will listen that the starters on the interior offensive line consist of three sophomores and two juniors.
Tavani’s defense comes into clear focus when you consider that Lafayette is the only team in the Patriot League without a senior starter on the O-line.
The Leopards now have their backs against the wall in the league race, and on Saturday they face the team that is playing arguably the best football — at least offensively — in the league.
Colgate (5-3, 3-0 league) has a four-game winning streak in which it has averaged 50.5 points per game, and in its three league victories to date, it has gained 1,758 yards of total offense. That’s 586 yards per game.
The Raiders graduated two first-team all-Patriot League offensive linemen in 2012, but a major factor in their being able to pile up such large numbers is the fact that four seniors are among the interior five, and they’re not first-year players.
For example, coming into this week’s game, tackle Ryan Risch (6-5, 305) has started 28 consecutive games and already has earned three letters; guard Brian Crockett (6-2, 339) is a two-letter winner who has played in 27 games, and Craig Capodiferro (6-5, 292) has earned two letters and started in 28 of the last 30 games.
Quarterback Gavin McCarney, who has passed for 1,637 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for another 722 yards and 15 touchdowns, and Jordan McCord, who has rushed for 1,165 yards and 13 touchdowns, get a lot of the glory for Coach Dick Biddle’s Raiders, but their success would be impossible without the efforts of the guys up front.
“Minimally two years,” Tavani said Thursday when asked how long it takes to make a high school lineman into a better-than-average Division I player. “People call the o-line the elephant graveyard; if you can’t play anywhere else, go in the offensive line. That’s crazy. You have to be smart, strong, big and be able to do things in a split second.”
The starting line for Saturday will consist of sophomore tackles Luke Chiarolanzio and Zack Mazur, sophomore guard Maxim Ngolla, junior guard Brad Bormann and junior center Pat Crosby. Chiarolanzio broke into the starting lineup the second game of 2011. Bormann started six games last year, Crosby two. Mazur played in only one game, Ngolla none.
Tavani said that while learning about all the choice calls made at the line and adjusting to the speed of the game are difficult for an incoming linemen, strength, or the lack thereof, is the biggest factor in the maturation process – even if they came to college for what might be considered a solid high school weight-training program.
“You can’t come off the ball and feel comfortable when you’re still figuring things out,” Tavani said. He added that this year’s group of o-linemen has already made a commitment to work harder than ever in the off-season to increase their strength.
“Last week, on our pass protection, we picked up everything,” Tavani said. “On the run, we’re on the right people, then we just fall off or we flat out are just not strong enough to maintain the blocks. The offensive line is the hardest position to coach. Actually, including the tight end, you have six positions. They take the longest to develop.”
Lafayette o-line took a hit last spring when 6-6, 320-pound Andrew Anastor tore an ACL, forcing him to miss the entire 2012 season. Then his expected backup, 6-6, 315-pound Garrett McNally, broke an arm. He’s also sitting out this year. And, a small senior class includes just one o-lineman.
The Patriot League is offering merit-based scholarships for the first time, and Tavani said he hopes to attract bigger, faster, stronger linemen, but, he said, “we might get a better athlete, more polished, but the strength level coming in the door isn’t anywhere near where it needs to be.”
As for the present group, “We are who we are and what we are,” Tavani said. “We love these kids. They will fight to the end.”
Retired sports columnist Paul Reinhard is a freelance writer.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE MAKEUP[
Class breakdown Sr. Jr. So. Fr.
Lafayette –2 3 –
Willliam and Mary 2 3 – –
Penn 2 3 – –
Robert Morris 131–
Holy Cross 41—-
By Paul Reinhard, Special to The Morning Call