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Lafayette springs forward
When you watch Lafayette College’s 2012 football highlight film, you come away with one puzzling question: How did this team lose six games?
The Leopards had four rushing plays of more than 50 yards, five pass plays of 40 yards or better, pass interception returns of 59, 42 and 37 yards. They picked off a single-season-record 22 passes — by 11 different players.
“That’s an 8-3 football team that we let get away,” Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said recently of the 2012 Leopards, who moved a step closer to that fine line between winning and losing seasons, but left Fisher Field last Nov. 17 with their fifth straight loss to their archrival, Lehigh, and a third straight sub-.500 season.
That means that, for the first time since 2001, Tavani’s second as the head coach, a Lafayette senior class is faced with the prospect of going through a four-year career without a winning season.
“We had three bad halves last year [against Robert Morris, Princeton and Georgetown], and a couple of teams were just better than us,” Tavani said. “And in the end, it was 5-6.”
A lot of the pieces are in place for what could easily be a run at a Patriot League title in 2013, and that road to redemption for the Leopards begins Thursday when a 15-session spring football “camp” opens in Fisher Stadium. The annual Maroon and White game is on April 20.
Here are some questions that will be addressed in the spring, prior to the addition of the first class of merit-based scholarship recruits for summer camp.
•What has been the main offseason focus?
“Our whole thing in the offseason was strength,” Tavani said. “That was our biggest weakness last year. We didn’t have as many mental mistakes as you think. We were on the right people, but we need to be stronger to stay on them.” Strength and conditioning coach Brad Potts ramped up the weightlifting program for the offensive and defensive linemen — four lifting days a week while other players had three. All five interior starters on offense last year return, and Tavani expects that the added lifting, along with an important year of maturity, will produce positive results.
•You need to replace three of four starters on the D-line; how is that going?
“Unfortunately, that group underachieved from my expectations,” Tavani said. “Ricky Lyster played well, but injuries slowed [Tahir] Basil and [Jason] Marshalek stayed the same and didn’t make gains.” Starter James Coscia and leading sacker Shane Dorner lead the returnees, with Darius Glover and 280-pound sophomore Ben Mercado, who was the defensive scout team MVP for 2012. Skyler Lash has been moved back over from offense.
•With only two quarterbacks in camp this spring, do you plan to get a third guy ready, just in case?
No plans for that, Tavani said. Instead, it’ll be basically a hands-off policy on starter Zach Zweizig, a rising junior, and backup Andrew Dzurik. Dzurik, a rising sophomore, “is going to take the majority of the reps, especially in the scrimmages,” Tavani said. Zweizig, who started five games last season, “is going to take a lot of reps, but we won’t get near him,” Tavani said. “He earned that. He’s a special kid. I feel good with kid I can depend on, both on and off the field. For everything. I totally trust him. And, he’s as tough as anybody you’re going to get.”
•What pleases you most about your situation right now?
“I feel good about where we are because of the depth we’ve placed back into the program,” Tavani said as he looked at a personnel board in the “war room” that indicated four-deep at almost all offensive line positions, five deep at both wide receiver spots, seven deep at tailback and at least three deep at linebacker. “Even though we have a class of scholarship kids, I don’t have to depend on many — there will be some who will fill immediate backup roles, but will somebody become a starter? We’ll see.”
•How about some players to watch whose names are not Ross Scheuerman, Mark Ross or Jared Roberts?
Greg Kessel, a fullback the last three years, will get work this spring as a tailback, where Tavani thinks Kessel’s 240-pound frame and overall toughness could make things interesting. Another tailback to watch is Army transfer Greg Rabb, who never got into playing shape last year but who has promise. Tavani also spoke glowingly about Dan Dellovade, a 240-pound rising sophomore fullback. Check out young defensive lineman Steve Mercado, too. And linebacker Kasheem Hill, who was suspended after the fourth game last season, will be back — but he can’t play until the fifth game of this year.
•What does the spring schedule look like?
Helmets only for the first two days, and on the fifth day (March 21), an 80-90-play scrimmage that will feature a lot of the guys who were not starters in 2012. The college’s spring break follows, with players returning on April 2, and a second scrimmage is expected April 9. “It’ll be pretty basic,” Tavani said. “I’m going to get three good scrimmages. The only way you’re going to find out things and kids are going to get a chance to be better players is to play football, and that involves scrimmage work. My goal is that no one is confused, that everyone knows what they’re doing and they can line up and play 100 miles an hour. There’s plenty of time later for complexities.”
By Paul Reinhard, The Morning Call