On a cool Tuesday morning, the Lehigh defense was having a lot of fun at football practice.
For Lehigh fans, 2017 was a year to forget on the defensive end, a year replete with a multitude of big play touchdowns, big gashes of rushing yardage and some agonizing losses.
But attending Lehigh’s practice today it was easy to pick up on an energy and intensity that shows that, in every way, the defense is ready to go toe-to-toe with the potent Lehigh offense, or any offense on their schedule.
There senior DT Julian Lynn was, jawing with his teammates, keeping everyone loose.
“Camp is kind of long, so anything to keep it more fun, to keep the energy going, staying into it and keeping us locked in,” he said afterwards.
Lynn and the defense on this day was being tested, as senior QB Brad Mayes was changing some things up a bit, challenging the defense with some deep, accurate passes that were giving the defensive backs a workout.
But slowly and surely, as the practice proceeded, you could see the defense quietly getting the upper hand, knocking balls away and putting more pressure on the QBs in the red shirts.
Lynn, a senior, was a key member on the defensive line rotation last year. The Ijamsville, Maryland native notched 25 tackles, 16 of them solo including 2 sacks. One came against Stony Brook in Lehigh’s final game of last season, a 59-29 loss in the FCS Playoffs to the Seawolves.
“We’ve gone full pads a lot, which gives you a mentality of being in a game,” Lynn said. “All through camp we feel like we’ve competed with the offense evenly. They’ve and their days and we’ve had our days, but we have some days where we go back and forth all day long.”
Certainly going against RB Dominick Bragalone, even with limited reps in this preseason frame, should make the Lehigh defense better. He’s a contender for the Walter Payton Award, essentially the FCS version of the Heisman.
“He gives us one of the best looks we can get in the country,” he said. “Everyone’s been really grinding and really going at it this summer, trying to leave their mark on this season and be the best.”
Head coach Andy Coen liked the competition that’s been shaping up over preseason camp, and the focus he’s seen from everyone.
“I look for the give-and-take from every practice, and for the most part it was very even,” he said afterwards. “What I like about this team right now is that they are playing very physical, and they’re doing the right things right now, the little things. Yesterday they didn’t do a great job with that, but coming right back here today they did a great job on the little things.”
Though DB Tre Neal has been out, affecting the depth in the secondary, DB Kareem Montgomery has had a great preseason so far, as has the secondary in general. On the defensive front, Lynn, DE Harrison Kauffman, DB Keith Woetzel and LB Mark Walker have stood out, all starters from last year but clearly eager to make their mark on the 2018 season.
Lynn credits some of that to the fact that most of the defense spent a lot of time in Bethlehem over the summer, doing drills with defensive line coach Donnie Roberts and drills from his mentor as well.
“It helps keep us more consistent, keeping the competition on each other,” he said. “We can push each other in the weight room, push each other when we’re out here doing drills. That team camaraderie gave us an early jump at being together as a team. That really helps.”
Though the season opener September 1st against St. Francis (PA) is never far from anyone’s mind, Lynn still was focused on the importance of getting through the rest of camp.
“We can’t wish away camp,” he said. “You can’t wish away practices, you can’t wish away a rep. You have to get better each and every day.”
You can, however, work hard to set the course of your season, something that Lynn and the defense are currently doing, one practice at a time.