On Patriot League Media Day, one theme kept recurring when head coach Tom Gilmore, QB Dante Perri, and DL Dean Colton were talking about the upcoming season: leadership.
Coming off a 3-8 season in 2021, which started with a lengthy 8 game losing streak but finished with three consecutive wins, including one against their bitter Rivals Lafayette in college football’s most-played rivalry, the trio continually talked about the leadership that was shown to end the season strong, and how it continued on and through the offseason.
“I’m really excited about the upcoming season,” Gilmore said. “We’ve had an excellent summer here. I’m really excited about the work that we’ve been able to accomplish as well as the leadership that our upperclassmen have shown throughout the process. We’re really looking forward to getting back on the field, working on at our craft and get going playing games again.”
Development on Defense
The public face of that leadership for Lehigh at the press conference was junior quarterback Dante Perri and defensive lineman/long snapper Dean Colton, who were just nominated by their peers as 2022 team captains.
“I’m extremely blessed to have that kind of recognition for my teammates,” Colton said. “That’s, you know, the main reason I want to be in this position to be able to help my teammates as possible. So that’s the best part about it, knowing that my peers think that highly of me to appoint me as one of their leaders. It’s a tremendous feeling.”
Colton, an Atlanta, GA, native, started in five games last year and was a key player in Lehigh’s defensive line rotation. He finished with 12 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, but got hurt late in the season and didn’t get a chance to play against Lafayette. He’s been healthy all summer, though, and promises to be a big part of Lehigh’s defense this fall.
“I’ve just been doing a lot of rehab and everything like that, but I’m really excited to have a whole full healthy summer been up here with all the guys,” he said. “It’s been a great time up here, just working hard, lift work, all that stuff. I’m really looking forward to full healthy season this year and hopefully really go after it.”
The Lehigh defense last year, which was third in the Patriot League in scoring defense and second in rushing defense, finished very strong and was a key part of their three-game winning streak to end last season. Dean said they are looking forward to improve even further on that this fall.
“I think obviously having [DL Mikhari Sibblis] and I as captains, both on the defensive side of the ball, I think that’s going help a lot, you know. I think we’re really gelling this summer. its a lot better since now we have a lot of older guys in the back end step up. We’ve had a lot guys here do that throughout the summer which has been, you know, very, very good moving in forward into the fall. I’m really looking forward to doing a lot of explosive things on defense, forcing a lot of turnovers and getting into the backfield a lot on the defensive line too.”
Offense: In A Better Place
With a young team in the fall of 2021, there were a lot of growing pains early for Lehigh, especially on offense. It didn’t help that the Mountain Hawks had two nationally-ranked CAA teams on the schedule (Villanova and Richmond), a perennial Ivy League title contender (Princeton), and the two-time defending Patriot League Champions (Holy Cross), but the end result was an 0-8 start and a rough stretch for the offense.
In the second half of the season, however, behind the play of QB Dante Perri, things really started to look up for the Mountain Hawk offense. Starting with a close game against Fordham, the Lehigh offense would average 20.2 points per game in Patriot League play, leading to that three game winning streak to end the year.
“It’s a building block for sure. I think it’s nothing to hang your hat on,” Dante said. “It was obviously good to get those wins, but we’re kind using to keep building from there. That’s how we want to use it.”
It was Perri’s leadership that got them into that position, and it wasn’t too surprising to see Dante, a Philadelphia, PA native, to get the nod as a team captain. After cementing the starting role last season, he’s unquestionably the leader going into the fall on offense.
“It’s a tremendous place to be, just because we have so many great leaders in our team and I feel like a lot of guys were able to take this captaincy and roll with it,” Perri said. “Four of us were selected, and I and think we’ve been doing a good job, but we have lot of guys on our team now who could, you know, step in and just go as we are.”
Perri’s passing efficiency in 2021 in league games was 127.4, second only to the player who was voted Patriot League Player of the Year, Fordham QB Tim Demorat. He provided the stability necessary to win football games, and will look to expand on this next season.
“I think the beautiful thing is we’re all getting a little older, you know, we lost some key playmakers, but I think we return a lot of the guys who are able to do some dangerous things for us,” Perri said. “We got a lot older at a lot the positions and with that comes experience this this summer. We were all up here and guys took major roles in terms of leadership and taking things upon themselves and, you know, putting it an active effort. I think last season we’re kind of waiting around for things to happen and waiting until things got bad to take action. And I think now we’re kind of being pre-emptive and really attacking the summer and realizing that this is a great opportunity.”
Promise For 2022
“We’re in a much better spot. It wasn’t really a tale of two seasons, it was really more like three seasons,” Gilmore said. “We had the early season where we kind lumbered along a lot of ways. We really had a lot of difficulty executing in all three phases. Then there was the middle three games of the season, where you could really see the confidence had grown, guys knew what they had to do. We played a lot better and could have won those three games, but did not and then we started learning how to win afterwards, which was the third part of the season. So we went to a really competitive situation midway through and then finished with three wins at the end. It really did feel a lot different and I think that’s injected some confidence into our team. It really set the table for the offseason.”
Gilmore couldn’t say enough about the upperclassmen this offseason.
“The players have really done a great job,” he said. “And some of the other upperclassmen have done an excellent job of of leading the way, setting the to tone, and establishing a great work ethic. I finally feel like we’re operating like a healthy program. We’re in a much better better and a much different spot than we were this time last year.
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
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