Lehigh Spring Game To Feature Team’s Growth After Working Hard Out of Spotlight

BETHLEHEM, PA – Ever since the hiring of head coach Kevin Cahill in December – the first true “outsider” to be hired as a Lehigh head football coach in decades – it’s been an adjustment for everyone.

“It has been a whirlwind,” Cahill told me. “Getting to know the current players, hiring a new staff, recruiting a whole class, beginning relationships with the alumni, and moving my family into a brand new living situation. It’s been a lot, but its been a lot of fun.”

For fans, it’s an adjustment, too.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past that Lehigh had yearly expectations to, at a bare minimum, to be competitive for the Patriot League Championship every single year. It meant appearances in the Top 25 and FCS Playoffs appearances. It also meant spring practice was more a discovery process of who the next superstars would be.

But Lehigh hasn’t had a winning record since 2016, which means the very first Cahill spring hasn’t been about whether Lehigh’s position in the preseason Top 25 is too high or too low. It’s about giving the rising senior class a season they won’t ever forget this upcoming season – and establishing Kevin Cahill’s system, building to get Lehigh back to its winning Championship ways.

It’s a fundamentally different place Lehigh has been for the last decade – and fans are curious. The potential for positive big change is there, perhaps the biggest shift in the last thirty years.

It also reflects as to where Lehigh is right now as a program – and where they are aiming to be.

For everyone at Lehigh, it’s all new, and the spring “game”, which will be more of a deluxe practice with situational football and some special teams breaks, will highlight the work that’s been put in.

“Jumped In with Two Feet”

“Spring practice has flown by,” Cahill said. “We’ve made progress in areas and are still working to make progress in many other areas. The players have been working hard. They are hungry for growth and not afraid to work for it.”

Every time there’s a coaching change, you’d expect that there would be some pushback and some resistance to a new coach’s way of doing things.

That’s not what coach Cahill seems to have encountered, however.

“I can’t say enough good things about their work ethic,” he told me. “They have the ‘get better’ attitude and work to do it. These guys have jumped in with two feet and are ready to work, and it’s very helpful.”

While he acknowledged that establishing the relationships with the players was ‘not perfect’ from his hiring until now, the player’s buy-in has been very encouraging, especially since it’s not totally clear as to what Lehigh’s new offense and defense will look like.

“We are looking forward to capping off a great spring ball season on Saturday,” Cahill said. “We have made many strides in a lot of key areas. We still have a lot of questions about personnel, scheme and depth charts. Those won’t be answered Saturday, but it is a big part of the evaluation process.”

New Coaching Staff

Cahill, as expected, brought in an almost complete new offensive and defensive staff, with only Mike Kashurba remaining from the last coaching regime to coach special teams and defensive backs.

A surprise was former Colgate head football coach Dan Hunt appearing on the staff as Cahill’s new offensive coordinator. Hunt spent 25 years at Colgate where he was on staff for all 10 of the Raiders’ Patriot League championships.

He went 40-33 as head coach, winning Patriot League titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and leading the Raiders to FCS quarterfinal appearances in the 2015 and 2018 seasons. He didn’t win those titles with an “Air Lehigh” offense, however – he won them with a spread/read option that relies heavily on great fundamental run blocking (from both offensive linemen and receivers).

One of the big questions for Lehigh going into the fall is going to revolve around that, and it’s possible that some of those questions might be answered this Saturday.

“There’s a lot of thought behind how we ran our spring practices,” Cahill said. “Some of that came from my time at Yale. A lot of it came from our coaching staff and things they did in the past. The biggest focus was to get the most out of all 15 practices and to stay healthy. At this level, depth is paramount.”

The questions of depth appeared to contribute to the decision to not have a typical full-squad practice and instead focus on fan-friendly drills to showcase players’ growth.

“At this level it is really hard to play a legit spring game,” Cahill said. “There’s been a debate in Alabama about playing another opponent in the spring. I’d love that, give our kids a chance to prepare against another opponent and make it a real game. It happens with other fall sports, not sure why we can’t pursue that at our level.”

Star Spotlight

Key members of Lehigh’s young group return from last year’s 2-9 team, whom we should see on Saturday. With a new coaching staff, it should be a given that everyone’s trying out for the first team.

No stranger to this position is QB Dante Perri, who started out at the bottom of the depth chart in the fall of 2021 but became the unquestioned starter in 2021 and 2022 (2,203 yards passing in 2022, 12 TDs, 9 INTs).

Rising sophomore QB Brayten Silbor, who made his debut in a few games last year, is happily rumored to have made a full recovery from his injury from last fall and might push Perri for the starting role, but that question probably won’t be answered this Saturday.

Leading rusher RB Gaige Garcia (618 yards, 4 TDs) and leading receivers WR Geoffrey Jamiel (648 yards, 1 TD) and WR Eric Johnson (613 yards, 5 TDs) also return. Johnson is a senior from Katy, Texas, and he will be looking to have a breakout senior campaign.

Defensively Lehigh loses a lot more, including huge contributors to last years team LB Nate Norris, DB TyGee Leach and DL Mikhari Sibblis. However leading tackler LB Mike DeNucci (93 tackles, 16 1/2 TFL) returns, as well as DL Dean Colton (22 tackles, 2 defensive TDs last year) and S Logan Jones (40 tackles in 7 games, 1 INT, 3 pass breakups).

Key to me this Saturday is seeing how these star players on defense might be utilized in two-minute drills. While it’s unlikely we will see how the defense will line up in the fall, we might get some hints.

WHERE: Lehigh’s Spring Game
WHEN: 10:00AM, Murray Goodman Stadium, Admission: Free
Saturday’s Brown and White Game will feature a variety of situational scrimmage situations pitting the offense against the defense. There will also be positional drills and special teams work.

Breaks in the action will feature opportunities for kids to test their football skills on the field at Goodman Stadium for the chance to win Lehigh Football prizes.

“We are looking forward to a great day in Goodman,” Cahill said. “We hope the fans come and enjoy the interactive experience with our players and coaches. It’ll be a great view as to what the Lehigh Football family is all about.”

Prior to the start of Saturday’s Brown and White Game, Lehigh will award the Jim Gum Scholarship, which is presented in memory of former Lehigh football player James S. Gum ’84.