This Saturday in Bethlehem, the plan is for Murray Goodman Stadium to look different.
This is true in more ways than one.
During the offseason, the athletic department at Lehigh University has made some major changes and upgrades to their game venue. When fans come to the stadium, they’re going to be greeted with some new things to add to the game experience.
On the field, too, both teams facing off on the grass surface of Murray Goodman will have a lot of newness, too.
Last season, St. Francis (PA) and Lehigh faced off at the exact same time of year (Saturday, Labor Day weekend) at the exact same weekend. But the teams heading onto the field this weekend are not only filled with new personnel – they are also teams eager to put disappointing, losing season behind them in 2019.
At Murray Goodman this Saturday, there’s a lot that’s going to feel different.
Red Flash Family Values
“I’m looking forward to new season the renewed energy we have right now,” head coach Chris Villareal said in the run-up to the season. “We’ve got to play for each other. Family’s all we got.”
Villareal talked a lot about setting up the values of the Red Flash football program after a disappointing 4-7 season last year.
One could argue that the first of their five agonizing fourth-quarter losses came when Lehigh blocked a potential game-winning FG try in the closing minute of the game, turning a possible win into a 19-17 defeat and the first of five late-game losses for the Red Flash.
“There’s always a point in time in a game when adversity is going to hit,” he said. “And when it does, we have to stand up to it. Everyone has to be leaders, because adversity is going to happen in life as well.”
Former defensive coach Marco Pecora moves from the defensive side of the ball to the offense to try to pick up a squad that had fallen to 6th in the NEC in points per game, so one of the many new pieces that the Red Flash may have is a different offense, which returns only five starters from last season.
Also gone to graduation from last season’s team are QB Bear Fenimore, RB Jymere Jordan-Toney and three time all-NEC WR Kamron Lewis, meaning the Red Flash will go to battle on Saturday without their three top skill positions from last season.
Sophomore QB Jason Brown, who was nominated to be a team captain, seems like he will be the opening day starter for St. Francis, while freshman WR Kahtero Summers and a trio of running backs in RB Joel Denley, RB Avery Milner and RB Syaire Madden look to pick up that production on offense.
Defense is the area that the Red Flash will have more continuity, where all-American FS/RS Nick Rinella returns to be a leader on the St. Francis (PA) defense. He’ll undoubtedly remember last year’s Lehigh game where he was one tackle away from a punt return for a touchdown.
NEC Rookie of the year DL Jalen Brown (19 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss) and LB Da’Jon Lee also return for a defense that was one of the better ones Lehigh faced all last season. Against the Mountain Hawks last year, Lee had 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.
“Values is really what’s going to turn our program around,” Villareal said. “We’re not doing this to try to do this every 10 years. We want to be consistent, and that’s what these young men deserve. I believe our best days are ahead of us. I’m looking forward to heading to Lehigh to kick this thing off.”
The New Faces of Family at Lehigh
At Lehigh last season, the St Francis (PA) home opener was one of the few times where things went absolutely right for the Mountain Hawks.
After their season-opening win, Lehigh would lose their next seven games, including some absolute beatings by Princeton (66-7) and Fordham (43-14).
A 22-16 overtime loss to Georgetown – their first loss to the Hoyas in the modern football era – would be where Lehigh would hit rock bottom after eking out a couple wins in what would be head coach Andy Coen‘s final season as head football coach of the Mountain Hawks.
The offseason saw former Holy Cross head football coach Tom Gilmore hired by Lehigh, who had the immediate task of building a large recruiting class to replace the faces that had graduated, including leading passer QB Brad Mayes and the school’s all-time leading rusher in RB Dominick Bragalone.
Gilmore, a former defensive coordinator at Lehigh, almost immediately started adding the little things to spring practice and fall camp to inject some life and energy into the team, especially on the defense.
Though the Mountain Hawks return 5th year senior DB Sam McCloskey, senior LB Riley O’Neil, senior LB Keith Woetzel and senior DL Juwan Morrow, Lehigh was still in the lower half of the Patriot League in all defensive categories, something Gilmore clearly wants to change. McCloskey, Morrow and O’Neil were recently named team captains.
“We will be a physical and aggressive defense, with all eleven players swarming to the football on every play,” Gilmore told me earlier this offseason. “Our players will know how to defend and attack the opponent, but our trademark will be relentless effort on every play. We will always be fundamentally sound but we also like to keep the opponent guessing by changing things up.”
On offense, Mountain Hawk Nation is eager to see what new but largely unproven QB Tyler Monaco can do with promising young RB Rashawn Allen in the backfield and all-Patriot League WRs Jorge Portorreal and WR Dev Bibbens at receiver.
“I feel like there is a completely different mindset in the program,” Allen said of being picked fifth in the Patriot League. “The players, coaches walk around now with a chip on our shoulder. Especially after last season’s performance, we have a lot of things to prove.”
St. Francis (PA) at Lehigh
Where: Murray Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, PA
When: August 31st, 12:30 PM EDT
TV: Service Electric 2 in the Lehigh Valley
Radio: Lehigh Valley Fox Sports AM 1160/1230/1320
Video Stream: Patriot League Network
Audio Stream: LV Fox Sports