The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Football showcases talent at Spring Game, looks forward to fall

Sophomore Nahjee Adams carries the ball past defenders. (Photo courtesy of GoLeopards)

Since the end of February, the football team has been practicing like it’s been in season. It has practiced three times a week and has lifts and meetings on the other days. Now, as the school year draws to a close, the team wrapped up its spring ball schedule Saturday with its annual spring showcase.

“The Spring Game was really fun. You got to have that game-like feel with putting on the headphones, walking down and getting ready. It’s always nice to simulate that because that’s one of the best feelings in the world,” junior linebacker Preston Forney said. “It was great and we are always happy when everyone comes out healthy, plus we got some really good stuff on tape to learn from.”

The spring game comes after a 4-7 season which saw some highs – as with the goal line stop to beat Sacred Heart and the strip sack to win the 158th Rivalry Game over Lehigh – but also some devastating lows – like losing 6-0 against Penn or getting trounced 45-10 against Fordham. The team is also losing 5-year defensive standout Malik Hamm to the NFL draft, as well as a number of contributing pieces DaRon Gilbert, Damon Washington, Jyaire Stevens, Jaden Sutton and Joe Gillette to the transfer portal.

“We had some huge losses, losing 99 Malik. Obviously, you can’t make that up; he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player.  You can’t try to replace them. All of the guys we lost were incredible players and were a huge part to our success last year,” Forney said. “But I think we’re really excited with who were having to fill those roles and who we have coming back. We have Marco [Olivas] coming back, we have a lot of other starters including myself coming back. We’re going to be a different defense but we have the skill and ability to be a better defense.”

Even with all of the departures, this spring has forced the Leopards to look forward with confidence. Most of their entire starting offense is coming back, including all three quarterbacks who took snaps for the Leopards and the entire offensive line. The offensive line even added a huge piece with the addition of junior Thomas Grippo from Wake Forest. The 6’3″, 284-pound lineman saw action in 4 ACC games as a sophomore. The full running back room from most of last year is back and has a year of experience under its belt.

Coach Troxell addresses the team following its final practice of the spring. (Photo courtesy of GoLeopards).

On defense, the line, which over the past five years has been the team’s main strength, now has become a huge worry. The cast waiting in the wings will now have to step up in a big way. The experience of the linebacking and defensive back core will have to do their best to fill in the gap.

However, the entire coaching staff is back and the year-to-year consistency will help make up for the inexperience in the early part of the season.

The team has been battling even with inter-squad competitions and games even before spring ball. This competitiveness and drive exhibited throughout the whole spring has been thanks to a culture shift led by second-year head coach John Troxell.

“I think all the program, the whole team have a really good feeling going into this year. You know, Trox has come in and there’s been a little bit of a culture shift and I think it’s for the best.” Forney said. “We had a really good spring ball with him and the staff. I think, after a year, everyone has really gotten to know both the offense and defense way better.”

The team will now get a break for finals and then come back to campus for the summer for workouts to prepare for the season ahead.

“The team still has a really long way to go, a lot to work on. Everyone kind of has their own responsibility to get bigger faster, more conditioned.” Forney said. “We are really looking forward to working with [Director of Football Performance] Coach [Shane] Davenport this whole summer. We’ve already seen some tremendous jumps in our off-season numbers up until now.”

That summer practice time will be the first time that the whole team is together with over 30 freshmen joining the team for the first time. With no one else on campus, it will be a way to not only improve the on-field performance of the team but the off-campus team chemistry.

“We have the potential to do what we want, but it is not going to be handed to us. Going into that first game, we will be super confident with our team and how our roster panned out. The freshmen are going to need to step up.”

The Leopards will next hit the field in Fairfield, Connecticut on September 2 to play Sacred Heart in a rematch of last year’s victorious season opener.

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Charlie Berman
Charlie Berman, Sports Editor

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