LFN: So it must be interesting being back here coaching in The Rivalry.
Tom Gilmore: It is. I mean, you know, when you step back and you think this is the most played game in college football, that's pretty neat. And it's such a big rivalry. It's been around so long. The proximity is schools, the proximity of our alumni bases, it just makes this a special thing. And regardless of how the rest of the season goes, good or bad, or you always have that big game left at the end of a regular season, that's really special. No one else in our league has it. A lot of the Ivy League doesn't. Only Harvard/Yale or Ohio State/Michigan, Cal/Stanford is anything like this. We have something really special here. Adding to that is title implications. Both teams have to hope that Holy Cross loses to Georgetown. But at the same time, if that does happen, if we win the game, we tie for the championship and if Lafayette wins the game, they win the championship. Having those implications just adds to the importance of the game.
LFN: Does your method of preparation change this week?
TG: The funny thing is, as much as I can talk about the rivalry and all the neat things when push comes to shove. If as a as a staff, as a team, as a program, if you're not focused on this like every other game, as a one week season, as as one game at a time, as one out of six Patriot League championship games, if you're not focused on that, you're going to get distracted to some degree. And the thing that I think helps us is we've approached the earlier games like that. So now we're not trying to preach to our players to get focused on this game differently than they have.
LFN: So you kind of haven't really changed your approach much from the rest of the week? Even with the extra distractions?
TG: You can't completely. That's what makes us special, you know. But with those distractions, when you are on the field, when you are in meetings, when you are watching film, you have to stay focused. And I think the approach that we've taking the rest of the season has allowed our players to do that so far. Hopefully we can continue to do that. And there's the senior dinners and there's the Beat Lafayette Luncheon and there's, you know, the crowd and you know, all those things. You know what? It comes down to getting focused, you know, during a game, it means getting focused on practice and things like that. If you let those distractions affect your preparation, that's when you get into trouble. Yeah. But, you know, you can't cut out those those events. Yes. Around in the game. That's what makes it special. The game itself is a big event. There's nothing wrong with those special things going on as long as you don't let them distract from your preparations. You want them to perceive that this is the same. It's a different opponent. Here's how we're preparing for their unique schemes, for their unique personnel. But other than those unique features, your overall preparation and your mindset shouldn't be any different.
LFN: When you were a player at Penn, who was your big rival at the time?
TG: It was supposed to be Princeton. Yeah. And that's what all the alums preached to us. But it never felt like that in a lot of ways. They were the homecoming game when they were home and I think we were their homecoming game when we were up there, but to be honest with you in the players minds, it was us and Harvard. And I think Harvard viewed us very similarly.
LFN: You're entering this week on a losing streak. How does that affect things?
TG: You know, Chuck, there were a lot of positives from the Sacred Heart game. I think week to week all season, before the Bucknell game, we were making noticeable improvements. But against nationally ranked opponents, they weren't showing up as much against Villanova or UC Davis. But since that time, since the third week of the season, we've seen legitimate improvement. I think the only game where we didn't down improvement was Bucknell. But there was a backstory to it - we lost a lot of linemen and two quarterbacks in the third quarter.
It can sound like excuses, but we went out last week and had our best by far our best rushing performance in a year, against a team that trounced two other teams in the Patriot League. We rushed for 201 yards. You're you're almost always going to win a game that you rush that much. RB Rashawn Allen had his best performance of the year. QB Alec Beesmer made some mistakes, but also did some good things. And the defense held the best rusher in all of FCS (Sacred Heart RB Julius Chestnut) almost the entire game.
There a couple of things that we still can improve on in. But overall, I think people see that the team is playing very hard. We're showing a lot of toughness.
LFN: Talk a little about Juwan and Sam on the defense. The whole defensive resurgence is kind of in the story of the year.
TG: They've helped the defense kind of build to where it is now. By and large, I think we have improved dramatically since last year in every way. But. But having leadership on in any phase in this case, defense is essential. So you have Sam McCloskey, who's been a three year captain, an all week player. You have Juwan, who is one of those guys that everyone respects. You have key figures like LB Riley O'Neil, LB Keith Woetzel, junior LB Pete Haffner. You have key figures like that. People respect them. They're in the weight room. They're out there playing hard. They're leading the way. They're leading by example. They're setting the standards. When when something has to be said, you know, one of those guys is stepping up and saying it. So having that leadership around the team has really helped this this transitional year go smoother than it otherwise would have. If we didn't have that, I don't think we could have improved as a team or defensively.
LFN: What does the Rivalry mean to you personally?
TG: Like you said, I think it's really neat as a coach. Every game for me is a big deal - I don't care who we're playing. But being a part of something like this that has a history, I appreciate it. I do appreciate history. I do appreciate tradition probably a lot more than most people do. It just adds that excitement for me. During the course of a week, I try to stay focused, like we ask our players to stay focused at the task at hand. But just being back at Lehigh has been really special for me. I never wanted to leave this place in the first place. So being at Lehigh is is a huge deal for me. And being a part of something like the Lehigh/Lafayette Rivalry is so much a part of this community.