Archive For The “Nigel Muhammad” Category
(Photo Credit: Matt Smith/The Express-Times)
When I look back at Lehigh’s football program over the last four years, I can’t think of a single game that wasn’t meaningful.
And when you think about this fact, that’s a powerful thing to say about this group of seniors that will graduate this season.
So many programs have off years, years in between quality starting quarterbacks, years when players who find themselves in NFL training camps graduate, and the number of holes to fill are too great to compete for championships, let alone playoff spots.
But that didn’t happen for this group of Lehigh athletes in 2013.
Despite needing to replace two players who found themselves in NFL training camps, WR Ryan Spadola and LB Billy Boyko, a starting quarterback, QB Michael Colvin, and an all-Patriot League secondary consisting of CB Bryan Andrews and S Billy O’Brien, the expectations on this year’s team was great: Win the Patriot League. Build off a 10-1 season. Make the playoffs.
That’s what going to Lehigh to play football is all about: Winning. High expectations, on and off the field. And despite the rebuilding, and despite the gigantic injury to QB Brandon Bialkowski, this team made every game meaningful.
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If you went into Murray Goodman Stadium and said you knew exactly what to expect from this Lehigh Mountain Hawks team, you were lying.
Everyone involved with the Mountain Hawks football program had seen, or heard about, the loss to Bucknell.
If they had sharp eyes, too, they saw the former starting quarterback, Brandon Bialkowski, on the sidelines in a jacket, his arm immobilized so his collarbone can heal.
You had to go back a long way to find a Lehigh team with this much uncertainty, with this much at stake, with three games left.
And in this environment, this Mountain Hawk team responded.
The Mountain Hawks would never trail in this game, though the Crusaders would tie the game twice, at 7-7 and 13-13. But then, after filling in permanently after what seemed to be a rib injury to junior QB Matt McHale, freshman QB Nick “Shaf” Shafnisky came into the game and guided Lehigh on three touchdown drives in a convincing 38-20 victory.
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It is very, very easy to “respect” New Hampshire’s football program.
Sure, they have earned “respect” nationally for their incredible, sustained success on the field.
They’re known as the original FBS killers, making it a habit of knocking off teams like Rutgers and Northwestern well before Appalachian State famously knocked off Michigan, James Madison upended Virginia Tech, or, most recently, North Dakota State took it to Kansas State.
They’re also known perennially as a team in the FCS Top 25, inhabiting the rankings in some way for an incredible 130 weeks. In 2004, behind a third-string quarterback, QB Ricky Santos and his Wildcats beat Rutgers 35-24 and have been nationally-ranked ever since.
FBS nightmares, all those Top 25 appearances, and nine consecutive playoff appearances to go along with that give UNH mad “respect” with the wider FCS community, and also make for a thrilling opponent when they come to to town.
But they also have earned “respect” in another way, too. They’ve done so by building their success the right way, not compromising academics for all their athletic success.
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It’s pretty remarkable how routine it’s all getting.
To Lehigh watchers, this come-from-behind 34-27 victory resembled all the others. They’d seen this movie before.
Fall behind early, by double-digits if possible. Regroup. Mount a comeback. Make huge defensive stops. Win.
For the fourth straight game, Lehigh came from behind to win.
For the third time this season, Lehigh overcame a double-digit deficit to win.
It’s as if all of Lehigh Nation simply expects the Mountain Hawks to fall behind in the first half, and recover in time to win. You could feel it in the crowd of nearly 9,000 people at Murray Goodman Stadium. Amazingly, down by 16, the game never felt out of reach.
But this particular come-from-behind win was different in one very important respect.
In beating the 7th-ranked New Hampshire Wildcats this weekend, the Mountain Hawks finally got to silence the critics across the country saying they haven’t played anyone tough, can’t beat anyone tough, and won’t beat anyone tough.
They did. They can. And now, they have.
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Last season, Lehigh’s defense was expected to help carry an offense a little as a new offense learns the ropes.
This time around, though, it’s a completely different situation.
Eight starters depart last year’s starting squad, including key members of both the defensive line and defensive backfield rotation. Oh yeah, and LB Billy Boyko, an undrafted free agent signee by the Raiders in the offseason, graduates as well.
It’s not like the cupboard is bare by any means. But, man, eight starters?
While the expectation is that Lehigh’s offense will proceed just fine, the defense just has so many departing seniors that it’s worth asking the question: what’s the expectation for 2013?
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(Photo Credit: Lehigh Athletics)
Despite the meetings with the other coaches beforehand, despite the bustling schedule of Media Day, where coaches are shunted around for two straight hours, fielding video spots, and reporter after reporter with digital recorders in hand, by the time I got to Lehigh head coach Andy Coen, any stress from the commotion was not evident anywhere when I talked to him.
Perhaps part of that came due to his incredible success over the past three seasons.
With a 31-6 record in the past three years, two Patriot League Championships, playoff wins against the CAA and Missouri Valley champs, and last year’s 10-1 record, his three last years at Lehigh can be stacked up against anyone’s in the country.
North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl, who downed Lehigh on their way to their first FCS National Championship in 2010, went 37-7 over that time period. The coach of the team they beat twice for the national championship, Sam Houston State’s Willie Fritz, sports a 31-10 record over that period.
Heck, Alabama’s Nick Saban led the Crimson Tide to a 35-5 record over 3 years.
A 30 win record over a 3 year period gives you peace of mind, even if last season ended waiting for an at-large playoff bid that never came.
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On Wednesday at Patriot League Media Day, I sat down with two senior co-captains, senior RB Keith Sherman and senior LB Nigel Muhammad, and talked to them about the upcoming season.
It’s a credit to Lehigh that year in and year out the expectations are so high. This season, Lehigh was picked a very close second, right behind defending champions Colgate.
What’s sort of odd about that is only Nigel, and senior OL Ned Daryoush, made the first team all-Patriot list, yet they still were picked second.
What did Keith and Nigel have to say about that?
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54 days until Lehigh suits up against the Blue Devils. 54 days!
At 54, we find another team captaion in senior LB Nigel Muhammad as our highlighted Lehigh football athlete in today’s countdown.
Below the flip get all the links and wrapups of this weekend’s Spring Game.
In the meantime, check out rising senior S Rickie Hill about to deliver some punishment to senior WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto!
By any measure the defense probably had more of its share of concern – and attention from coaches and fans alike – in this Spring season.
They had heard the issues all Spring long – the fact that only three starters returned on defense, including four new starters in the secondary and three new starters on the defensive line.
“The defense needs to get better,” Coen said in the release before the Brown/White game. “They didn’t perform very well in our last scrimmage and our coaches have challenged them.”
The defensive Brown team, led by new team captains senior LB Nigel Muhammad and senior FS Tyler Ward, responded to the challenge.
Using a modified scoring system, the Brown defense scored 14 points off of sacks and 12 points off of turnovers as the defense put up a solid performance in a 46-37 victory.
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