The Brown and White’s Jamie Campisi sat down with Lehigh sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky to discuss his thoughts on the team’s season so far, his individual performance and, of course, the much-anticipated upcoming 150th rivalry game between Lehigh and Lafayette this Saturday.
Q: Last season, you were able to gain some experience in four games and made your first career start. But after undergoing a quarterback competition in the spring and summer, you were officially named the team’s starting quarterback. What has that role meant to you this season?
A: It puts a big chip on your shoulder. Last year, not being the starting quarterback and coming in later in the season, the team was not accustomed to me and how I speak and approach everything. But the whole offense has really taken a liking to each other, and it’s important that we all feed off each other. The biggest thing has been the increased trust and confidence that each of us has in each other to get the job done.
Q: Can you describe how this season has gone for you personally in terms of your development? Where do you think you’ve improved the most and are there any areas you still feel you need to work on going forward?
A: The area that’s always tough for a quarterback is reading defenses on the fly, especially because we’re a fast-paced, attacking offense. That’s where I have to continue to improve. But I’ve picked up the playbook a lot with the help of Coach Fulmar (Lehigh’s first-year offensive coordinator). He’s helped me tremendously with learning the playbook, the reads and how to adjust on the fly.
Q: What is your assessment of the team and the season up to this point? What have been the successes and struggles?
A: We’ve just had a tough time putting a full game of football together. Either the offense is doing well and the defense is letting up, or the defensive is doing well getting the ball for us and creating turnovers and the offense doesn’t capitalize. Hopefully we can finish the season up strong with a more complete game where everyone is doing well for the seniors.
Q: What do you see for this team beyond this season?
A: If you look at some of the underclassmen weapons we have on both offense and defense, it’s pretty crazy. That’s great for us that all this youth is getting experience this year because we’re going to need that for next season. We don’t want to really look on next season at all yet, because there’s still a huge game to go, but we definitely have the talent to produce wins going forward.
Q: Looking ahead to the 150th Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry game, what are your thoughts about the opportunity to play in this historic game?
A: It’s so weird to think about; there are so many different factors. Out of 150 years, you have to be lucky enough to be part of that four-year range that would allow you to compete in this game. I can’t even really put into words what it’s going to feel like to play in this special game of this special rivalry. It’s so much bigger than us.
Q: The circumstances are so different than any other game with the game taking place at Yankee Stadium in front of so many more fans and the New York City element. And, of course, it’s the 150th game of this storied rivalry. Do you have a strategy for how you’re going to wrap your mind around this big stage?
A: It’s going to be tough. We usually average 10,000-12,000 fans at our games, but around 50,000 tickets have already been sold for this game. It’s definitely going to be very different. But every game, I think about my family and wanting to make my mom and dad proud and doing my best for my brothers on the team, so that’s what I’ll try to be focusing on.
Q: How do you think the team will prepare for and handle the extra excitement and incentive that comes from the 150th game?
A: I can’t even imagine what this is like for the freshmen. They haven’t even been a part of a Lehigh-Lafayette game yet. Everybody else on the team has a sense of the increased intensity level and how many more fans are there, but this will be their first experience with the Rivalry. Practice leading up to it is going to be huge, and there’s going to be a lot of hype and talk. We all just need to stay under control throughout the week and then hopefully get out to a strong start in the game to settle us down.
Q: Do you think the coaches will be emphasizing what makes this game so special or will try to treat it just like any other game?
A: As a coach, you almost don’t even need to say anything. The players know what’s at stake and what this is about. You don’t need to really talk about it or hype it up. It’s already been hyped up a lot more than anyone thought it was going to be. I think our coaches are just going to make sure that we’re fundamentally sound and ready to go mentally. Everyone’s going to come out with a lot of intensity and be very ready to play that day.
Q: How important is getting a victory over Lafayette in this historic game in terms of how you’ll view the success of the season as a whole?
A: Unfortunately, there’s no shot at a Patriot League Championship anymore. I was talking to my senior captains, and for them, going out with a win against Lafayette in the 150th rivalry game would be a terrific way for them to finish their time here. A win over Lafayette in this game would certainly be the highlight of the season and probably the most historic and memorable moment in anybody on the team’s football careers.