Lehigh's defensive line stands for a photo on their practice field at Goodman Campus. The D-line helped lead the team to a Patriot League Championship. (Bryan Kim/B&W Staff)

Changes to preparation drive Lehigh football’s defensive success


Defense wins championships.

This phrase stood true for the Lehigh football team. The 2016 Patriot League champions credit its defense for the accomplishment and an overall standout season.

The effort started in the offseason. Senior defensive lineman Jimmy Mitchell said the preparation was much more physical and intense than it had ever been before. Mitchell recognized speed and conditioning coaches, Eric Markovcy and Dom Carlineo, for that mental and physical push.

“In the weight room (Markovcy) and (Carlineo) did a great job of instilling a grit among the team that hadn’t been there in the past,” Mitchell said.

Routines also changed this year. In years past, the coaches shied away from instructing their plays to practice hitting in the spring to avoid injuries, but this offseason, Mitchell said the team placed focus on hitting technique, which has improved defensive tackling this season.

“Our goal this year was to tackle better, play faster and pursue the ball,” defensive line coach Donnie Roberts said.

After a second week loss to the Wildcats, a team that has cracked the top 10 in the FCS rankings a few times this season, Mitchell said his players were given some confidence that has snowballed since.

“We always focus on each guy doing their individual job each play,” Mitchell said. “For the last (several) games, that’s what we’ve been successfully doing. Great team efforts instead of individual efforts.”

Two of the team’s more impressive wins were the matchups against Georgetown and Holy Cross. The Mountain Hawks displayed their solid defense by allowing just a field goal to Georgetown and holding Holy Cross to 14 points, half of which came on a touchdown in garbage time.

“When they are making plays that means we are doing our job,” Mitchell said. “So when we see Colton (Caslow), (Evan) Harvey or Pierce (Ripanti) make a play, we really feed off their energy.”

Harrison Johnson, a junior defensive lineman, called Harvey the “spark plug.” Both individual and team efforts help motivate the defensive unit, converting that hype into action.

Lehigh’s win over Bucknell clinched the Patriot League Championship, a game in which the team’s defense was crucial. Down 13-7 going into halftime, the Mountain Hawks worked to not only close the gap, but to take the lead 20-13.

After the defense left Bucknell scoreless in the second half, emotions followed after the game as the team accomplished one of its top goals.

“It’s something that made all the running, lifting weights and two-a-days worth every second,” Johnson said.

Junior Tyler Cavenas called the rest of his defensive line his brothers. He said having that close relationship translates to the field because they know exactly how each other plays and what works well in the games.

Roberts also believes the team’s family aspect is what has led this team to what he said has been the closest team he’s ever been on.

“The coaches believe in the players, the players believe in each other, every game we just get tighter and tighter as a family,” Roberts said.

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