Only a matter of hours stands between freshmen offensive lineman Jackson Evans, defensive back Divine Buckrham and wide receiver Jorge Portorreal and the opportunity to play in their first Rivalry football game.
These hours are measured by the timer in the football players’ locker room, which serves as a countdown to the Lehigh football team’s championship game against longtime opponent Lafayette College.
Prior to coming to Lehigh, Evans, Buckrham and Portorreal knew the rivalry between Lehigh and Lafayette was the oldest in the country. They now get the chance to experience it firsthand from the field.
Evans said he’s viewing the game as a crucial opportunity to gain more experience during his career as a Lehigh football player.
Buckrham attended The Rivalry game at Fisher Stadium last year during a visit to Lehigh and described how exhilarating the atmosphere was. He said he can only imagine what it will look like this year on the team’s home field.
“I’m a little nervous, but it’s the same nervousness that I get before all games,” Buckrham said. “That usually goes away around kick-off, so I think I’ll be fine. I know it’s going to be a huge crowd, so I just hope that we get a nice ‘W’ at Goodman Stadium since we haven’t been too good at home this year. I just want to make it a good showing for the crowd and make the team proud.”
Buckrham had already committed to Lehigh before sitting in the stands at Lafayette to watch the two teams compete, but he said The Rivalry game played a role in his decision to play football as a Mountain Hawk.
With a Holy Cross win last Saturday, the stage has been set for this weekend’s contest. Buckrham said immediately after the team secured the victory against the Crusaders, the focus shifted to the Lafayette game.
The freshmen trio said while the match has championship implications, they’re looking at it as if it’s just another game. They want to remain focused on the task at hand and fulfill their individual roles in order to get the ring, trophy and Patriot League Championship title that a win would bring them.
Evans said for him, this week is a matter of continuing with his preparation and routine by watching film, working hard at practice and mentally preparing for the game while putting in extra effort in hopes of winning the Patriot League.
“Ultimately, if you focus on the little things and try to maintain that focus throughout the entire week, then it’ll leave the bigger picture, which will hopefully line up with a win,” Evans said.
It’s a little more personal for Evans, as he’ll be playing across the field from a former high school teammate. He said it’ll be nothing more than friendly competition between the pair, but he hasn’t spoken to him this week for “obvious reasons.”
Portorreal said starting in The Rivalry game is an indication all of his hard work and summer workouts are paying off.
“It really just shows that I picked the right school,” Portorreal said. “When I was getting recruited by schools, I wanted to go to a school where I would play right away, so I felt this was a good fit for that, and then it all paid off.”
Portorreal said while he knew he would play as a freshman, he didn’t know he’d come to hold such a crucial role on the team. He said starting has allowed him to be more productive on the field and do his job by playing his role.
Portorreal said the only thing on his mind is Saturday and the championship ring, which will give the team momentum going into the playoffs.
“I’m just excited, enjoying everything that’s coming and getting ready to play some good football,” Buckrham said. “If our defense shows up how it should, it’ll give Lafayette offense something to be worried about. It’s going to be a dogfight.”