Before the Mountain Hawks’ football season started, the team was already at a disadvantage.
During training camp, three of Lehigh’s starting offensive linemen were injured.
Junior Alex Motley ruptured his Achilles tendon and will be out for the remainder of the season, along with junior Taylor Curlin who suffered a fracture in his foot. Sophomore Jackson Evans tore his posterior cruciate ligament and will be out for two to four weeks.
Despite the setbacks, the position group is sticking to their motto: next man up.
The remaining linemen now faces the task of adjusting its role to accommodate for a depleted depth chart and the demands of the season.
During his first two seasons as a Mountain Hawk, Motley learned from two-time team captain Zach Duffy. Prior to this season, Motley hoped he would be able to carry Duffy’s advice with him on the field as he stepped into a starting role, which was unfamiliar territory for him.
Now, he seeks a different way to lead.
“Since there’s no physical example that I can set, it’s more of my presence that I can bring,” Motley said. “It’s more of a mental role. I think that I’m really tapping into it now because I have no other choice.”
Sidelined for the season, Motley is learning to develop a different outlook on the game because he has to give advice he cannot demonstrate on the field.
“It’s a unique perspective,” Motley said. “The game kind of gets taken from you but you still have to find a way to be involved. I’m still trying to figure out how I can benefit the team. I’m ready to face that challenge.”
Evans believes that his role is to keep the position group moving forward and stay positive in the meantime.
Junior Nick Rosen earned significant playtime in his sophomore season and expected to build on that this year as he transitioned into more of a leadership role. Now a starter, his teammates’ injuries have pushed him to work on his leadership skills sooner than he expected.
“I’m not usually a vocal guy,” Rosen said. “I know that it’s something that I need to work on. I really try to lead by example. It’s hard to follow someone who doesn’t have experience or someone who’s only vocal, so I try to do the best that I can.”
With the losses, freshman Justin Gurth and senior Tim Wagner made their first starts in Lehigh’s season-opener.
Gurth said although he didn’t expect to play right away, he’s ready for the task and excited about the chance to gain experience.
“Coming in, I wasn’t sure how much time I was going to get or where I was going to be on the depth chart,” he said. “My role is now a starter, so I’m just going to give it my all with attitude and effort, which is what (offensive line) coach (Jeremy) Bandy always says.”
In contrast, Wagner has waited a long time for his number to be called.
“Being a senior, I wanted to be someone the younger guys can look up to,” he said. “(In) starting, there’s an obligation to be a leader and to be someone they want to follow.”
Recently, the position group has put a focus on preparation throughout the depth chart. Rosen said every member of the offensive line now understands the need for preparation for any circumstance. Wagner said players can no longer think they will never see the field.
The young offensive line is focusing its efforts on bonding as a unit and ensuring everyone is on the same page, in an attempt to build chemistry both on and off the field.
“We’re in this thing with each other for the long haul,” Wagner said.