The 2016 Lehigh football team brought back a winning tradition to Lehigh, winning their first Patriot League Championship in five years.
The success boasted by the 2016 team was a group effort, with what current offensive coordinator Scott Brisson, who was the wide receiver coach during the championship season, described as “horizontal leadership.”
“We had great captains, but we had so many players who embraced and loved their role,” Brisson said. “They did the best job they could week in and week out. They all loved being a part of something bigger than (themselves). Our guys stepped up when needed to.”
Lehigh clinched the 2016 Patriot League title in a gritty game against Bucknell; A game that was symbolic of the team’s work ethic and leadership.
The Mountain Hawks found themselves down 13-6 against the Bison at halftime.
Despite being down a touchdown, there was a calm presence in the locker room. The team held their focus through the entirety of the game and scored 13 unanswered points in the second half to win the game 20-13, securing their first Patriot League Championship in 15 years.
“Going into the locker room during the half, you’d expect the kids to feel panicked, but the offense remained very calm and knew exactly what we needed to do,” Brisson said. “They knew what they had to do to get it done and executed.”
The 2016 season was full of anecdotal stories that exemplify the importance of mindset, teamwork, leadership and the other intangibles that can be learned in the film room or on the practice field.
Starting quarterback Nick Shafnisky, ‘17, who was the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year that season, benched himself against Holy Cross because he knew he wasn’t at full strength and couldn’t provide his teammates with the best chance to win.
“The selflessness from that standpoint is something I will always remember.” Brisson said. Lehigh went on to beat Holy Cross by a score of 46-14, winning their six straight game.”
Brisson also recalled a moment from the season where he saw offensive linemen Zach Duffy, ‘18, holding a teammate accountable when Duffy didn’t know any coaches were present.
“I think it was primarily the continuity between everyone in our senior class. We experienced the highs and lows together,” Duffy said. “We came in the year we lost the Patriot League to Lafayette at Goodman. Then the next year, we lost to Lafayette in front of 50,000 people at Yankee Stadium. Junior year was better, but we still fell short, then everything came together during our senior season.”
Duffy said he remembers when they beat Bucknell students and families rushed the field to swarm the players. He said it was an emotional game.
Senior linebacker Colton Caslow, ‘17, who played an integral role in the Mountain Hawks front seven, believed that overcoming early setbacks was an integral part in winning the Patriot League Championship.
“I think the turning point was going 3-0 in our Ivy League matchups after starting the season 0-2,” Caslow said. “That gave us a lot of momentum heading into league play with a tough matchup against Colgate.”
Caslow said after going 9-2 their freshman year followed by a 3-8 season, it left a bitter taste in their mouths.
“We had to start from ground zero and redefine what we wanted the team and our culture to look like,” Caslow said. “Come (the) 2016 season, I think it finally clicked, and when you mix a strong culture with the talent we had on that team and the work put in by every guy from scout team to a four year starter, it makes for a pretty special year.”