Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Saturday, February 16, 2013 17:02
The Scholarship Era in Lafayette football has officially begun.
National Signing Day took place this past Wednesday, almost a year after it was announced that the Patriot League would have merit-based football scholarships for the first time in conference history. Following that controversial and heavily debated decision, the class of 2017 football players will be the most heavily scrutinized athletes in Lafayette history. Both supporters and detractors of the scholarships will be watching intently to see if the scholarship experiment succeeds.
Coach Frank Tavani hopes that the players won’t feel that scrutiny.
“Pressure’s self-imposed,” the 14-year leader of the football program said. “I don’t think any of these young men are going to put any more pressure on themselves than any of these other kids. It’s just another way of doing business. Expectations have certainly [risen], but these young men will have to go through the same adjustments that other players have made.”
Tavani did stress that these scholarships are not going to magically transform the football program into a FBS-champion powerhouse overnight.
“Scholarships are not a magic wand, by any means,” he said. “It’s not like change is going to be instantaneous. We have to put much more time into each evaluation and be correct on 15 scholarships.”
The class itself consists of 20 players, with 10 offensive players, nine defensive players, and one punter/kicker. There are significantly less signees than previous years, with 32 in 2010, 28 in 2011, and 30 in 2012. Even with the smaller class, there are players from nine different states, stretching as far west as Colorado. Tavani appreciates his new ability to extend Lafayette football’s reach across the country.
“With the opportunity to get a scholarship,” he said. “We had a lot of people coming to us and we received a lot of information. We went to an area north of Denver looking at one young man and wound up signing two different ones.”
Tavani chuckled at the notion that scholarships would “dumb down” the rest of the non-athletic freshman class.
“We still have the same academic ‘banding’ that we always have,” he said. “These kids are actually even a little bit stronger academically. It’s funny that everybody might think that [they’re dumbing the class down], but the system wouldn’t allow for us to do that.”
“Plus,” he added. “I’ve been here for 27 years, and I can tell just by looking at a kid’s transcript whether or not he’s going to make it. You go to Stanford, how many guys on that football team do you think are getting through admissions without having the academics?”
On the offensive side, the incoming freshmen consist of two players each at the quarterback, tailback, and wide receiver positions. Four offensive lineman, the hogs up front, round out the 2017 offensive stock. On the other side of the ball, four defensive lineman have inked their commitments alongside three linebackers and a pair of defensive backs.
Tavani wasn’t planning on recruiting two quarterbacks, but after the departures of signalcallers Andrew Shoop ‘13, Louie Pappas ‘16 and Kyle Ohradzansky ‘15, he had to recruit an extra. According to Tavani, he didn’t know about Pappas’ intent to transfer until he got back to campus. He immediately went after Blake Searfoss.
“It’s a good thing I hadn’t used everything up,” he reflected humorously. “[Searfoss] wouldn’t have even considered us with the scholarship. He was looking at Princeton and Harvard, and he was second on one list and was tired of waiting. And I’m going, ‘I’m not waiting, here’s a scholarship.’”
Searfoss attended Hunterdon Central with current offensive guard Brad Bormann ‘14.
With all the talent coming in, the player with the best chance to start immediately is punter/kicker Ryan Forrester out of Arlington, Virginia. There is currently not a punter on the roster.
“The kid’s got a leg,” Tavani said. “You look at the film, he has everything you want: great height, hangtime, and distance.” He also purported that some of the defensive linemen may see time immediately.
“A couple of the big kids at the defensive line will have to jump in at the backup positions, we’ll have to rotate them in. You look at the better teams at any level, pro, college, whatever, they have a rotation going on. I feel better going into deep situations when I know I have reliable players to fill in.”
With 15 departing seniors and a smaller incoming class than usual, Tavani’s assertion that his coaching staff “met the targets at all positional areas.”
There will be a lot of eyes watching the First Score.