Photo courtesy of Athletic Communications
The atmosphere was festive in the Bourger Varsity Football House on Wednesday afternoon and it had little to do with the ongoing holiday season.
It was championship ring fitting day, the first one since 2006.
Sample sizes were available for players and staff members to try on throughout the day. And an almost uncontainable smile crept across each face as the final size was registered.
“I promised the team the biggest ring they have ever seen,” head coach Frank Tavani said.
This season will surely be memorable in the long and rich history of Lafayette football. It reminds Tavani of the 1994 season, in which the Leopards started 0-6 and then won five straight en route to an outright league title.
Sound similar to 2013? Lafayette won four of its final five games after its 1-5 start to win the outright league championship. And to do it against Lehigh…
“To go over there and hang 50 on them and come away with the entire championship is an experience I will always cherish forever and I know our young men will as well,” Tavani said.
Forget last Saturday and the 45-7 domination that took place at the hands of New Hampshire in the first round of the FCS Playoffs. Yes, New Hampshire accumulated over 500 yards of offense while Lafayette was sacked 10 times and could seemingly not figure out an offensive solution.
“We always harp all offseason on winning the Patriot League Championship and that was just engraved into our minds,” said running back Ross Scheuerman ‘15, a second team all-league selection. “Then we got into the playoffs and it was like, what do we do now?”
But no matter the score, it was indeed tough to forget the scene at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem just one week before, especially for the senior class.
“When I think of the Lafayette-Lehigh game, I can’t help but smile,” wide receiver and first team all-league selection Mark Ross ‘14 said.
Those 22 seniors have experienced 2-9, 4-7 and 5-6 seasons before their championship dreams finally came to fruition.
Those teams had a combined record of 1-8 in November, when each game has major league and championship implications. This year, Lafayette went 2-1 in November, not counting its game against New Hampshire.
“For this senior class to leave a legacy like that by winning a championship, we hope that we were able to instill winning in the program again,” Ross said.
All year, time and again, Tavani spoke of this senior class. It may have come across to silly to some when he continued to mention their strong leadership following the 1-5 start. But look no further than those in close proximity to find out just how important they were to this program.
“They were the best group of guys I have ever played with,” Scheuerman said. “From the past two years, the senior classes haven’t been together as much. There were a lot of troublemakers and kids who weren’t bought into the program.”
“These seniors, everything was for football.”
Those seniors played integral roles in a season that Tavani ranks “right there at the top” in his 37 years of coaching experience. Perhaps making it sweeter is that waves of criticism were present at times.
“There are people out there calling me ‘Frankasaurus’,” Tavani said with a small smile. “They’re saying it’s time to go like I’m a dinosaur. To me, I’m 60 going on 20. I love my job.”
This season and its highlights are in the rearview mirror: next season has already begun. The staff met for three hours on Monday and many then left on recruiting trips.
Now, rising seniors will provide the leadership for the Leopards. Names like Scheuerman, safety Jared Roberts, receiver Demetrius Dixon and defensive lineman James Coscia come to mind.
National signing day is February 5. Spring practices begin on March 6 and run until the annual spring game on April 12.
Excitement and anticipation is abundant.
“I have freshmen talking that this is one of four rings they want to walk out of here with,” Tavani said smiling.