Every head football coach hates to use the word “rebuild” when it comes to their football team, but going into the 2019 Mountain Hawk football season, it was hard to avoid it.
From the preseason conference call where Lehigh was picked to finish 5th in the league – a reflection on last season’s 3-8 record and the 5-6 record that preceded it – the word “rebuild” seemed to hang over this team.
“Over 40% of our team are first-year players,” Lehigh head Tom Gilmore said on that call. “And we’re excited to see what some of these freshman can do to enhance our roster and push the upperclassmen to be the best version of themselves on the field.”
To a fan base that had grown accustomed to the way freshly retired head coach Andy Coen handled preseasons, already there was a sense that under coach Gilmore, things were different.
But there was also the sense that perhaps it would take a bit of time to get things to where the Mountain Hawks would be every year competing for the Patriot League Championships.
Indeed, under Tom Gilmore things have been different. Lehigh has been going through the adjustment of new ways of doing things, and evolving as true freshmen and players getting their first significant game action adjust to the speed and rigor of Division I football.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to “rebuilding”, or at least what passes as rebuilding in a league that has struggled to find its place recently in the world of FCS.
Colgate, who started the season ranked in all the major Top 25s and were the prohibitive favorites to win the conference title, discovered that they forgot how to win football games. After Lehigh held them a half yard short of the goal line last week to hold on for a 21-14 win, the Riaders were then stunned last week at home by winless Bucknell, dropping them to 0-7 and almost certainly eliminated from the Patriot League title race.
With the stunning fall of Colgate, just like that, it looks like the balance of power in the Patriot League is, for better or worse, wide open – and “rebuilding” Lehigh appears to have as good a chance as anybody to come away with this thing.
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