Friday, September 26, 2008

Southern QB Lee Has Eye On SWAC Crown

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Correspondent

Making smart decisions is respected whether a quarterback’s playing NCAA Division I or Pee Wee football.
Southern University signal caller Bryant Lee has made a name for himself by making interceptions a seldom occurrence.
The 6-foot-2 junior, who was selected as the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, has only thrown one interception so far this season. Over the past 13 games, Lee has only been picked off five times.
Lee’s spectacular play hasn’t gone unnoticed by football-crazy fans on Southern’s campus. His popularity was so high that a student designed the 2008 EA College Football poster with Lee on the cover that currently graces his Facebook page. The team oriented Lee appreciates the honor but hasn’t lost focus of the Jaguars’ true goals.
“All of this stuff is good, but it doesn’t really mean nothing, because our main goal is to get to the [SWAC] championship game and winning,” said Lee.
His penchant for keeping turnovers to a minimum has already caught the eye of ESPN Black College analyst Eddie Robinson Jr.
“He’s a real efficient quarterback that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes but that can still make big plays,” said Robinson. “Even though he’s still a young guy he’s still one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the SWAC Conference.”
Far from conservative, Lee has averaged 226.7 yards per contest in 2008 and has a 66.3 completion percentage. Though the Jaguars are currently 1-2, the offense has been producing a healthy 28 points per game. Lee admits that the team expected to perform better early in the season.
“We don’t have the record that we wanted going into SWAC play but I think we’re starting to get on the right track,” said Lee. “The win against Mississippi Valley [week three] gave us a huge boost going into the bye week.”
The biggest dud of the season came on opening day when the D-IAA Southern lost to D-I Houston by 52 points. Southern’s offense only managed three points and the 39 yards rushing made head coach Pete Richardson’s gameplan one-dimensional.
Being blown out by a Bowl Subdivision team was disappointing for the potential NFL prospect. Even though Lee threw no touchdowns against Houston, he still produced a season-high 58-yard passing attempt. Robinson, a former NFL star with the Tennessee Titans, believes that blame isn’t solely on Lee.
“One thing you have to look at when a D-IAA school plays against a D-I program is not just the talent level of the quarterback position but the skill level of the team,” Robinson said. “At some point, quite frankly, the Southern offensive line is going to get outmanned by Houston’s [defensive] players up front. The quarterback spot is a team position and if you don’t have protection to throw or wide receivers that can get open it’s hard to look good.”
More importantly, Lee says that the Jaguars got into the win column by committing less penalties. Southern lost a close game to Tennessee State because they allowed 34 points and had nine penalties for 113 yards. Lee was thought that the team’s discipline showed signs of improvement in their rout of Mississippi Valley.
“We wanted to start executing better as a team,” said Lee. “Special teams made a lot of plays that helped the offense out [against Mississippi Valley] and as an offense we re-dedicated ourselves to the film room to make sure we had our reads right.”
Lee is the epitome of diligence. While most of his teammates are having fun in their spare time, the Louisiana native can be found resting his body and getting extra hours in the film room. During the bye week, the soft-spoken Lee has also devoted extra time with Strength and Conditioning coach Thomas Hall to stay in better shape.
Heading into their showdown with Alcorn State, Lee feels that the Jaguars are more focused at 1-2 than they would’ve been at 3-0.
“I think we’re saying to ourselves that [being 1-2] is going to help us out because we didn’t want to go in the SWAC season with big heads and underestimate a couple teams,” said Lee.
Off the field, the star quarterback also benefits from having an understanding safety net during his leisure time. Girlfriend Jamicka Pugh is a senior defender for Southern’s soccer team and keeps his competitive juices flowing.
“She understands how dedicated I am to being in the film room she goes through the same thing too,” Lee said. “We’re always competing against each other in everything we do so it makes me that much better on the field.”
Lee wants to be on top of his game the final two years of his college career in order to get a shot at the NFL. With former SWAC quarterbacks like Steve McNair finding success at the pro level, the opportunity is there. The flexible Lee would prefer to be a quarterback in the pros but wouldn’t rule out if his position were to be changed in the NFL.
“It truly wouldn’t matter to me because I know I can get the job done at any position,” said Lee. “I’m really just looking forward to working hard to get in the position to get drafted in the first place.”
Before the junior can set his sights on the NFL, Lee has to navigate through a strenuous SWAC schedule. With teams like undefeated Prairie View A & M on the horizon, the road to the championship won’t be easy.
On the road to getting over the hurdle in the SWAC conference, the second-year starter already has certain games penciled in on his calendar.
“I look at Alabama A & M and Arkansas Pine Bluff because I haven’t beaten them yet so those will be important to me,” said Lee. “There were a few mistakes made by us offensively and defensively in the past so I’ll be looking forward to playing those two games.”
If the game-winning decisions are put in Lee’s hands, the safe bet should be on Southern.

Entering His Senior Season, FitzPatrick Wants To Go Out With A Bang

By Jordan Ingram
Main Line Life Sportswriter

Brian FitzPatrick still remembers it like it was yesterday.
A 36-point blowout to the University of Penn Quakers to end the 2007 season stuck to the former EA standout the entire offseason.
“The off-season started for us in the locker room at Franklin Field last year where we got embarrassed,” said FitzPatrick. “It was real tough because it was my last [college] game in Philadelphia and to lose like that made me want to play them the next day. At that point we decided that we’re going to have to do some different stuff as a program and we came together.”
Earning a hard-fought 21-20 victory against Bucknell to open the 2008 season was a small relief, but far from a cure.
Heading into their Ivy League opener against Yale University, the Big Red will be expecting a lot from FitzPatrick who didn’t even catch a pass on opening day. FitzPatrick did not complain about his production in the first game, instead he focused on improving for the next contest.
“Between my fellow receivers and the quarterbacks we have a great relationship,” said FitzPatrick. “We don’t really have a set of starting receivers because we rotate about eight guys that are capable of being starters.”
Last season the 5-foot-10 senior only saw limited action after suffering a torn hamstring during training camp. Since FitzPatrick didn’t redshirt after the injury, he was able to return to the lineup for the final three games of the season where he only gained 38 yards.
The team has shown added dedication to their preparation during the week to ensure that finishing 2-5 in the Ivy League is a thing of the past. With players that come from 30 different states, everyone still found time to participate in voluntary weekend two-man camps at Cornell.
This season the former Inter-Ac Player of the Year is putting his stats aside to help the career end on a good note. It started with his attitude, which spread.
“The big thing we really wanted to change this year was the attitude people brought to the locker room,” said FitzPatrick, “people needed to devote themselves more than in the past.”
“People worked hard during the week but lost focus when they got off the field but we wanted to make the culture that you’re a football player 24/7 and keep it on your mind at all times.”
Staying in a constant football mindset even extends to talking about the gameplan in the cafeteria in between classes for FitzPatrick and his teammates. It was simple: Think, eat, sleep, and talk football off the field, and hope the results show on the field.
“Once we started getting game film of teams, we’re always talking about which guys we want to exploit or plays that will work during games,” said FitzPatrick. “We talk about the gameplan all the time whether we’re in practice or we’re walking home from the stadium after practice. It makes the game easier.”
FitzPatrick has also gained a keener awareness of how to execute and manipulate opposing team’s gameplans from daily phone discussions with former high school teammate, Greg Isdaner. At EA Isdaner blocked for FitzPatrick who played quarterback for the Churchmen. With the 6-foot-4, 330-pound offensive lineman as a safety net, FitzPatrick was able to produce 25 touchdowns passing and rushing as a senior at Episcopal.
The versatile FitzPatrick loves being able to watch his former teammate flourish at West Virginia and loves getting a preview of what’s to come on Saturdays.
“He’s my best friend and I talk to [Isdaner] almost four times a week where we give each other our scouting reports on the teams we’re playing,” Fitzpatrick said. “I know West Virginia’s gameplan before they play the game because we talk about it the entire night before.”
In the Inter-Ac FitzPatrick also played against current Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and former Haverford School signal caller Bryan Savage. At Episcopal, his notable classmates included Duke’s Gerald Henderson and North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington. He’s a proud EA alum.
“I brag about every single one of those guys to the people on my team,” said FitzPatrick. “It’s fun to be able to watch all of them on television and say that I was around them in high school.”
With his uncle being an assistant coach on the Churchmen football team, FitzPatrick is also able to keep up with Episcopal’s progress during his leisure time. He even works out with some of the younger Churchmen during the offseason. His younger brother, Bobby, graduated from EA earlier this year, but that doesn’t stop him from rooting for the Churchmen, who started this week off 3-0.
“I have a lot of pride in Episcopal…I definitely stay as involved with the team as much as I can,” said FitzPatrick.
The loss to the Quakers last season not only left a bad taste in his mouth, but it was his last chance to play in Philadelphia. Two of the first three games on Cornell’s schedule are in Pennsylvania including a game at Lehigh, so he does have a chance to get a few victories in front of some familiar faces.
“I can’t wait because Lehigh is closer to home than any other game we’ll play this year,” FitzPatrick. “I drive past Lehigh on the way to Ithaca [N.Y.], for school, so I’m looking forward to my last true home game in front of a bunch of my family members.”

Basketball Clinic Puts Academics First

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Correspondent

If you wanted to see some of high school basketball’s future movers and shakers, look no further than Roman Catholic High School.
Organized by local Sonny Hill League coach Rasool Nasr Hajj, the First Annual Youth Clinic invited some of the top grade school talents in the area.
During the event, the young up-and-comers also had the opportunity to hear other youth coaches, Abu Jabbar and Jerome Smith, speak about the importance of education.
Nasr Hajj, who also coached Interstate Realty to the 2007 Cosby League Championship, thought that education was the key message being expressed.
“We want to make sure that the kids are academically prepared for high school and college,” Nasr Hajj said. “We really used the basketball to draw them down to Roman Catholic so that we could really talk about academics.”
The first day of the clinic was focused on the youngsters attending classes at Roman where they received lectures about achieving good scores on the PSAT and SAT exams. Some of the top future talents that were in attendance included 6-foot-3 eighth grade guard Miles Overton (the son of New Jersey Nets assistant coach Doug Overton) and 5-foot-6 seventh grader Malik Tyndale (younger brother of former Temple star Mark Tyndale).
Nasr Hajj also was impressed that former NBA players like Pervis Ellison and Lari Ketner were in attendance to support the event.
“I felt great that I actually had Doug Overton’s son at the clinic, Marshall Taylor’s son, and Malik Tyndale because we think they’ll become good athletes but even better students,” said Nasr Hajj. “They were excellent kids that gave me zero problems during the weekend.”
When it came time for the kids to show-and-prove on the hardwood, the young athletes failed to disappoint. Nasr Hajj organized drills in order to focus on offensive and defensive fundamentals.
The younger Tyndale took a workmanlike approach to the defensive approach and his competitive demeanor at times mirrored his older brother. Even at a young age Malik, who attends Gesu School, understands that defense is vital.
“It all starts on defense first,” said Malik. “You have to do everything on defense before you start shooting the ball and scoring. My brother taught me a couple of moves and my dad taught us how to play basketball.”
The kids participated in five-on-five competition where Jabbar and Smith served as coaches of the respective teams. Though the game didn’t attract the large, unruly crowd of a Friday night Roman vs. Neumann-Gorretti showdown, but it gave onlookers a strong indication that Philly basketball has a bright future.
In the two quarters he played, it was hard for parents to take their eyes off of 6-foot-3 eighth grade center Amir Maddred. Maddred scored over double-figures and displayed a good feel for scoring that will make any coach happy. The Talley Middle School (Wilmington, Del.) big man was overjoyed to play against such top-notch competition.
“I got a really good experience playing against great competition and I thought it really helped my game out a lot,” said Maddred.

Eighth grade MVP Britton Lee impressed onlookers the most during the weekend. The 5-foot-8 combo guard from Woodrow Wilson Middle School seemed like a man among boys with his effortless drives to the basket and smooth, no look passes. Already inked to Roman in 2009, Lee was happy to play on the floor where he eventually hopes to become a star.
“It felt good to play here because I know a lot of great players played at Roman,” Lee said. “I understand that academics are important because if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be able to get into Roman at all.”