Stage is different but Lehigh's Casey, Clemson's Leggett cut from same cloth
Approximately 6,000 people filled Goodman Stadium on a sunny, 56 degree afternoon in eastern Pennsylvania. The Patriot League conference title hung in the balance with Lehigh hosting Fordham. Both the Mountain Hawks and Rams entered the game undefeated in league play.
Lehigh opened up the second half with a nine-play, 84 yard drive. The Mountain Hawks, known for their aerial attack, gave the Rams a heavy dose of their ground game. Running backs Dom Bragalone and Nana Amankwah-Aveh combined for 55 yards on the drive. It was the lone pass play of the drive, a 29-yard reception by wideout Gatlin Casey, that put six points on the board for Lehigh.
Casey lined up wide right, one-on-one against Fordham defensive back Jihaad Pretlow. He ran a precise route to the goal line. Casey made an adjustment on the ball thrown by back-up quarterback Brad Mayes. Like a ballerina doing a pirouette, Casey spun his body back to the ball to haul in the pass. Casey’s athleticism and finesse made the play possible. The scoring strike gave Lehigh a comfortable 44-9 led. They would go onto win 58-37, extending their winning streak to seven games. A win this Saturday gives them the Patriot League title.
Several hours later, a primetime nationally televised contest in the deep South moved into the fourth quarter. The bright lights of Doak Campbell Stadium shined on No. 3 Clemson playing conference rival Florida State. There were 23 broadcast cameras, including pylon cameras, capturing every angle.
With Clemson trailing 34-29 with 2:13 left in the game, the Tigers faced a first-and-10 at the FSU 34-yard line. Quarterback Deshaun Watson found a wide open Jordan Leggett at the 16-yard line. Leggett turned upfield and ran to the four-yard line before eluding Florida State defensive back Marquez White. Elevating himself, Leggett soared over White who attempted to tackle Leggett low. The pylon camera showed Leggett using one arm to propel himself forward while stretching out the other arm with the ball for the goal line. Ruled a touchdown, Leggett’s athleticism kept Clemson undefeated and very much alive in the College Football Playoff picture.
Casey and Leggett have a lot more in common than catching touchdowns. They both played at Navarre (Fla.) High School and were a powerful pass-catching duo. Opposing DBs had fits dealing with their height and ability.
“He played mostly outside and I was in the slot,” Casey said of his time when he and Leggett played for the Navarre Raiders. “When you are as tall as we are (Leggett 6-5; Casey 6-3) it really helps when jump balls are thrown. In the end though, it’s more of a want than anything else.”
Having also played on the Navarre basketball team all four years, Casey’s high teammates gave him an appropriate nickname: Great White Hope.
“Its just something that stuck,” said Casey, who uses @GreatWhiteHopee as his twitter handle. “Its all in good fun. I see myself comparable to Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson.”
Leggett gets plenty of ink, attention, publicity and love as a star on one of the best teams in college football. Because Lehigh doesn’t compete in the same level, Casey’s body of work this season is relatively unknown. And that is a shame. Casey’s output is top notch. He is a vital cog in Lehigh’s offense which is arguably one of the most prolific in the FCS.
Casey is second in the FCS in receiving touchdowns with 12. He is fourth in receiving yards with 948. Casey’s only caught 46 balls but taking into consideration his receiving yards, he is averaging 20 yards a catch. For defensive coordinators who want to limit explosive plays, Casey is a nightmare.
Along with fellow wide out Troy Pelletier, quarterback Nick Shafinsky and Bragalone, the Mountain Hawks are fifth in the country in scoring offense, averaging over 42 points a game. Shafinsky is averaging 336 yards in the air which is the fifth most in FCS.
The paths out of Navarre differed for Casey and Leggett mostly because of their build. Casey was a mere 170 pounds and subsequently received only preferred walk-on opportunities from FBS schools. At 205 pounds, Leggett was tabbed a 3-star recruit and received multiple offers. A coaching connection put Casey’s tape in the hands of the Lehigh staff. He was offered a scholarship. He probably could have received an academic scholarship because of his 4.2 weighted GPA.
“There were two reasons I chose Lehigh,” Casey said. “I wanted to play (instead of walking on) and it had what I wanted academically. Plus if you are that good you are going to get noticed (by NFL scouts) no matter where you go play.”
Leggett and Casey go all the way back together to their Pop Warner playing days. They still consider each other friends; occasionally texting and hanging out when both are back in Navarre.
The stage that Casey and Leggett might not be the same but the city of Navarre, the Patriot League and all of the FCS knows just how good Casey is.
Above: Gatlin Casey (Courtesy Brent Hugo/Lehigh Athletics)