At the beginning of this season, Lehigh wide receiver Craig Zurn and his senior teammates figured it was time for a change. For the previous three seasons, Zurn, a former Jim Thorpe High School standout, and his fellow Mountain Hawks had endured consecutive losing seasons, and they didn't want to endure a fourth one.
To their credit, they turned around their misfortunes as Lehigh won its ninth overall Patriot League crown this season. They will take their 9-2 record to Northern Iowa Saturday afternoon for a NCAA FSC first-round playoff game.
"This has just been a great season," gushed Zurn, who will be joined by former high school teammate and senior defensive tackle Ben Flizack in their first collegiate playoff appearance. "It has been an amazing run for us this season. Winning the league was a credit to all the hard work we put and it will be fun to play in the playoffs. "Over the past few years, we have struggled and overcame a lot of things."
Zurn noted he and his teammates truly learned from life lessons from their misfortunes. They moved passed their previous lows of 5-6, 5-6 and 4-7 seasons respectively toward some higher ground and overall satisfaction.
"We did learn from our losing," Zurn said. "We realized some of the mistakes we were making and worked to correct them. It was correcting some things and changing some attitudes.
"We also made some progress in the offseason and we thought we would have a better year."
Along with his team improving their stature, the 6-foot, 195-pound Zurn has been steadily improving his game each year. In his sophomore year, Zurn had 13 catches for 118 yards with two touchdowns and 415 all-purpose yards, mainly due to his kickoff returns. The following season, Zurn caught 33 passes for 371 yards with two touchdowns and 501 all-purpose yards.
This season, Zurn has hauled in 34 receptions for 494 yards with two touchdowns and 499 all-purpose yards. He finished third on the team receiving for the regular season. Heading into the playoffs, Zurn has 80 career catches for 983 yards.
"My first goal was for the team to do well this season and to try and win a Patriot League championship," he stated. "But I wanted to improve on my receptions each year. I started to get more playing time my sophomore year and I began to work harder."My numbers (receptions) and yards have gone up and everything has worked out well."
His determination and work ethic has certainly been recognized.
"He (Zurn) is one of the hardest workers on the team," said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. "He is a very gritty and tough player who can make things happen. (Zurn) has helped us with his kickoff returns and he has also made some big catches for us through the years.
"He remains focused on his tasks on and off the field."
As well as being focused on his duties on the field, Zurn has been diligent in his pursuit of a management and entrepreneurship degree. He remains uncertain of a possible position in his field, but Zurn will welcome all opportunities.
When he isn't involved with football and other sports and his academics, Zurn is a movie buff. He enjoys all kinds of movies and has his own personal vast collections dating back over 20 years.
"Movies can be an escape for me from sports," he said. "I like to watch all kinds of movies. I also have my own collection going back to the 1980s. Over the years, I have always been a big fan (of movies) and try to watch them when I'm not involved with football, studying or another sport."
Over the past three years, Zurn has been a big fan of Lehigh football. When he graduated from Jim Thorpe in 2007, Zurn explored some of the local colleges and also Stony Brook and Albany. In the end, he decided a trip to Bethlehem was the best fit.
"This has been a great experience for me," Zurn said. "I looked at some local schools and some in other states. But Lehigh had a strong academic program and football tradition.
"I have made a lot of good friends here and have plenty of memories. This year will always be special to me. Being and playing here has driven me toward a successful future."
He can take another major step in his future on the field Saturday afternoon.