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Penn's 800th football win and first win of the season after coming back in the second half. Credit: Laura Francis , Laura Francis

If there was anything easy about Penn football’s run to a second straight Ivy League championship last year, it was finding a source of motivation.

The Quakers were defending their title, and more importantly, playing in honor of their fallen captain, Owen Thomas, who died months before the 2010 campaign began.

This year, in order to ward off the all-too-common ill of complacency that comes with being a two-time champ, the Red and Blue will be pushed by another special source of motivation: a shot at history.

Though Penn has three-peated as outright champs before (1984-1986), never have the Quakers — or any squad in Ancient Eight history — done so with three undefeated seasons.

This group will have that opportunity, something that is not lost to the team’s head coach of 19 years, Al Bagnoli.

“It’s something that motivates you, it’s something that challenges you [and] it’s something that very few teams ever get a chance to do,” he said at the team’s media day session Monday. “We’re embracing this more than we’re afraid of it.”

Junior defensive tackle Brandon Copeland, a first-team All-Ivy selection last year, said the fire is already present at camp.
“If you look at us in the weight room, people are … doing things on the side. People are running extra after practice,” he said.

And with Thomas and his other accomplished predecessors in mind, Copeland added:

“We definitely don’t want to drop the ball for the people that set it up for us in the past.”

With a football program as successful as Penn’s — five championships in the last 11 years — that should be motivation enough.

Marsh returns to powerful backfield. Eleven months ago, running back Lyle Marsh shattered his forearm in the Quakers’ second 2010 game, bringing what was supposed to be his breakout sophomore season to a heartbreaking end.

That Sept. 25 day also precipitated an arduous recovery process — surgery followed by four to five months of rehab before being cleared for weightlifting — that can officially be labeled “complete.”

Monday, Marsh declared himself “fully recovered” from compound fractures to both of his forearm bones, an injury Bagnoli called “as severe a forearm injury as you ever want to see.”

“The bone is just as strong as it was before or stronger,” Marsh said. “All the tendons, all the muscles and everything in there are healed so it really shouldn’t be an issue at all.”

That’s good news for the Quakers and bad news for the rest of the Ivy League.

In Marsh’s absence, classmate Brandon Colavita enjoyed a breakout season of his own, rushing for 728 yards (5.8 per carry) and 12 touchdowns. Now, the two are forming a three-headed monster of power backs along with Jeff Jack, another junior.

“All of us can play, all of us can be starters in this league,” said Marsh, who led the team in rushing as a freshman.

Coaches plan to split touches between the three, but each could be asked to carry the load this season, according to Marsh.

“It’s really just going to be a game-to-game thing with who’s playing well, who’s hot at the time,” he said.

Big shoes to fill. Penn Football has attempted 71 field goals over the past four seasons. All but two came off the foot of Andrew Samson, school record holder in nine categories, including points and made field goals.

But Samson’s historic four-year run is over, and senior Dan Lipschutz is getting the first crack at replacing the greatest kicker in Quakers’ history. Lipschutz was listed atop an early projected depth chart for Penn this season.

The pressure on the Ambler, Pa., native, could not be higher — even Bagnoli said kicking will be the team’s biggest question mark this season.

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