Sunday, April 20, 2014

Epperly, Zeuli Are the 2014 Captains


Never mind the NCAA, Ivy League and Princeton records he set in an Ivy League championship 2013, Quinn Epperly still greatly minds the way it ended. 

“We didn’t do enough and we lost,” said Epperly right after the Tigers settled for a share of the Ivy title with Harvard by losing Game 10 at Dartmouth.  “We lost and it’s a terrible way to end the season for our seniors, really tarnishes a lot of what we did for the year.”

Let the record show that none of the Tigers who received their 2013 Ivy League championship rings Saturday had to run for the Tarn-X to scrub off the eight points that cost them an undefeated season. The rings, which also noted on one side a second consecutive Big Three title, are beautiful, but in keeping with Princeton tradition they are in silver for a co-championship not in gold like for undisputed titles.

Quinn Epperly '15
Since the Tigers have yet to beat Dartmouth in the Surace era, since Harvard hasn’t gone to the SEC and Penn seceded to the Big 10, the marked 2014 Tigers will be sprinting across an even higher wire and not looking for any net below. After hearing Epperly evaluate 8-2 so harshly in the painful aftermath at Dartmouth, Surace told his quarterback to enjoy all the Tigers accomplished in 2013.  Be assured the coach will not repeat that talk before the opener at San Diego.

"I thought we threw the ball well but all of them made greedy decisions and I have to get that out of them. “Connor (Michelsen) threw one across his body. Kedric (Bostic) had one that could have been intercepted and Chad had one (tipped) in the red zone. where on third down he should have just taken the ball where it was -- at the two-yard line.    You can’t get enough of this [practice time] to work on decision making.”

Undisputed remains only the bad taste in their quarterback’s mouth. The first thing Princeton’s new co-captain said in Saturday’s first addresses to the team?

“I think we need to rid ourselves of any complacency,” said Epperly, elected along with Mike Zeuli.

“We lost two games last year, we did not go undefeated and we need as many guys out here this summer as we can get.  We don’t have the time for anyone coming in out of shape.   

“I want to thank you guys. I am honored you voted me as captain. But with that, I’m not accepting anything less than an undefeated season next year.  I want a gold ring. We are going to be the first (Princeton) team undefeated since 1964.”

Mike Zeuli '15
As expected, Zeuli -- intense enough to melt the metal tigers at the north end of the stadium, with a casual (for him) glance, didn’t exactly second Epperly with, “well, if we stay healthy, and the refs are fair and we give it the ‘ol Princeton try, we might be as good as anybody, but the most important thing is that we graduate.”

Instead Zeuli, the senior-to-be linebacker said: “No way we lose a game. “It’s unacceptable if we lose a game next year.”

“You want them to feel like the standard is being perfect, whether it’s in a call, a throw, or a tackle,” he said.  “Anything less than that you have to correct, that's how coaches think.

“Players can think aw, I’m doing okay,’ but there is no complacency in Quinn. He thinks like a coach. That’s a great trait.”

And a characteristic that rubs off. When Surace sent his players to the polls last week to pick co-captains, he felt however the vote came back Princeton would be undefeated.

“We had 15 guys get votes, which shows how many good leaders we have,” said Surace.  “But it was a large majority for both [Epperly and Zeuli] and shows the respect they have from their teammates. 

James Frusciante '17
“They do things right and they are committed.  You see them doing extra and setting an example.”

Epperly and Zeuli succeed the graduating Caraun Reid and Phil Bhaya, both of which played on successive 1-9 teams and appreciate more than most 22 year-olds the value of perseverance.  the new captains, 1-9 as freshmen, too, grabbed their share of the rope to pull the pull the program out of the doldrums, why they didn’t have to promise any post-practice ice cream or balsa barbells in the weight room to get elected by their peers.

“It means a lot to me, especially with your friends [choosing],” said Epperly. “An extreme honor.”

“To know that guys see you as their leaders,” said Zeuli, “is really humbling.”


Mark Berggren, whose 14-year-old son Nils lost a horrific fight against his body’s rejection of the stem cell transplants that defeated Non Hodgkins Lymphoma in February -- but not before he and the 2013 champions mutually inspired each other -- spoke before the Tigers, Nils included posthumously, received their rings.

“It is a very deep void,” said Mark, captain of the 1985 Tigers. “You have spent at lot of time and energy focused on helping him and now that I don’t have to do that it’s a bit disorienting, to be honest with you.

“So being here helps orient me. The people in this program put Nils on the team and as true teammates do, they supported him and he found inspiration from them.  So to be invited here and come back to where I played football and be received by the football community, it’s a sense of family.”


With multiple nicked and recuperating upperclassmen held out of Saturday’s final spring scrimmage (although the Tigers will practice one more time Wednesday), it was an opportunity for rising freshman to play their way up the August depth chart.

Running backs Joey Rhattigan and A.J. Glass hit hard between the tackles; receivers James Frusciante, Lawrence Wilson and Connor Grogan (the latter two for touchdowns) had impressive catches and quarterback Chad Kanoff threw well; On defense, Sam Huffman had an interception and linebacker Rohan Hylton made a couple strong plays on the ball.

“It was a physical day,” said Surace. “I thought we were going to run 75 plays and it went so smooth, I think we did about 100. 

“Things were moving so well, guys were running so well, and it was a beautiful day so lets keep going.  

“Defensively we were around the ball, and offensively the red zone (execution) was good.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

With Caraun Gone, Desire` is First in Line to Continue The Line


It will be almost all in the knees, says Steve Verbit, if Princeton is not going to bow to severe graduation losses on the defensive line.

“Each time Ty Desire` gets knocked off the ball, he is able to scratch his head a little bit and say, to himself ‘if I had bent my knees more, that’s not going to happen in the future,’” said Verbit, the co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.

Right, says Desire`, but staying low doesn’t mean laying low.  One year after Mike Catapano, Caraun Reid also is on his way to the NFL  plus All-Ivy Greg Sotereanos and Matt Landry are graduating, along with the Tigers’ first two reserves, Chris Pondo and Joe Robin. Seemingly, that’s too many good defensive linemen to replace. But Desire` doesn’t want to run from the pressure, instead intends to eventually create it in the backfield at a level Reid and Catapano did.

“I don’t mind the expectations," said Desire` '17.  "It gives you an opportunity to go out there every day to be good at practice and to bear down in the weight room.

"I prefer it this way."

He came from Uniondale (N.Y.) High School with a first step that is the first step to being a dynamic disruptor of defenses.  But if he is going to turn out to be The Next,  then next has to be developing into a solid run stopper. The 35 pounds he has put on since high school will help, but aren't going to get it done without technique. 
Tyler Desire '17

“I still have a long, long, way to go playing the run, but I feel now like I have a chance,” said Desire` ‘17.  “Last year I was just getting blown off the line.

“Now I am at a point where I know what to do; stay low, use my hands. I am attentive to all the blocking schemes and how to attack them. It makes me feel a lot more confident when it comes to the run. 

"It’s not just me, though, it’s the entire defensive line.  Since we don’t have that much experience every day we have to come with the mindset we have something to prove, because come (the opener against) San Diego it’s just us out there, not Caraun, Greg and Sot."  

Another monster pass rusher would free up what Verbit calls “one of the best secondaries we have had here” for all kinds of shenanigans.

The secondary Surace inherited in 2010 needed too much coverage help to allow much blitzing during his first two years.  But this one -- which returns a healthy Khamal Brown from a year’s hiatus with all-Ivy talents Anthony Gaffney, John Hill, Matt Arends, returning nickel back Jakobi Johnson and a gaggle of talented underclassmen -- can load up enough looks that the Tigers have even shown some two-man fronts during spring practice.

So the strength of the defense shifts to the back end. But of course there will be no Ivy League title repeat without ta lot of second-and-eights and some pressure being applied to passers out of the basic three-man Princeton front.  And the Tigers don’t have three men with much track record.

Desire` was used only as a speed rusher during his freshman year.  Ian McGeary and Evan Kappatos, a converted fullback, played sparingly after Sotereanos, injured during camp, returned to play the final eight games.

Baxter Ingram '17 and Brannon Jones ‘17,  emerging stars of the weight room, have been moved from linebacker because of the depth there, plus the needs on the line. Of five incoming defensive linemen on the yet-to-be announced class of 2018, a couple may be advanced enough to see some playing time in 2014.  But Desire', up 35 pounds from his high school weight of 215, is the player who has a chance to make this line better than just competent.

“We don’t want him to be Cat or Caraun, just the best Tyler Desire` he can be,” said Bob Surace. 

He is working hard at it.

“He played a lot of things in high school – tailback, quarterback, linebacker -- and defensive line wasn’t one of the them,” said Verbit.  “But he had great measurables.

Steve Verbit
“We’re looking for big bodies with long arms that can run.  We saw how athletic he was on the basketball court. You hope it will translate into being a very good defensive lineman but he came in very inexperienced. We didn’t use him at all in run situations (as a freshman) because from a leverage situation he wasn’t quite ready to help us.

“The plus side is that he is a more-than-willing worker and an unbelievable learner.  He is always the first guy in and the last guy to leave, wants to come in and talk a little bit of football because he knows he has to increase his knowledge.

“He has gotten better every single day out here this spring.  I think the whole pack is improving on a daily basis.”

McGeary ’16 is the heir apparent to Sotereanos, who cut back slightly on his astounding work in the weight room, lost some pounds and gained some quickness, growing during his senior season to a nose tackle who could make plays in the backfield. 

“Sot was an incredible technician,” said McGeary.  “Every step was the right step, every punch he did was the right thing.

“His reads on players were phenomenal. He knew he wasn’t the biggest guy out there and to get done what he got done, he had to be a perfect technician.  It was great watching him.  We look at video now to see how he did it in a game.”

McGeary also is looking at how Sotereanos did it in the weight room at the dinner table.  Possessor of the second highest score on the team in the weight room, McGeary has been told to follow Sotereanos’ lead and lose a few pounds and gain a step. 

“Greg said it was just work, fruit salads and more conditioning every time after a lift,” said McGeary.  “So that’s what I have been doing, working with Victoria (Rosenfeld), our dietician.

A year ago Kappatos, a linebacker and offensive lineman in high school, and a fullback his freshman year at Princeton, did what Ingram and Jones are doing now -- learned a new position to upgrade depth.

Ian McGeary '16
“One of the hardest things was just reading the blocks,” said Kappatos. “Standing up as a linebacker, you get to see everything pretty easily.  In a stance you have one step and then the guy is on you.”  

“Every day I get a little better, a little faster. The game slows down so you can see what is going wrong and do your technique properly.

“What I learned the most from both Cat and Caruan is their motors -- how to go even in the fourth quarter when everybody was dead tired.  That’s one of the toughest things about playing the D line, you get more tired than you might think.”

Even more tiring to these guys would become constantly hearing that the Tigers position of deepest strength has gone to a weakness in just one year.  So one of the greatest challenges of Verbit’s 27 years at Princeton – “never had to replace five before, two at most” -- is their challenge, too.

“Ty’s feet are going all different ways; we have to teach him how to run because his flexibility is a little less than stellar,” said Verbit.  “But when you talk to him he is looking you right in the eye because he wants to be a good player.

“Having Caruan (still) around in the weight room certainly has helped him and everybody for that matter. Ty is a very good learner. It’s all about getting experience for all these guys.”


Tigers will name their 2014 captains and receive their 2013 Ivy League championship rings after Saturday’s 10 am final spring scrimmage on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

And with two practices in pads remaining, which rising freshmen are rising in the coaches’ evaluations? 

“(James) Frusciante is really starting to emerge, like (WR) Lawrence Wilson (’17) and WR Trevor Osborne,” said Surace.  “(RB) Joey Rhattigan is starting to become really consistent, like (QB) Chad Kanoff, who is no longer just a flash player.  (OL) Mason Darrow and (OL) Jack Knight are in that boat, too, while (TE) Scott Carpenter is also becoming more consistent too, which is great, because he showed flashes last fall.

“Every time we go live Matt Skowron (’17) turns it up a notch. He has some Mike Zeuli in him.  We were so happy with Matt and Marcus Stroud (’16), we thought we could move Ingram (’16] and Brannon Jones ‘17 to the line.  (Luke) Merrell ('15) and Skowron, Stroud and Birk Olson (’17) are competing well for the outside LB job (vacated by the graduations of Jason Ray and Elijah Mitchell)."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easy To See That Kanoff is Happy at Princeton


A football comes out of Chad Kanoff’s right hand even quicker than the compliments leave his coaches’ mouths.

“Isn’t that pretty?” says Bob Surace.  “So natural, so balanced, so smooth.”

Even more fundamentally perfect than having a four-star rated recruit (by following two classes behind a quarterback accountable for an Ivy League record 43 touchdowns last season, just might be Kanoff’s throwing motion.   

“There are no wasted movements outside his body,” said James Perry, Princeton’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

“You don’t want to over stride with your feet and you don’t want the ball to come away from your upper body.  He has such nice small movements in both his lower body and upper body that the time between his decision to throw and the ball coming out is very, very fast.”

Chad Kanoff '17
Quick upstairs, too, is Princeton’s highest-profile prospect since probably, Keith Elias in 1990.  An NFL player agent slipped Mary Ellen Kanoff, Chad’s mother, a business card after happening upon her son throwing in an eighth-grade flag football game, so yeah, he has that kind of promise.  But Kanoff also is the kind of kid who would turn down the prospect of bowl games for the prospect of a Princeton degree, yet still come to campus not expecting to instantly clean up against FCS competition.

“I didn’t really have an expectation coming in, was just thinking about school and football and doing the best I can,” he said after a spring practice last week..  “But it’s harder than I thought it would be.”

He doesn’t mean standing on the sidelines watching Quinn Epperly become the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year.  This offense is more difficult than even Kanoff’s enrollment decision.

“He is more decisive, as he should be as a spring freshman,” said Surace.  “His knowledge of the calls, his command of the offense and his authoritativeness at the line of scrimmage have all made big jumps. 

“We’re really pleased seeing him mature.  He has worked hard in the weight room and has gotten stronger.”

Of course so has a quarterback position where Connor Michelsen, the starter who threw for three touchdowns in the 2012 miracle win over Harvard, missed one game last season with an injury and then couldn’t get the No. 1 job back as Epperly exploded to a record-breaking season.

Meanwhile, Kedric Bostic, who as a freshman in 2012 zipped the Tigers down the field for a touchdown against Dartmouth while Epperly and Michelsen both were injured competes with Kanoff for his eventual turn, too.  More quarterbacks are coming in the yet-to-be announced Class of 2018.  The idea here is for Princeton to have a continuous line of All-Ivy quarterbacks.  And they all come here knowing they have to get in line.   

“I hope none of them are too patient,” said Perry.  “At the same time you are supporting your teammate and wanting him to do well, you gotta want to start.

“The guys who want to play are the best players. The thing I said to Chad when we recruited him -- and say to all the quarterbacks in our first meeting when they get here -- is  ‘in order to start at Princeton, you should think ‘I’m the best player in the league.  

“That’s where we are at now, because if Chad wants to start, he is going to have to beat out the best player in the league in Quinn.  Chad knows that, and that’s how he is attacking it, or should be.  He seems to be getting the message.”

Epperly goes into 2014 seeking one of the toughest encores ever.  Whatever pressure he might feel will help be relieved as the Tigers lose almost nothing during Michelsen’s series, and when the ball gets in the hands of Bostic, one of the team’s best athletes, to either run, throw or catch it.   Here’s an early pitch on the 2014 Tigers:  There may be even more pitches than a year ago.  And Kanoff, who at 6-4 is able to see over the rush, can also beat it with his long strides.

“If we wanted to put him in at receiver and have him run a nine (fly) route, he could run it as well as almost anyone we have,” said Surace.  “He is very athletic. 

“The problem is he’s tall and when you are tall it’s harder to make the quick cuts.  But he’s going to end up getting really strong and big and running through some things.”

Running through Perry’s mind are plays where four quarterbacks get to touch the ball on one play.  So far the Tigers are up to three.

“The athlete we need is what Chad possesses, a guy who can run, catch balls, distribute balls,” said Perry.  “On rollouts, he does not do exactly the same things as Quinn but Chad, too, demonstrates athleticism on the edge.
James Perry

“Even though he is tall, he can go down and get a bad snap and pop up and throw it.  And when he sprints out he can still throw the ball.  That stride of his takes up ground.  He’s a little faster than you think.”

The young man is quicker on his feet than he was to make up his mind about where to go to school.  But it isn’t just the fact that Vanderbilt, from where he de-committed 13 months ago, has since lost the coach who recruited Kanoff -- James Franklin, to Penn State -- that leaves Chad not looking back.

He had been told by his father, Chris, to follow his heart.  If you do that, it’s hard to land in a wrong place.  

“I wouldn’t say I did the greatest job (with the recruiting process),” said Chad.  “I felt overwhelmed a lot.

“Vanderbilt and Princeton are both great schools but I just thought I fit in better here.  In all honesty it was a gut feeling, I can’t say it was just one or two things.”

Actually, a lot of it did come down to two things – Surace and Perry.

“He liked Vanderbilt, liked the coaching staff, it was all good,” said Chris.  “But Bob and James had gotten into his head.”

So had what an Ivy League education could do for that head. The first clue of the family’s priorities is that Kanoff has sisters who went to Amherst and Dartmouth.  The second clue is the smile that stayed on Kanoff’s face during a freshman year in which he didn’t get to throw a pass.

Vanderbilt had presented the best of both worlds -- the consensus best college football league (the SEC) and highly-ranked academics.  The opportunity to face future pros before large television audiences -- enhancing his chances to play in the NFL -- was a hard thing to let go, of course, but a pro career four or five years away is conjecture.  And already in hand was a gold-plated invitation to the best undergraduate education in the United States.

“A lot of the discussion was about his belief that if you go to Princeton you can never go beyond college football,” said Mary Ellen Kanoff, Chad’s mother.  “But I think he convinced himself it was still possible.”

Five minutes with Mike Catapano (of Princeton and the Kansas City Chiefs), quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (of Harvard and the Houston Texans), and by next month, Caraun Reid (of Princeton and whoever takes him between the third and fifth rounds) would further convince Kanoff that he did not shut NFL doors by walking through Princeton’s, even if he was giving up as many as 12 extra games (two regular season and one bowl per year) over four seasons.

“The 10 games we played (at LA’s Harvard-Westlake High School were plenty,” said Chad.  “I would like to play some more of course but that wasn’t huge a thing to me.

“I wanted to go to this school and play for these coaches.”

Finances – Chris is an investment banker and Mom a corporate lawyer -- were not an issue, a good thing, or maybe a bad thing because a need for a full ride athletic scholarship would have alleviated a decision.

“Bob and James were so respectful of him and relaxed with him,” said Mary Ellen. “Chad really liked that they liked his athleticism.

“When they went to some of his basketball games it told Chad they were interested in him all around as a person.

“I just want to remain very respectful of Vanderbilt.  I thought they were great throughout, very loyal and Chad feels the same way.”

He admits sneaking some peaks last season when the Commodores were on television.  But that was before Franklin left and, besides, Mom says her son is not the type to look back. 

“He just doesn’t,” said Mary Ellen.  “And I love that about him.

“He talks a lot about his classes and his relationship with the teachers and precepts.  He is really happy at Princeton.  He is not used to being on the sideline, has had to learn how to do that, but he has.”

Among the things Perry has not had to teach Kanoff is how to compete.  Or, hit a moving target.

“He has a really great arm and a very catchable, precise ball,” says receiver Connor Kelley. 

But even four-star prospects coming out of a pro-style high school offense (at Harvard-Westlake in Studio City, California) with the brains and college board scores to qualify for the Ivy League, need time for the game to slow down.

“He’s massively ahead of where he was last August,” said Perry. “But it’s a four-year process.

“Quinn can come to the sideline now and instantly tell me what he sees out there.  Chad is getting to that point.”

Watching video after video, Surace got to the point where he thought Kanoff was the best pure thrower in the country, why he held a spot open, just in case Chad changed his mind.  Of course, success or failure -- in the pocket and in life -- comes down to a developed sense of vision, and Kanoff seemed to have it when he saw himself happiest at Princeton.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Khamal is Back -- To Some Serious Joy


Perhaps it didn’t take the knot of arteries and veins that burst in Khamal Brown’s head to untangle his priorities.

“It might just be his age, could have happened without the health situation.” said Khamal’s Dad, Kevin Brown.  “But there is no denying he is more serious.”

We are talking about a guy who not only had the brains and boards to qualify for Princeton, but also started at cornerback in his freshman year.  So how much more earnestness could a random brain bleed help to breed in a 21-year-old?  But yes, agrees Khamal, he steps back on the field after 18 months away as more man and less kid.

“I definitely think I have my priorities more in line now,” he said.  “Yeah, I would say I have changed a little bit.

“I think I’m more focused. And definitely appreciative.”

With a mixture of awe, sorrow and gratitude, Khamal watches Chuck Dibilio, a stroke victim unlikely to return to the field, working hard as ever in the weight room.  Why was Khamal the lucky one?  But how dare he not make the most of a second chance?

After suddenly becoming disoriented at practice on October 9, 2012 and being hospitalized that night with a life-threatening condition, Brown’s repeatedly asked doctors over the next several days if he was going to play football again.   

Such was the nature of his resolve.  He also couldn’t remember their answer.  But even amidst his confusion, Brown’s ultimate focus was clear, and his good fortune now worthy of a huge celebration. Eighteen months after undergoing surgery to correct his problem, Khamal is good to go, even though he feels he has a ways to go.

“First game is when the fun starts,”  he said, asked after spring workout No. 3, to reflect on the joy of being back on the field.  “No joy, it’s just work now.  

“I feel slow, not necessarily out of shape because we did a lot of off-season work, but I’m just not caught up mentally yet.  It will come.  I have to be patient with getting my technique back.”

Yeah, as Dad was saying . . .

Matt Costello smiled.

“Everyone is kind of hard on themselves,” said the rising junior receiver.  “Everyone knows what they are capable of, but to the rest of us Khamal looks good.

“Such a good guy, such character, having him on the field again is pretty awesome.”

The Princeton program, rocked an unfathomable three times in four years by rare and life-threatening issues – Jordan Culbreath’s Aplastic Anemia, Dibilio’s stroke, and Brown’s hemorrhaging AV Malformation -- can use another happy ending.  And never mind how well sophomore John Hill played in Khamal’s starting spot as the 8-2 Tigers of 2013 missed a perfect season by a total of eight points, you had better believe they still can greatly use a 13-game starter as a freshman and sophomore.

“At the time it happened, I think you can compare the way Khamal was playing to Anthony Gaffney, who became first team All-Ivy (as a freshman),” said Coach Bob Surace.  “Both were so long, had good ball skills, were physical run defenders and were somewhat interchangeable.

“We play so many guys and have so much talent in the secondary, I don’t know about the value of any spring depth chart.  My guess is we will see the three of them on the field a lot.” 

A nickel for the coach’s thoughts after seeing his team’s heart bleed after one of its best players came down with a sudden brain bleed.  The Tigers, then halfway through the 4-game winning streak that turned the program around, beat Brown and Harvard without Brown and thereafter were one play away in close losses to Cornell, Penn and Dartmouth.
Khamal Brown '16
Perhaps that’s another way of saying they were one more player away.  And now they have Khamal back for two more years of eligibility.

“As time went on there became a lot of hope he could return, because all the procedures were done right and there have been players who had this same one and returned to the field,” said Surace.  “He has been working out with us all since returning to campus (August 2013) and around all last season helping (defensive co-coordinator) Jimmy (Salgado).    

“So its not like we’re suddenly being reunited with Khamal again after a long absence.  But seeing the condition he was in when I went to the hospital the first night, believe me I wasn’t thinking about football, just hoping he would be able to function completely again.   So it is exciting to see him back on the field.”

Kina Herron, Khamal’s mother, is trying to work up similar enthusiasm.

“A mom always is going to worry,” she says. “But Khamal loves football and the risks have been explained to me by (Princeton’s Director of Athletic Medicine) Dr. (Margot) Putukian and (surgeon) Dr. Mandy Binning as acceptable.

“They wouldn’t be letting him back on the field if they didn’t believe so.  So I support him, even if it still is not sitting well with me.  Hopefully I’ll feel more comfortable as it goes along.”

Only about 12 per cent of the 300,000 persons in the United States walking around with Arteriovenous Malformations ever suffer a symptom from them.  That Brown’s entangled arteries and veins began to bleed -- sending him off the field with memory loss that quickly turned into nausea, headache, disorientation and scrambled syntax -- had nothing to do with any blow to the head. 

This was a predisposed condition that could have become a sudden problem in a classroom, or walking thought Cannon Green.  Fortunately it didn’t, enabling Brown, quickly walked off the field that day by Tom Moak and Mandela Sheaffer, to receive medical attention first at Princeton Hospital then within two hours at Bristol Myers Squibb Trauma Center at Capital Health Regional Center in Trenton.  Unlike Dibilio, for whom the cause of a stroke suffered while studying with teammates remains unfortunately undiagnosed, Brown had his problem fixed with surgery four days after his admittance.

“Once you can demonstrate that the AVM has been complete obliterated or removed, it is not going to recur,” said Dr. Putukian.  “Most neurosurgeons agree that one year has to pass before it was reasonable to allow him to play and we got a second opinion to make sure.

“Everything has gone as expected.  Khamal has done well.

“There are certainly risks related to playing football that are unrelated to his AVM.  And because Khamal had surgery, the skull and the structures of the brain have been invaded.  Because of that there is an increased risk of concussions that we can’t quantify, because we just don’t know.”

Should concussion issues develop Brown understands he will have to revaluate his football future.  

“Of course there is a greater risk after having an invasive procedure done to your brain,” he said.  “It’s like having a number of concussions, the probability of having another is greater, Dr. Putukian has made that clear.

“But I think I am going to be fine.”

Better than ever he believes, after a season spent in a press box booth with Salgado. 

“It was tough being up there when my teammates were down on the field,” said Brown.  “But I learned a lot.

“Seeing how the defense works in its entirety, how every call is set up, changes your view.  I mean it sucked not to be out there, but it was exponentially more beneficial for me to be around than not be around.”

He learned that during the 10 months he was not around.  Two days after being discharged from a hospital stay he remembers little about, Khamal drove home to Atlanta with his father and mother to begin his recuperation.  The episode destroyed the sophomore academic year he was halfway through and, having passed the NCAA-mandated three-game threshold, one entire season of eligibility.  It also scrambled enough brain cells to make Khamal struggle for a time for memory.

“If he had been told that something was happening at say, four o’clock, sometimes he couldn’t remember that it wasn’t three o’clock,” said Kevin.  “It was that kind of stuff, but Dr. Binning said it was normal and would clear in time.

“After he got home, he wanted to go right back.  He missed his buddies.  But there was no way he would have been able to perform in the classroom at the level he would have had to perform.”

By January, alums from Atlanta’s Westminster School, which also sent Princeton Tom Moak and Dylan Jeffay, set Brown up with internships for a law firm (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and a property management company (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays).

“I was only looking at it from the standpoint of getting him out of the house,” said Kevin, records manager for the libraries at Georgia Tech and Emory universities.  “But I think the experience gave him some direction on what he should study.”

Might be law.  Could be real estate.  In the meantime, the Tigers have a secondary that can lay down the law and will cover some real estate, enabling it do some heavy lifting to compensate for the graduation losses of an entire All-Ivy starting defensive line.

Khamal wasn’t allowed to lift anything other than his body weight until he returned to campus in the fall.  Nevertheless, he has put on another 10 pounds and is up 20 from his freshman reporting weight of 160.

To athletes from other schools who have suffered setbacks from AV Malformations, Brown has become a counselor via the Internet.  To teammates, especially the ones who saw him in the first days at the hospital, he has become an inspiration.

“So big and so rangy,” said Quinn Epperly.  “He already is throwing receivers out of bounds. 

“It’s just great to have him back, not just for his size, skill and strength but because of the example he sets for us after what he went through.  He has more dedication than most of the guys out here.”

And probably less sense of entitlement.  “Coach Salgado has always made it clear you have to work for everything,” Khamal said about competing for his old first-team job.  After the experience of Dibilio, these Princeton players in particular should have a greater grasp of their mortality than most college athletes.  

“There are tons of scenarios where it could have turned out worse,” said Brown.  “It could have happened when no one was around or at a different school where the medical care might not have been good.

“So yeah those things cross my mind.  But I try not to think about it too long.”

That’s a trick Mom says she is going to have to work on when she sees her son back on the field this fall.  Dad, on the other hand, long has been on board.

“I guess if I was unsure before it happened of Khamal’s level of interest or commitment, it became very apparent after he came home.“ said Kevin.  “He missed it, really missed it.

“So knowing how much he wants this, as long as the doctors say it’s okay, I’m all in.
I know he’s happy, so I’m happy for him.  Now, let’s go make some plays.

“The one game I was at in his freshman year (against Columbia, the one win that season) seeing my kid on the field playing college ball was pretty emotional for me.  So after all this, watching him back out there this fall, you can only imagine.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

There Should be Spring in a Lot of Young Legs


In 2014 the Tigers must replace:

-- An entire starting defensive line that was anchored by Caraun Reid, perhaps the school’s best NFL prospect ever.

-- First (center Joe Goss) and second-team (guard Max Coale) All-Ivy offensive linemen.

-- Their leading receiver, first team All-Ivy Roman Wilson

-- Two second team All-Ivy players at linebacker (Jason Ray) and safety (Phil Bhaya).  

That’s a lot to miss.  Nevertheless. . .

“We have a lot of veteran guys back, probably more than we have ever had,” said Coach Bob Surace.
Tyler Desire`  '17
This includes four All-Ivy players – cornerback Anthony Gaffney, running back DiAndre Atwater, slot receiver Seth DeValve, safety Mike Zeuli – and two more honorable mentions – receiver Connor Kelley and defensive back Matt Arends – in addition to two more 2012 starters – cornerback Khamal Brown and offensive lineman Taylor Pearson – who did not play in 2013.

Twelve of 22 starters from 2013 are returning, as are kicker Nolan Bieck and  punter Tyler Roth. And that still doesn’t tell the entire story of what the Tigers have returning, which includes the Ivy League offensive player of the year, quarterback Quinn Epperly; first team offensive left tackle Spenser Huston, and two more starters -- receiver Matt Costello and linebacker Garrit Leicht – who likely will become all-conference players in 2014.

As always, much depends on health.  Last year the Tigers injury good fortune on their two-deep was extraordinary,  which was great for going 8-2 and sharing an Ivy League title, but not always the best thing for providing younger players playing experience, no matter how determined Surace and his staff are to rotate fresh reserves.  

In 2013, there were plenty of snaps gained by underclass backups on the offensive line and in the linebacking corps.  And there was some at defensive line, just not as many as at other positions.

“We are inexperienced on the D line,” said Surace, when asked for his greatest anxiety as spring practice begins Friday.  “We played eight or nine guys but they didn’t get a million reps. 

“This has been a really strong group in the off season in the weight room and running in shorts.  Now  we want to see that group play football.”

It is hard to believe that the holdovers will play as well as did Caruan Reid, Greg Sotereanos and Matt Landry.  Defensive line was a big point of emphasis in the recruiting class that will be announced sometime after the Spring Game on April 19, but pass rushers and run stoppers were prioritized last year, too, which is why probably the most intriguing young Tiger leading up to the opener at the University of San Diego on September 20 is speed rusher Tyler Desire`.
Scott Carpenter '17
“Tyler had a tremendous off-season,” said Surace.  “He has been as diligent as any guy we have in adding flexibility and strength. 

“During the fall we saw progress in his reactions and playing blocks (as a third-down pass rushing specialist).  Now we want to see him [progress] against the run.”

“Ian McGeary and Evan Kappatos (the two most experienced DLs) are the two strongest guys on the team.  Along with Tyler, they have made big jumps. We have talent there, reflected in our JV team going undefeated.

“In previous years, when we didn’t have depth and experience some of these guys (Dan Dreher, Grayson Fisher, John Hummel, Vic Prato, Henry Schlossberg) probably would have played varsity.  But other than one Sotereanos injury (missed the first two games) we remained pretty healthy at the position so we didn’t build up experience.

“The good thing is that in practice, they are going to be going up against a talented and experienced offensive line. “

This remains a fair characterization, even with the graduation losses of Goss, a 38-game starter, and Coale.

”We built a system of playing so many offensive linemen that our depth and (position) flexibility is really good there,” said Surace.  “Britt Colcolough and Mike Ramos played a lot, alternating at right tackle and (starting guard) Jack Woodall, and (backups) Joe Tull, Ryan Peloquin and Max Wardaki got a lot of snaps too,

“Tom Yetter played a lot before he took last year off.  We are hoping to see jumps from Caleb Slate and Alex Dixon, Mason Darrow made a big jump in the weight room. And, like a lot of our young guys, in the last month Jack Knight has really come on.”
Durelle Napier '17
Having replaced the All-Ivy Mark Hayes, Des Smith became an all-conference tight end himself.  But Smith is graduating, too, leaving an open competition, for a guy who can get open, plus block, particularly on that Princeton staple, the end-around.

“Scott Carpenter made the biggest jump of the tight ends this off season,” said Surace.  “Based on that, he will go in clearly as the front runner.

“Alex Walter and Dylan White, we will see how far they have come.  Travis McHugh, 220 pounds now, has outgrown (wide receiver) and will be an unusual athlete for a tight end.  And because we feel Wes Moon is better [with assignments] than being instinctive, he is moving to tight end from defense.”

A good portion of the 181 running back carries not taken by DiAndre Atwater last season – 58 were by the graduating Brian Mills – went to the versatile Will Powers, and the explosive Dre' Nelson in 2013 and will again.  But fresh legs are always welcomed at the position with the highest casualty rate.  

“Between Joe Rhattigan, A.J. Glass and Zach Smith, we would like to have one of those guys at minimum fill Mills’ role or beat out guys who played,” said Surace.  “Will has had his best off-season, DiAndre was second team All-Ivy and Dre' Nelson has been tremendously stronger and faster, probably the most unique guy we have on our offense in terms of making [opponents] miss.”

Graduating is Roman Wilson, one of the most clutch players in program history, but Connor Kelley and Matt Costello are superb possession receivers and James Perry’s offense may so far have scratched only the surface of what slotback Seth DeValve can do.  All of the top three returning receivers will be seniors however, making it critical that underclassmen get some catches this season.

“We felt Robbie Templeton was going to play and be our fifth guy but when he got hurt we went with four and used others on special teams,” said Surace.  “But we would like to play six and get some of them to play more special teams.

“Trevor Osborne and Connor Grogan had tremendous off-seasons.  James Frusicante is very much like Matt was (as a freshman), very dependable but is still undersized compared to others.  We would like to see his strength go up.

“Isaiah Barnes is coming off a long rehab from one of the uglier injuries I have personally seen.  He missed practically all his freshman year and learning nuances of playing wide receiver, but he is the big, tall, deep threat we could really use.”

Jimmy von Thron, a backup safety behind Matt Arends last season, is moving to the SAM linebacker position, a tribute to both the muscle he has added and the depth in the defensive backfield, where two All-Ivies, Anthony Gaffney and Matt Arends, are joined by returning starter John Hill plus a healthy Brown, who was first team in 2012, before suffering a brain bleed.

Considering the wealth of options to replace Phil Bhaya, the defensive backfield competes with quarterback as the position of greatest strength on the roster.     

“Durelle Napier and James Gales probably will fluctuate between corner and safety, competing for Phil’s spot,” said Surace.  “Durelle has always been big and Gales has gotten big as well.
Luke Merrell '15
“Alex Ford and Markus Phox have made a huge jump. Dorian Williams already has had a big impact for us in the nickel and Max Lescano and Chris Smith both got 20 snaps a game as backups. Andrew Frisby saw time. Sam Huffman had a terrific camp then had an injury and missed too much time to make a run later in the year.

“Our secondary is a real strength.”

So can be the linebacking, anchored by Mike Zeuli, second team All-Ivy, and Leicht, an All-Ivy to be, with no shortage of underclassmen who made it to the field a year ago.

“Luke Merrell and Rohan Hylton played a lot, so we have two guys coming back who started, plus two backups who saw a significant number of reps,” said Surace.  "R.J. Paige and Luke Catarius were stalwarts on special teams.

“Marcus Stroud has battled some unfortunate injuries, but he has't lost that striaight-ahead speed as he has brome bigger. Matt Skowron and Baxter Ingram are returning (after a year off). (Rising freshmen) Brannon Jones and Birk Olson both have really good qualities and will jump into the mix and so will Scott Northcutt. He missed some time last year but in JV games, was very active, finding his way around the ball.

“We have to replace not only Jason but Elijah Mitchell, too, in both edge setting and pass pressuring. I look forward to seeing talented young players take steps this spring.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Life Opens New Holes for Dibilio


Doctors fear the effects of body shots to Chuck Dibilio. Be assured, however, that while football is out, he still can take a hit.

The ability of a gifted running back to turn and not have to fully absorb the most direct of shots was how he bounced to 1092 rushing yards, the most ever by a true freshman in Ivy League history.  This also is how the start of spring practice next week will find him helping on the sideline, a place easy to presume as the hardest spot for him to be.

“If I wasn’t around the team it would be even worse,” he said.   “One thing that definitely helps is that in the off season I am able to participate with the team in all the runs and lifts.

“It has been tough but I think I am handling it the best I can.  As time goes on it gets easier and easier.  I can talk about it now.”

The stroke that almost killed him in January 2012 has made him stronger.  Two hard years have passed, along with them virtually all reasonable expectation, including his own, of being permitted to return to the field.  Pending advances in technology, the search for the cause of the stroke has failed, leaving him without a fix for the problem.

“They have done every test pretty much twice so it’s pretty much done,” Dibilio said.

This leaves a double edged sword through his heart; the “why me”  -- 95 per cent of stokes occur in persons 45 and older – compounded by being in the 30 per cent of victims for whom doctors cannot diagnose the “why.”  

“One thing that upset me the most about the whole process is when a doctor would say, ‘You are so lucky that it wasn’t worse,” Dibilio said last week over lunch.  “I was 19-year-old kid who had a stroke.  How is that possibly lucky?

“I am not an outspoken person mostly.  But it would take a lot for me not to lash out at that. I thought for most of last summer I would have the opportunity to sign a release saying that if I play, I won’t sue Princeton. But they wouldn’t let me do that. 

“Fortunate to be alive?  I get it.  But why would I want to waste this life doing something I don’t love?”

That’s a dark place for a 19 and 20-year-old to be. But after getting crushed on first down, any running back worth his salt pops up and runs back to the huddle for a new play.

“Football is only the way the world has gotten to see Chuck so far,” said Jarrod Spencer, a Bethlehem, Pa. sports psychologist ( with whom Dibilio works.  “It is just a small part of his portfolio.

“As he put his talent and focus into other arenas, the world will see him and say, ‘Oh, and he once was a great college football player, too.’”

You are supposed to get four years at that, not just one. But considering all the confounding-to-contradictory-to-infuriating diagnoses given him by the “10-to-15” physicians Dibilio has seen, he is doing more than just okay.  

While one doctor advised him to not even jog anymore, two other specialists told Chuck and his mother, Dr. Bonnie Coyle Ronco, a preventative medical physician (St. Luke's Health Network) in Bethlehem, that the level of risk for him to play football again was acceptable.  They were in the minority, but experienced and credible, making the ultimate call by Dr. Margot Putukian, Director of Athletic Medicine Services at Princeton, that much harder for Dibilio to accept.

“There is no correlation between what happened and football,” he said.

“I had a previous blood clot before my senior year of high school that was in the middle of the summer, when I hadn’t played football in the longest time.  The stroke was in January, two months after football, so to me, the chances of it being related to football are small.”

Nevertheless, as long as doctors don’t know the cause of the stroke -- in the case of the Patriots’ Tedy Bruschi, his return to the field was enabled by an operation to close a hole in his heart -- the majority of neurologists and hematologists consulted were not comfortable with Dibilio’s risk. Neither were Chuck Sr. and a medically educated Mom who is a Mom first, although both parents say that with doctors’ clearance, they would have given a return to football their reluctant blessing.

“That would have been tough on me,” said Dr. Coyle Ronco.  “I wanted him to be happy, wanted him to do what fulfilled him in life, but when everything was factored in I would have been very scared because most of all I want him to be healthy and live a long and good life. 

“The fact that he had a previous clot (wasting 25 per cent of Dibilio’s spleen) his senior year of high school gave the docs a fair amount of belief that, even without a positive test, the two (episodes) were related.”

Having escaped, at least for now, the need to take prescription blood thinners – which would have made a contact sport posing a risk of an internal bleed a closed case -- Dibilio had hoped the low dose aspirin regimen he is on would work in his favor. But it still presented one more grey area.

“Aspirin is a blood thinner,” said Dr. Coyle Ronco. “It still increases the risk a bit more that a hard hit might tear an artery in his brain and cause him to bleed out.

“The other thing is more head trauma. As a running back he would have taken multiple hits and because he has already had two concussions the concern was tissue at the heart of where the stroke had struck (the Middle Cerebral Artery). Repeated concussions might cause him to have permanent disability.  Basically, we don’t know much more trauma his brain can take.

“If you look at the literature out there, docs are really divided between what to do after this kind of a health threat and what level of activity you can go back to. And football presents an issue of risk no matter how healthy you are.

“The docs who said it would be okay were credible docs rendering an opinion. But more of the ones we saw felt the safest thing was for him to not return to football.”

Chuck Dibilio '16
Having held out hope almost until the beginning of fall practice in August, the decision hit Dibilio hard, left him feeling unempowered.

“At first it was like this sucks and sucks and sucks,” he recalled.

“I could tell Coach Surace could tell I didn’t like being at practice. But I also felt like if I weren’t around the team it would be even worse. 

“The two toughest points were at the start of the season and clinching the conference. When we won the championship, I was tearing up a little and stayed in the locker room because I was just so upset. 

“I wasn’t jealous of their success. I love those guys, was just jealous of their experience.  For everything I had put in, to be just on the sideline was kind of frustrating to me.  

“I didn’t handle it perfectly. But I felt I handled it better than I thought I was going to and, as time goes on, it gets easier and easier.  I’m a hundred times better.  I can talk about it.  Last summer I couldn’t.

“The football thing still upsets me. At first I definitely thought about transferring, finding a school with a doctor who would let me play.  But I love the school, have so many opportunities here, and the best friends of my life are here.  I just couldn’t leave.  

“So those are positives.  And if can’t control the negative parts, I try focusing on the positives.”

So high on that list there isn’t even a second place is being alive, with a brain enabling him to get a degree from Princeton. Even if you can’t tell Dibilio he was lucky, he does understand fully how much worse it could have been had the teammates with whom he was studying not acted quickly and the emergency treatment he received at University Medical Center in Princeton, then Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, not been exceptional.

“He had a massive, massive stroke,” said Dr. Coyle Ronco.   “Most people die from the stroke he had, so it’s an amazing outcome to have almost zero residual effects. 

“Over time he will get to the point he understands this is the right decision.  It’s just been difficult for him to accept the loss of the sport he loves.”

Will Dibilio ever find anything he loves as much?  “Maybe a wife,” smiles Dad.

“One sport I definitely want to try out is Cross-fit,” Dibilio says.  In the meantime,
considerable salvation has been found in an internship this summer with Connor Kelley and Robby Templeton at Barclays, a program Dibilio says he not likely have had time to pursue on top of a full football and course load. 

“It’s usually a junior summer thing, but I was able to get in this summer,” said Dibilio, on schedule to graduate in 2016.  “Ever since I came to Princeton I really wanted to do investment banking so that has really helped a lot.”

So has meditation and Buddhist philosophy.  

“I am not a religious person, not a Buddhist,” he said. “But that religion presents philosophical ideas like how to clear your mind and its view of the world resonated with me, so I joined the Princeton student Buddhist group.  They have a room that I go to for 20 minutes a day, two or three days a week.

“I haven’t found anything that gives me the natural high football did and I don’t know if I ever will. But I think its cool that I am finding all these interests I never had before.

“Before the stroke I was pretty much all head down; work towards your goal and nothing else matters.  Football was a success thing, I wanted to succeed, be the No. 1 guy, whereas [after the stroke] I realize how much joy there was in the actual game, how much I enjoyed playing it, which makes me still want to be part of it.

“What happened allows me to realize there are other aspects of life worth noticing.  I’ve picked my head up and learned to enjoy everything that is happening to me, everything around me.

“Before a football game you have your headphones on, visualizing what you have to do, really getting into a mindset.  And there are a lot of things in life for which you don’t need that intense mindset.  The sports psychologist -- I don’t know what my life would be like without him -- has helped me so much developing these qualities.”

Dibilio’s grade point average is better than it was before the stroke.  Only he notices its small lingering effects.

“If I have a writing assignment, as long as I outline it before I start, I’m fine,” he said. 

“I feel perfectly fine. The only bad thing is that whenever I get a headache or something, I have a mini-freak-out.  But I tell the doctor about it and he says everything is okay.

“They have no idea what caused it so they have no idea about recurrences.  The doctors tell me that technically it could happen at a random time like the last one, but there is no point in doing anything but taking the aspirin and not worrying.  If it happens, I will deal with it then.”

He still is a star in the football weight room, benching and squatting 15 pounds more than before the stroke.

“I’m really into fitness, so I’m working out every day anyway,” he said.  “So would I rather do it by myself at Dillon or with my best friends on campus? 

“Those intense workouts bond you and it also sends a little message: If I am still doing this even though I can’t play, there is no reason for those still playing not to do it.”

Khamal Brown, lucky enough to be returning to the field next week from a brain bleed caused by an AV malformation, gets the memo.

“It makes me feel fortunate,” said Brown.  “And it saddens me a little bit because of Chuck’s work ethic and the kind of guy he has been on and off the field since we were freshmen roommates.

“He is in [the weight room] at 6:30 in the morning, 6 on Wednesday's.  Everything we do, he does and excels at it.  Seeing him not able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, it hurts and knowing him from the time we stopped on campus, it hurts more.   He works harder than anyone, knowing he probably won’t be able to step back out there.  It’s amazing, really.

Time is the great healer -- physically, figuratively and emotionally.

‘He was thrilled when he got that internship,” said Chuck Sr. “And I can’t tell you how happy we were that he got it.”

“Finally something good happened for him. He needed it.”

Chuck says his parents need a break, too, for all they have done on his behalf -- Dad badgering medical offices for appointments, Mom researching journals and reaching out to colleagues, trying to find out what happened.

“First she knows I want to play,” said Chuck. “Second she does not like the fact that I had this completely random stroke and no one has any idea what caused it.

“She has put in all this extra research to help me do something I want to do.  So I can’t thank her enough.  I can tell she is really upset she personally hasn’t found a cause.  I wish she didn’t put all the stress on herself.”

Twenty-six months later, Mom, wanting a healthy and happy son, is more grateful than frustrated.  At Christmas she told Chuck how impressed she was with the pace of his acceptance.  He admitted to surprise, too.

“Chuckie has so much strength and resilience,” she said.  “He took a month or two to grieve, then began making the best of the situation.

“I’m incredibly proud.  And actually I admire him even more than I am proud.  He deserves better than he’s gotten.  A lot of people would not have worked through this all and found peace as quickly as he has.”