Thursday, December 11, 2014

There Was No Quit in These Seniors

BY BOB SURACE

The commitment fulfilled by the football Class of 2015 may have been unprecedented.

Bob Surace '90
The only player unable to perform on the field for all four years was Chuck Dibilio and we all know what he went through.  Minus two walk-ons, all the guys from this class who were what we call supported (by football for admission purposes) stuck with us and with each other through a 1-9 season to an Ivy League title.

You face a lot of challenges as a college student -- academically, socially and, for these guys, athletically. To put in the time required of Division I players -- and in our case without a scholarship hanging over their heads -- yet not have one dropout in four years? Steve Verbit, who has been at Princeton 30 years and Jim Salgado and James Perry, who have been other places in the Ivy League, never heard of such a thing.

Khamal Brown, who like Chuck had to miss a year of school with an illness, will get one more year of eligibility and, hopefully, so will other student-athletes from this class who missed a season with an injury. So every guy who came into the program in the fall of 2011 is still with us except for Chuck, who would do anything to get back out there. For the group, that’s almost as amazing as these guys have proven individually: 

Joe Bonura '15
Joe Bonura -- He missed a lot of training camp with an injury, which was unfortunate coming off a good junior year. But Joe never became frustrated, just got himself healthy and back in the mix and ended up sharing the snaps at fullback with Jonathan Esposito. Joe was one of those classic, unsung, fullbacks who doesn’t say much and loved to stick his nose in there. He fit the mold of the tough guy that you want at that position in a true, two-back set.

Matt Costello -- Matt leaves third all-time in receptions in a 145-year-old Princeton program, a place that obviously doesn’t need any embellishment.

Even as the skinny guy who came here, he could be relied upon to catch the ball. And, as he added 30 pounds, Matt really became an effective open field type runner and blocker, too. He had tremendous body control to time his jump and get his hands on balls that weren’t perfect; probably the best catch he made was the one at the goalline that tied the game at Dartmouth a year ago. But what we appreciated about him the most was his consistency. Each game, you could pencil him in for at least four or five catches and 60 yards. That is going to be hard to replace.

Quinn Epperly -- He is going down as one of the great quarterbacks to ever play at Princeton. But for all those things that were visible -- like being named the Ivy League’s Offensive Player of the Year as a junior, being responsible for 43 touchdowns that season and breaking the NCAA record with 29 straight completions – I am more proud of what he accomplished this year. He overcame a major surgery, a staph infection that could have prevented him from ever playing again, then injuries to both feet that could easily require surgery, gutting out Tuesday practices when he had to be on crutches in the locker room.

He worked so hard to become an accurate passer. Plus he ran, caught, and punted, too, making him a true wild card, even though he wasn’t named to that extra spot they designate on the All-Ivy team. We had struggled in the red zone both before I got here and my first two years and he changed us into one of the best in the country.

Quinn handled both exceptional accomplishment and setbacks, which is who he is as a person and leader, something his teammates and me always will cherish. He is an amazing young man.

Jonathan Esposito -- He came out every day in such a good frame of mind and with such energy that you had to be a cynical person not to be in a good mood around Jonathan. He made everyone around him better.

Jonathan came here as a 200-pound back who had the ball in his hands and morphed into 225-pound fullback happy to do all the little things – pass protection, run blocking and special teams. It was great to see him embrace that role. Plus, he got a lot of tickets. Our crowds must have increased by 100 per game because of him.

Dylan Jeffay '15
Dylan Jeffay -- Good programs have guys who wound up behind terrific players on the depth chart, yet still serviced the team, in this case the defense and the defensive backs. Dylan had good hands and came out every day and ran routes hard, something only his teammates and the coaches could see and appreciate. I’m proud of him.

Jakobi Johnson -- Jakobi was also a terrific high school basketball player who, although he had tremendous athletic ability, came here with a long ways to go technically as a football player. And every year he improved his coverage skill and gained a larger role. The Yale game in his junior season, when he returned an onside kick for a touchdown, was a highlight, but he did so many little things on coverage and return teams. He continued on special teams through his senior year but also did a good job on our defense this fall. I enjoyed seeing him mature into a cornerback that was always around the ball.

Connor Kelley -- Already committed to Princeton when I took the job, Connor was the only guy left on this year’s team who our coaching staff didn’t personally recruit.  All I had to do was pop in the film and agree, yes, that this was a good take, a terrific athlete who had the it factor, a presence on the field. 

We moved him from quarterback because we needed his athleticism as a receiver, then he suffered a major knee injury as a sophomore and missed nine games. He came back to get better every year, including downfield and on bubble screens, and we even gave him the ball in the backfield to run, all the while his leadership grew fantastically.

It seems like every one of his catches was on third-and eight. And the twisting one he made that got us off the goalline when we were down 16-0 at Brown two years ago actually was on third-and 18, if you want to talk about clutch. Connor leaves seventh all-time at Princeton in catches but we’re also going miss his blocking and the subtle things he provided, like the total trust he earned along with Matt Costello from the quarterbacks.

Garrit Leicht -- With Rohan Hylton emerging as a top player in the league and Garrit’s playing time cut, he came to me and said, ‘If there is any way I can get on special teams put me on, I’ll do a great job.’ Every other place I have been when somebody lost playing time, they came to me only to complain.

Luke Merrell '15
That’s the type of unselfish person Garrit is. The last half the season he became one of our best special teams players, a role that fit him because he could run and smash somebody, like he continued to do at linebacker. We were fortunate to have such a talented crew of backers on the inside throughout Garrit’s career. As a starter and reserve, he made such a big impact on our defense.

Luke Merrell -- Luke had the misfortune of playing behind Mike Zeuli both as a SAM and an inside backer. But every time he came into the game Luke always was lined up correctly and did exactly what he was supposed to do, so you never felt you were dropping off from an all-time player. Luke was consistent in everything he did and in the way he worked and really had a solid four years.

Connor Michelsen -- A year ago, the guy who had been standing next to him for three seasons had become Offensive Player of the Year. Connor easily could have said, ‘My role is going to be limited,’ and stopped going the extra mile but he didn’t. Throwing and watching film always had been a higher priority to him than other things, but he worked the hardest he ever worked, got in the best shape he ever had been in, and competed. You can say that about many guys but you are so proud when it is a quarterback because the position is so visible.

What makes a program is its culture and Connor and Quinn made ours right. Whatever internal frustrations they had -- nobody wants to share time -- they never flinched, an example I will use for the rest of my coaching career.

Every day for four years, in the weight room or at practice or on game day, Connor would come up to me with a fist pump and say, ‘It’s a great day for football.’ He wound up with 4,131 total yards, only 223 behind Dick Kazmaier and Dick was only the all-time greatest player in our programs history. Connor had quite a career.

Taylor Pearson -- The last two games this year, Taylor played with an injury that left him struggling to walk during the week. But he is a fighter who battled through it. Taylor doesn’t say much but does his job and after getting on the field as a freshman when we didn’t have much depth on the offensive line, he played four years at a high level for us. He had such great balance that the only times I can remember we ever caught him on the ground was in the last two games, because he was hurt and struggling to maintain a base. 

I told his Mom (Leann) that not too many Moms have had to do what she had to do, take care of her husband (injured in a ski accident) and her son (academically ineligible) in times of great need. But the family stepped up and Taylor came back better than ever and gave us a really good year. The examples he helped set are important lessons as our line moves forward.

Ryan Peloquin '15
Ryan Peloquin -- This is another guy who helped change the mindset of the offensive line. Ryan was one of the strongest players on the team and a leader on the field and in the weight room. Through three years he was behind Joe Goss, an all-conference player at center, but we like to roll our offensive linemen and Ryan began getting at least a few series every game. He played mostly at center and also filled in at guard and his versatility proved especially valuable this season when we lost some of our depth due to injuries. Ryan helped us tremendously.  

Dave Pennoni -- Dave, who suffered a concussion playing lacrosse in high school, wasn’t cleared to play football his first two seasons here but he stayed with the program and unselfishly went up on the lift and filmed for us. When he finally was cleared I didn’t know if he still was going to want to play but he was so excited to get back on the field. For a guy who missed so much development time, it was amazing to see him progress as much as he did. Dave had a tackle for a loss this season. It gave joy to everybody to see him so happy being a part of everything.

Alex Powell -- He came to us having been a high school tight end or a defensive end, but between a shoulder injury and us bouncing him back and forth, we never really found a spot for Alex until last year, when we had a couple of offensive line depth issues and moved him there. In hindsight, I wish we had done this right away because he got better and better. In terms of development, Alex really was a sophomore when he was a senior, making it hard for him to beat out top-level players. He was one of our most well-liked guys, though, because of how he approached things.

Alex Powell '15
Will Powers -- Because Will doesn’t have size, I think he always has been doubted. The person who never doubted was Will. From the get-go he contributed on special teams, and every year his role expanded to where he played on every special team and became one of the best special teamers in the league. He never accepted that’s all he was, though. Starting his sophomore year against Brown, Will started to make big (offensive) plays for us and never stopped.

He really had a great career, this season finishing 10th in the league in rushing yards. There were so many runs -- and runs after catches -- with great finish. Another tremendous worker.

Vic Prato -- I believe Vic is the only Princeton varsity athlete who is in ROTC, which, from a time commitment, is like playing two sports your entire career. But after battling some injuries early in his career, he kept getting better and better as a football player and made our defensive line rotation, a true credit to him. To be able to accomplish everything he did on campus is. . . well, it’s really Princeton. Students don’t say no, they keep adding to their plates. Vic had more on his than anyone I ever coached and he ended up excelling at everything he did, including engineering curriculum, ROTC leader, and football.

Mike Ramos -- Recruiting Mike, he was a big guy who worked hard. We just didn’t know if he would have the feet to play tackle or the strength to play inside. During freshman year, Mike struggled but he had an unbelievable winter, spring and summer to get on the field.

Vic Prato '15
The first five games of his junior year Mike was playing at Spenser Huston's level (a first-team All-Ivy level) before suffering a high ankle sprain. He didn’t miss a game but struggled with some athletic pass rushers in the second half. But this year his gmae grades were as high as any linemen we ever had here and we have had some really good ones.

Week-in, week-out, he graded above 90 per cent, usually in the mid-nineties, and this was after we flipped him from right tackle to left due to Spenser’s injury. One quarter of the snaps, Mike still was playing the right side and he handled all this switching flawlessly. For the run game, the pass game, in effort and in finish, Mike’s was one of the best years we have had from an offensive lineman.

Brendan Sofen -- After a really good freshman year, Brendan suffered an injury that limited him in everything he could do. Last season, he got back on the field but never exerted himself 100 per cent because of worry about re-injury. But this year we had kicking competitions every week and Brendan won them often to push Nolan Bieck. Brendan got the length back on the kickoffs, challenged Tyler Roth as the starting punter, and was terrific when called upon to pooch punt.

The specialists spend a lot of time together. I think Brendan constantly set a routine for Pat (long snapper Hall), Tyler and Nolan that was valuable. And his Mom (Ginny) made 20,000 cookies for the guys over four years, which was just unheard of.

Jack Verducci '15
Robby Templeton -- To have the injuries he had through three years, work so hard to get into the receiver rotation, and have the ball pulled away -- just like Lucy from Charlie Brown -- two days before the San Diego game was disheartening for everybody. We were expecting a big role for Robby, hopefully 45 balls and an average of about 15 yards a catch. To lose him really hurt us because he could have given us a deep threat. 

Robby flew to San Diego regardless of his injury to be part of the team and all season was the first guy out for practice every day to root for his teammates. For Dartmouth, he was given permission to take his boot off to dress and be part of the team, which meant a lot to him and just as much to us.  I rooted for 110 guys, but I rooted for him more than anybody because of what he had been through.

Joe Tull -- He is the nicest kid, doesn’t say two words, but when Joe walks across the lines, he was as good a finisher as we have had on the offensive line. He is tough, physical, and smart. After starting at guard as a junior, Joe moved to center the day Joe Goss got hurt at Dartmouth and did so without issue, even with all the added responsibility of the line calls.  

In this whole recruiting class of offensive linemen, Joe probably started at the bottom in terms of strength and athleticism. But having such respect for players who come from Archbishop Moeller (Cincinnati) and that (Greater Catholic) league, we wanted to take him regardless. And he showed if you have toughness and can get strong enough, you can be a really good player in the Ivy League.

Jimmy von Thron '15
Jack Verducci -- He came here as a quarterback and fell behind Quinn and Connor, so we moved Jack to wide receiver after a year. Because he missed development time and ended up behind a high quality group of receivers, he didn’t play but became so valuable on our scout teams -- impersonating the star quarterback or star receiver on the opposition -- that Jack was our scout team player of the week at least three or four times. I don’t think anyone is really happy with that role but he never complained and always did it the right way. As a coach you are grateful for guys like Jack. You don’t have winning seasons without them.

Jimmy von Thron -- Our values always have been playing the guys who are smart, tough, disciplined and team-oriented. But there were times this year I passed by Jimmy, who had always played well on special teams, for a more talented player and didn’t get him on the field until the end of the year. I regret that because he remained the hardest worker on our scout team. When guys on the scout team didn’t want to give effort they would see him running around and pick it up. He had the total respect of all his coaches and teammates. So everyone was excited to see him get on the field (in the Dartmouth finale).

Max Wardaki '15
Max Wardaki -- He came to us a little raw technically, but was really strong in the weight-room so he earned a backup role as an offensive lineman and on our field goal team as a senior. Obviously we had two all-conference tackles, which put Max in a hard spot just as he was starting to turn the corner. A red shirt would have really benefitted him and we would have loved to have him back this spring. But I’m really glad we got this great, hard-working, kid on the field.


Mike Zeuli -- When NFL scouts were coming in to look at Mike Catapano and Caraun Reid, one of them asked me, “If you put the two of them in a room and told them, ‘only one can come out’, then who comes out?” Putting Mike (Zeuli) against either of those guys, my answer would be, “I don’t know, but I’m signing up for pay per view to see it!’ Going back to when he suffered a knee injury against Penn his freshman year, Mike always was the toughest guy in the room.

After it happened, I told him what I tell everyone who has had a serious injury: “Attack the rehab, you’re going to get better,” but this one was so bad that as I was telling him I was thinking, “I don’t know if he is going to be able to run again.’ But he went at in a way there was no question he was going to come back an even better player.

(Head athletic trainer) Charlie Thompson, who has seen it all, told me that summer I had to modify training camp for Mike, with no [two-a-days]. When I told Mike that, it was like I had delivered the most devastating news in the world. He said ‘I’m doing them’ in a way that said, “I’m putting the pads on anyway" and he came back to play at a high level as a sophomore.

You don’t get to coach too many guys who play with a different level of urgency. Long before he became a Bushnell Cup winner and a unanimous All-Ivy choice, I was thankful to be around a player like this.




Monday, December 8, 2014

Zeuli Earns a Piece of the Ivy's Proudest Piece -- The Bushnell Cup

BY JAY GREENBERG

NEW YORK -- It’s a team award, insists Mike Zeuli, Princeton’s third Asa S. Bushnell Cup winner in three years, frankly, all the more reason for him to believe that he was coming to the Vanderbilt Room at the Waldorf-Astoria on Monday largely to congratulate Zack Hodges.

Not only was the Harvard defensive end the reigning 2013 winner, but his team went 10-0 in 2014 compared to Princeton’s 5-5, a reality Zeuli admits he accepted while preparing a thank you speech he doubted he ever would get to deliver.

Mike Zeuli '15 is Princeton's Second Defensive Bushnell Cup Recipient Since Mike Catapano '13 in 2012, Third in Three Years (Quinn Epperly '15, 2013)
But he didn’t get a vote to choose this winner of the Ivy League defensive player of the year. The Ivy League coaches did. An apparent four of eight -- they are not allowed to vote for their own player, so Bob Surace’s vote went to Hodges -- felt Zeuli had a better season, resulting in only the fourth deadlock in the 45-year history of the award, an extraordinary tribute to the excellence of the Princeton senior linebacker’s year.
Mike Zeuli '15

“I’m only surprised because I know how good Zack Hodges is,” said Surace. “I just thought it was so right and fitting that these guys share the award.

“The year (Mike) Catapano won (2012) we had the exact same record, 5-5, 4-3 in the league and Mike Zeuli is the same kind of player, all-out, doing things right.”

Zeuli led the Ivy League with 16.5 tackles for loss, ranked second in tackles per game (8.7) and tied for fifth behind the sacks leader, Hodges, with 14. Zeuli’s 16 tackles in his final game brought him to 207 over four years. His dominance not only earned him four votes over a player who probably will be selected in the NFL draft but also has brought Zeuli an invitation to the Gridiron Classic, a college All-Star Game, too.

Surely that appearance will at least earn him a shot in an NFL camp this summer. He has hired representation -- Jim Ulrich of Atlanta’s Enter Sports Management – and will undertake the next seven months with the same determination with which Zeuli came back from a freshman year knee reconstruction and excelled through three position changes.

“Once Mike gets in (to an NFL camp) he is going to be hard to get out,” said Surace, who told the attendees Monday that Zeuli “embodies everything you want in a program.

“Everything he does is done with commitment and purpose. He is as tough a player as I ever have been around, an amazing young man.”

He joined Quinn Epperly (Offensive Player of the Year, 2013), Catapano (Defensive Player of the Year, 2012) and Caraun Reid, a 2013 runner-up to Hodges, as amazing young Princeton men whose Bushnell honors have helped announce a turnaround of the football program.

“It a great thing for the program to be able to say, ‘come here and we can develop you into a great football player,’” said Zeuli, after he thanked his coaches for shepherding him through the changes from safety to outside linebacker to middle linebacker, plus the training and strength staffs that brought him back from a potentially devastating injury.

Yale senior tailback Tyler Varga succeeded Epperly for the Offensive Bushnell, outpolling Dartmouth junior quarterback Dalyn Williams, who already is the favorite for next year. At least Williams won’t have the pressure that Epperly did to repeat. The quarterback’s bid to win another Ivy title, too, largely was derailed by injuries, one more example of how special one Bushnell is and how Hodges honored it by having a senior year worthy of a repeat.  

“He is a guy who makes teams double team him on almost every play, such a force on the edge,” said Zeuli. “It is great to be mentioned with him.”

Zeuli, son of a Marlton, N.J. builder, also joins Walt Snickenberger (1974), (Jason Garrett (1988), Judd Garrett (1989), Keith Elias (1993), Dave Patterson (1995) Jeff Terrell (2006), Catapano (2012), and Epperly (2013) as the ninth Princeton winner of the trophy.  

“Mike had a great year,” said Epperly, who along with Connor Michelsen attended Monday in support of Zeuli. “If you ask all the coaches I’m sure they will tell you that he definitely was game-planned for. 

“We had to take him out of practice to stop him from hurting our own guys. He was a force and this is very well deserved.”

As a result of the tie, Princeton will get the Bushnell Cup – one Cup, separate engravings for the offensive and defense winners -- for only one-third of the coming year.  But the example Zeuli set for the program is more ongoing, just like a parent’s pride, a supreme honor for which no trophy ever gets passed around.

“Hodges is going to be playing on Sundays,” marveled Steve Zeuli, Mike’s father. “Mike has raised our expectations to a level where we don’t tell him very often how proud we are of him.

“But we are awfully proud today.”

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Zeuli is a Bushnell Finalist

BY JAY GREENBERG

Mike Zeuli is Princeton’s third finalist in three years for the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. 

Mike Zeuli '15
Like Caraun Reid, who placed second a year ago, Zeuli’s competition is Harvard’s Zach Hodges, who in 2013 succeeded the Tigers’ Mike Catapano ’13 as the winner.   

Quinn Epperly was the 2013 offensive winner of the award, which was first presented in 1970.  In 2011, the Ivy League began recognizing both an offensive and a defensive player of the year. The presentation will be at 12:30pm Monday in the Vanderbilt Room of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Zeuli, who overcame a knee reconstruction and morphed from safety to outside linebacker to middle linebacker over four seasons, led the league with 16.5 tackles for loss, five more than teammate Dorian Williams and seven more than any player on another team. Zeuli’s 87 tackles this season brought his four-year total to 207.

“The Mount Rushmore of Princeton defense in the last 25 or 30 years is Patterson, (Dave, the 1995 Bushnell Cup Winner) Reid, Catapano and Zeuli,” said Coach Bob Surace.

“When I first got here (in 2010) I showed a highlight film of Patterson to the team and said, ‘That’s how you play football.’ My point is that it once took 15 years for the school to come up with another player on that level and now we have had three of them in a short time.

“We have had talented players. But it was Mike’s will, energy, and effort that set him apart. I have had to tell him, ‘don’t run down the back of guys at practice’ because we have to have enough guys to play. He is just a ‘Wow!’ player, a Ray Lewis or Troy Polamalu at the college level.
Zeuli Leaves A Legacy Of Will, Energy & Effort for Future Tigers
“In this league everybody plays hard and then you have Zeuli playing at this other speed. Now I have another highlight film to remind Rohan Hylton, R.J. Paige, and Dorian Williams that if they want to be great, this is how you play. It already was contagious for them last year. Nobody did it as well as Mike, but they started to get there.”

Hodges, a three-time first team All-Ivy selection, led the conference with 8.5 sacks and had 27.0 for his career. He and Zeuli were among four unanimous first-team All Ivy selections.

The two offensive nominees are running back Tyler Varga of Yale and quarterback Dalyn Williams of Dartmouth.  

The presentation will be shown live and free of charge on The Ivy League Digital Network.

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com


Sunday, November 30, 2014

These Were the Plays and Players of 2014

BY JAY GREENBERG

Offensive MVP: Connor Kelley. As so many key offensive cogs missed games, Kelley was the surest thing the Tigers had, catching 61 balls and four touchdowns and blocking the edge as well as any Princeton receiver ever has blocked it.

Offensive Play of the Year: Matt Costello curled, caught a perfectly delivered pass from Connor Michelsen, outran three Brown defenders and withstood a bump from a fourth at the five-yard line to dive for the pylon, completing a 49-yard touchdown that gave Princeton a 17-0 lead over Brown.

Connor Kelley '15
Best Single Performance by an Offensive Player: With Seth DeValve not dressed and Costello injured during the first quarter at Cornell, Kelley caught 13 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

Second Best Performance by an Offensive Player: Offensive line coach Eddy Morrissey throws around good marks like offensive linemen threw around Caraun Reid. And tackle Mike Ramos graded at 98 per cent in the Penn victory.

Honorable Mention Best Performance by an Offensive Player: Quinn Epperly ran for four touchdowns against Davidson.

Best Catch: Leaping in the end zone by Matt Costello, from Michelsen on third-and-eight at the Colgate 28, to put Princeton up 23-7.

Best Catch And Run: DeValve bounced off one hit, ran through the grasp of another tackler and stiff armed his way for an extra five yards to complete a 31-yard pass from Michelsen that set up the Tigers only points of the second half against Brown. DeValve paid a heavy price for his 10 catches in that 27-16 victory, not playing again the rest of the season.

Best Run: DiAndre Atwater, cut back, ran out of a grasp just past the line of scrimmage, stiff-armed a San Diego defender to the ground 25 yards up field, then carried a tackler an extra 10 yards to the 10-yard line.  The 54-yard run set up a lead touchdown in San Diego.
 
Will Powers '15
Best Run (Short-Yardage Division): On third-and-four at the Penn 47, Will Powers bounced off the initial push, broke a tackle, and carried two defenders four extra yards for the penultimate first down in the drive that killed the final 5:23 of the 22-17 victory. They were the eight hardest-earned yards of the season and maybe the most significant.

Best Touchdown Run: On first and ten at the Colgate 12, Will Powers shook a leg tackle at the line of scrimmage, bounced out of a two-defender sandwich at the eight, and carried a defender over the line to put Princeton up 30-21 in the third quarter.

Best Throw: Michelsen to a well covered Costello for his touchdown at Colgate.

Second best throw: Quinn Epperly threw into double coverage and was on the money regardless for 38 yards to Kelley, who went up and made a tough catch at the Penn 22. Set up Princetons first touchdown of the game.

Best Drive: Forty-six yards in 11 plays, all but one of them on the ground, including two third-down conversions, to kill the final 5:23 and put away the Penn victory.

Worst Moment on Offense: The Tigers, once up 16-0, were still ahead 23-14 in the final minute of the half and at the Colgates 46, when the Raiders Mike Armiento came underneath on an Epperly pass intended for Nelson, intercepting and returning to the Princeton 13.

Worst Moment on Defense: With :13 on the clock, Colgate had time to take just one shot at a pass in the end zone and it hit it. This was far from the only bad pass defense breakdown of the season, but probably the single most killing since Tigers ended up losing that game by one. 

Best Play Call: Flea flicker Michelsen completed for 43 yards to James Frusciante on Princetons first play from scrimmage against Penn.

Britt Colcolough '16
Gutsiest Play Call: Five seconds left in the first half, at the Columbia one, Epperly got the ball instead of Nolan Bieck. Rather than settling for a 6-6 tie at the half, Tigers completed a 14-play, 98-yard, drive to go ahead 10-6 and then dominated the second half.

Worst (And Most Costly) Offensive Execution: Attempt to go for two after Dre Nelson returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown at Colgate failed miserably when three-man wedge fronting a bubble screen to Trevor Osborne was completely overrun. 59:47 later, Tigers lost by a point.

Most Improved Player on Offense: Junior Britt Colcolough stepped into a breach created by the season-long absence of Spenser Huston and made second-team All-Ivy.

Best Newcomer on Offense: The offensive line is a tough place for a freshman to gain trust, but given opportunities by injuries, Mitch Sweigart earned it.

Hardest Workers on Offense: Quinn Epperly needed crutches to get around the locker room after limping through some late season practices. Offensive coordinator James Perry believes not having Epperly, or a limited one, pushing practices to a higher level was as damaging as not having him in some games. When Epperly's body betrayed him, Michelsen, who had lost his starting position a year ago, was fully prepared for a second chance there had been reason to believe he never would get again.

Special Teams MVP:  Max Lescano. Never a bobble or a flinch in running up to catch punts in traffic, regularly saving field position. Played on all the kick return and coverage units.

Best Special Teams Play: Dre Nelson returned two opening kickoffs for touchdowns but to those involved, the one for 100 yards at Colgate was the favorite. Because of burying blocks by R.J. Paige and Rohan Hylton, Nelson never was close to being touched. Flawless.

Worst Special Teams Moment: Yale collapsed the wall in front of punter Tyler Roth, blocked the kick and fell on the ball in the end zone, turning a 14-10 second quarter lead into a 17-14 deficit.

Best Special Teams Performance: Nolan Bieck was three-for-three on field goals in tight win over Penn,  including one from 45 and a late fourth-quarter chippie that extended the lead to five.
Mark Fosatti '18

Best Special Teams Performance by Someone Not Carrying or Kicking the Ball: Garrit Leicht, who asked to go on special teams after being supplanted by Rohan Hylton as a starter was, in the words of special teams co-ordinator Andy Aurich, a one-man wrecking ball on the kickoff coverage vs. Penn.

Best Newcomer on Special Teams: Freshman Mark Fossati ended the season on all four units.


Hardest Worker on Special Teams: When his offensive workload increased because of the injuries to DiAndre Atwater, indefatigable Will Powers was not removed from any of the four units, tribute to his indispensability .

Defensive MVP: Steve Verbit recently re-watched the highlight video of the legendary Dave Patterson 94 and believes Mike Zeulis performance this season was every bit the equal.

Defensive Play of the Year: Penn goal line quarterback Adam Strauss bobbled the snap, was hit by a diving Dorian Williams during attempted scoop, then was prevented from picking up the ball by a diving Garrit Leicht, enabling Williams to carry 75 yards to the Penn nine.  When Nolan Bieck kicked a field goal, the Quakers, who had been about to go up 7-3, trailed 6-0 in what turned out to be a 22-17 Princeton victory.

Most Impressive Tackles: Zeuli lifted up Colgate running back Demetrius Russell and put him down on his back.  Zeuli, lined up outside, beat his man to the inside and came six yards to tackle Columbia running back Cameron Molina on a simple third-and-one dive play, forcing the Lions to punt in a 6-3 game in the second quarter.

Most Clutch Play on Defense: Initially dropping into deeper coverage on fourth-and-six , nickel back Andrew Frisby sniffed out Spencer Kulcsar coming across the middle and came up 10 yards to trip up the Penn running back one yard short of the first-down marker, preserving a five-point Princeton lead with 5:23 to go.

Kurt Holuba '18
Best Single Game Performances by Defensive Players: Williams had 13 tackles, an interception, a pass breakup and that long run with the fumble recovery vs. Penn. Hylton had 18 tackles, 1.5 for losses and one sack at Colgate in a game where Williams added 12 tackles, a tackle-and-a-half for a loss and a fumble recovery. Zeuli had 4.5 tackles for a loss at San Diego.

Most Unsung Defensive Player: In his first season at safety, sophomore Williams finished second on the team in tackles to Zeuli and was by far the best performer in the secondary.

Most Improved Defensive Player: Tyler Desire, who had played only in obvious pass rush situations as a freshman, obliterate doubts about his ability to play the run all the way to a second team All-Ivy berth.

Best Newcomer on Defense: Kurt Holuba was the first Princeton freshman since they became eligible to play varsity in 1994 to start all 10 games on the defensive line. He more than hinted at his coming dominance by finishing up a 50-quarterback hurry season with eight tackles and two sacks in finale against a strong Dartmouth front. 

Second Best Newcomer on Defense: Freshman rush linebacker Joe Percival had four tackles for losses and two quarterback hurries in a reserve role.

Hardest Worker on Defense: Mike Zeuli practiced every day like it was his last one, said Verbit. We had to remove him from practice at times to insure we could get him through the week.

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Zeuli and Bieck are First-Team All Ivy

BY JAY GREENBERG

Linebacker Mike Zeuli and placekicker Nolan Bieck were named first team All-Ivy on Tuesday, as voted by the coaches.

Mike Zeuli '15 Was A Unanimous 1st Team All-Ivy Selection
Zeuli 15, tied with Dartmouths Will McNamara for the league lead in tackles with 87, while topping the Ancient Eight with 16.5 tackles per losses, a whopping five more than the second leading defender in the league, Princeton safety Dorian Williams (who was a second team selection) and seven more than any player on another team. 

Zeuli was one of only four unanimous selections, along with Harvard defensive end Zach Hodges, Harvard running back Paul Stanton and Yale running back Tyler Varga.

“Mike is just the most intense guy, said Coach Bob Surace. You dont get to coach too many guys like that unfortunately Mike Catapano for a few years so you say thanks for the chance to be around a guy like that. 

He plays with a level of urgency that it is unique. Every year there os one of two guys in the league like that and thats all.

Bieck 16 missed only one of 14 field goals plus was a perfect 30-for-30 on extra points.

Nolan Bieck '16
Nolan had a very consistent year, said Surace. He had by far the most long field goals [four-for-four from 40 to 49 (yards) in the league.  To me, he was another easy one as far as deserving it.

In addition to Williams, the Tigers also placed on the second team both of their starting offensive tackles, Make Ramos 15 and Britt Colcolough 16,  defensive end Tyler Desire 17, and kick returner Dre Nelson 16.

Ramos and Colcolough whose responsibilities and playing time increased due to the season-long injury absence of returning first-team All-Ivy tackle Spenser Huston, anchored an offensive line that surrendered only 18 sacks and produced an average of 152 yards per game rushing.

Both tackles had terrific years, said Surace. It is so hard to grade offensive lineman, there are no statistics, and Mike was able to make an all-conference team with very little fanfare,, showing just how well he played..

I had three guys in my individual [season-ending) meetings tell me they watched how hard Britt worked. Britt got better every week. He wasnt as consistent as Mike in the first half of the season but the second half he was every bit as good. And that was very good.

We had sophomores on the defense Tyler, Dorian and Rohan (Hylton, voted honorable mention) who played very well. R.J. Paige was another (but unhonored) one.

We were concerned about Tylers ability to stop the run in the spring and I thought he just continued to get better and better and play lower and lower. In doing this, he hasnt lost one ounce of his athletic ability.  He is a true freshman in age and he is going to continue his improvement. I see so many of the personal habits Caraun (Reid) had being passed down to Tyler.

Dorian filled up the stat sheet -- played the run, the pass, recovered fumbles, sacked the quarterback, did it all. He placed the nickel last year, had to learn a new position and played excellent down the stretch.

Britt Colcolough '16 Emerged As a Top Lineman in 2014
Dre obviously had the two touchdown (returns of kickoffs(, but we also led the league in average drive start and a lot of that was teams popping up kicks, kicking out of bounds, trying to prevent him from getting returns.

Given honorable mention were receiver Connor Kelley 15, tight end Scott Carpenter 17, Hylton 17, punter Tyler Roth 17 and cornerback Anthony Gaffney 16.

Kelley probably was the Tigers most valuable offensive player this season, but the difference between the team scoring 43 points a game and in 2013 and 29 in 2014 didnt help the senior in the balloting, despite his four touchdown catches and 11.2 yards per catch.

The things that coaches value blocking,  physicality   dont show up in the stats, said Surace. Its unfortunate that in a one-hour phone (conference) call (between the coaches before they vote) you don't see all of that, but Connor had a terrific year and career.

Carpenter, who had 20 catches in his first year as a starter and blocked beyond his years; and Hylton, who came on so strong that at mid-season he supplanted a senior All Ivy candidate, Garrit Leicht, as a starter; plus Roth (37.3 yard average) brought the total of Tiger sophomore honorees to five, a strong endorsement about the future.

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com