BY JAY GREENBERG
Available: Approximately 58 carries that Brian Mills left behind when he exited the FitzRandolph Gate last spring. All due respect to the value of the world’s greatest undergraduate education, that entry to success in life still isn’t as broad as was that hole he ran through for a 53-yard touchdown at Georgetown.
|Will Powers '15|
Behind an offensive line that powered the Tigers to 217.8 yards rushing per game, every touch of the ball in 2013 was a privilege, as it likely will be again in 2014. With five running backs who combined last season for 1099 yards each bringing a little something different back to the table, nothing will be handed to any of them, except the ball smoothly from Quinn Epperly, whenever the call is not for him to keep it himself.
Epperly, the 2013 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, also ran for 609 yards. Two other quarterbacks, Connor Michelsen and Kedric Bostic, combined for 199 more. The only limitation to Princeton’s record-setting offense was a 60-minute clock and a field only 100 yards long.
You may get tired of reading stories about Princeton’s great depth. But in 2013 the defenses got tired, an obvious benefit that caused DiAndre Atwater, Dre Nelson, and Will Powers to take a claim check on their egos every time they came back to the bench in favor of a fresher man.
“You see the defense breathing heavy and we’re still coming, it definitely feels awesome,” said Powers, a multi-tooled senior, who ultimately is the most sacrificing member of a superbly unselfish group.
“At the end of the year you look up and he has a blocked punt, a big catch, a broken tackle on a clutch run,” says Coach Bob Surace. Indeed, if you look up Powers’ numbers -- 47 carries for 217 yards a year ago -- they lie about the length of his contribution, particularly on special teams.
|DiAndre Atwater '16|
“I never have been a big numbers guy, in high school either,” said Powers, who having played for his father Bill at Jupiter Christian HS (FL), sounds exactly like the son of a coach. “Whatever my role is, I want to make the most of it.
“But I am looking to make plays and that is on me, too, because they give me enough opportunities.”
A wide 195 pounder, Powers is built to pound the ball into the end zone, but the 6-3 Epperly, who scored 18 rushing touchdowns in addition to throwing for 25, is built for it even better. The quarterback is the biggest guy the Tigers have to take the ball in goalline opportunities and, of course, the one who poses to the defense the greatest dilemma, which has something to do with why Tiger running backs only accounted for nine of the team’s 56 offensive touchdowns.
Clearly, if a Tiger RB is going to score, it probably is going to have to be an explosive play from farther out, exactly what Bob Surace and offensive coordinator James Perry have in mind for Atwater in his junior season.
“He has been a very solid player,” said Surace. “We're excited to see if he can take that next step.
“As he matures, we would like to see more explosive plays.”
Atwater’s career longest remains a 53-yarder against Georgetown in the second game of his freshman year. In gaining 472 yards a year ago, his greatest single gain was 28. The only two touchdowns were on runs of 18 and 17 in the opener against Lehigh.
|Dre Nelson '16|
“It’s always hindsight – if I would have made this cut, or just done that – when you watch film,” said Atwater. “There was another one I almost broke against Lehigh, then one or two against Penn because they play their safeties so far up into the box that with one miss I would have been off to the races.
“That’s what I was working on this summer; agility, cutting, stuff like that. Hopefully we’ll see that come to fruition his year.”
Bursting with star capabilities, Steve Atwater’s kid won’t need 25 carries a game to bust a big one. “Yes, there’s some pressure (about being the son of a perennial Pro Bowler) but I have a friend who says pressure makes diamonds,” smiled Di Andre.
The shoulder that kept him out of the bitter finale at Dartmouth has been fixed. Nevertheless the competition is fixing for a battle to get on the field more. Joe Rhattigan and A.J. Glass saw playing time during blowouts as freshmen and Rhattigan, a between-the-tackles type, brings a dimension that likely begs for an increased role sooner rather than later.
So does Dre Nelson, the junior mighty-mite who had THE touchdown run of the 2013 season, a 42-yarder in which he outraced two Yale defenders to the edge, then left another in the dust with a move at the 30. Because Roman Wilson has graduated, auditions for the end-around, a staple of Perry’s offense, are being held as camp opens this week.
|Joe Rhattigan '17|
Nelson has the quickest burst on the team, Seth DeValve probably the longest stride. With as many as three quarterbacks on the field at a time, the ball – still only one allowed, last time Perry disappointedly checked -- also is going to come back to Epperly or Bostic for some races to the corner, too.
“I’m excited to see where that part goes,” said Nelson. “If Coach [Perry] wants to use me in some of the roles he used Roman in, I’m definitely willing and ready.
“But the great thing about our offense is that it can evolve and change. We can do anything with it.”
The Ivy League record 5116 yards put up in 2013 will be hard to beat. Then again, maybe not.
“[The yards] might be spread out a little more,” said Powers. “Teams are going to focus on Quinn but that just opens things for everyone else.
“We have a lot of weapons.”
Practices are 2:10-4:30 through Saturday this week, with no double sessions scheduled until next week. A scrimmage will be held 9:15-11:30 a.m. on Powers Field in Princeton Stadium on Saturday, September 6.