Monday, September 1, 2014

The D-Line is Short of Days, Not Talent or Candidates


With less than twenty days until the opener, time is flying by while members of Steve Verbit’s most inexperienced defensive line in his 28 years at Princeton prepare for action in San Diego.   

‘We’re trying different combinations, giving everyone pretty much the same opportunities in looking for the six, seven, eight guys who are going to step up and be part of the rotation,” said the coach. “We have a chance to put together a very representative group, but at this point no one has really distinguished himself.

Coach Steve Verbit and His Unit Have No Time to Waste
“It’s going to take time.”

The Tigers, who lost all three starters (Caraun Reid was an All-American and Greg Sotereanos all-Ivy) plus their top two reserves, can buy some time in 2014 with perhaps Princeton’s best and deepest secondary in Verbit’s memory.  There also is such a surplus of linebackers who can run that sophomores Brannon Jones and Baxter Ingram have become D-line candidates.

Who is going to step up? The sheet is blank.

Tyler Desire '17 Has No Fear of Expectations
“Virtually none of these guys has taken a rep in quality time during the course of a game,” said Verbit. 

The most noteworthy experience comes from rising Junior Ian McGeary, who started the first two contests in 2013, when Sotereanos was out, but afterwards, McGeary's snaps dwindled.  

As a freshman last season, Tyler Desire was used in pass rushing situations only.  Otherwise, there is enough greenness to this group to ripen yellow that pre-season poll picking the Tigers to repeat as Ivy League champions.

“We’re just trying to find the most positive quality of each of these guys and get them on the field based upon the things they do best,” said Verbit.

In other words, the Tigers will be running so many specialists in and out that hopefully San Diego will get dizzy tying to keep track, enabling a Tiger linebacker or safety or two to come free.  This defensive backfield will enable Verbit and Jim Salgado, the co-defensive coordinators, to get creative, even exotic.

“I don’t know if exotic is the right word because actually it might be simple,” said Bob Surace.  “If our defensive backs continue to cover like they have covered, you can get extra guys down in the box.
Brannon Jones '17

“If we are really good on the back end, we can do some experimenting with coverages.   Bottom line is, if we can match up at the corners you always have the offense outnumbered.”

One other way to outnumber the offense is to have one defensive lineman so quick and powerful that the opposition requires two guys to block him. A year ago, Caruan Reid did not have an overpowering game -- in terms of statistics -- until Dartmouth, but his graduation to the Detroit Lions will, for better or worse, give us a deeper understanding of how much effort the enemy put into occupying him.

Desire, strictly an outside speed rusher last year, is taking significant reps inside during camp, a reflection of both the Tigers’ needs and improvement as a run stopper. The sophomore has the quick feet, long arms, attitude and now an additional 50-pounds above his high school weight to become exceptional, but how soon?  The expectations for him are based on his measurables and work ethic.

“I don’t feel burdened by that, it means the coaches have confidence in me,” Desire said.   “For coaches to invest so much trust and belief in your ability is not something that happens all the time.  

“The kind of person I am, I am not going to sit up all night stressing, ‘I am not Mike Catapano, not Caraun Reid, what’s going to happen?’ I am just taking it one step at a time.”

There are preliminary indications that the highly-recruited Kurt Holuba will, as expected, be advanced enough to play important downs early in his freshman season. But he won't be playing 60 snaps a game.  

"The younger guys seem to wear down faster than the older ones," said Verbit. "Thus the need for a minimum of six guys to step up."  Two stars of the weight room, McGeary and Evan Kappatos, must turn their raw strength into performance on the field.  And Jones and Ingram have much to learn in a short time of they are going to provide pressure from the edge.

“I wouldn’t say they are big projects," said Verbit. "But both moved over midway through the spring, so at this point they have had about 10 days under the belt, that’s all.

"The game is moving a little fast for them.   They are good-sized kids, tremendous workers, who run well and are quick off the football, but they are very inexperienced as far as recognizing schemes, which slows them down,”
Kurt Holuba (90) with Dan Dreher (97) Should Play Early 
The advantages of playing standing up are obvious:  Your vision of what is in front of you is better and you have an extra split second before being hit to react.  But starting with your hand on the ground can be a good thing, too.

“At linebacker, I didn’t always where my first step would be,” Jones said. “Maybe to the left, maybe to the right, maybe coming off the end.

“Now I know what it is going to be.  And since [the offensive linemen] are a lot bigger than me and slower, I think I can get around them.”

Says Ingram: “Being a little undersized (225 pounds) right now, it’s a little bit of a challenge  But I think I can use my speed to offset that.”

He meant foot speed.  There is enough of that here for the Tigers to eventually have a creditable unit. But to handle San Diego, Davidson and Columbia, Verbit and his students are in a race against time.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Training Camp Day 3 - Training Camp Day 3

Practice Theme: “We Play Today.  We Win Today.  That’s it.”(Quote courtesy of Mariano Duncan and the 1996 NY Yankees)

Coach Surace Quote of the Day:
"We spend 30 extra minutes after practices this week doing extra work to develop our young players. I love how these players are competing and starting to get up to speed."

Tight Ends Coach Andrew Aurich:
"I'm excited about the special teams so far. We have a lot of athleticism and speed across the board. I'm looking forward to seeing what freshmen separate themselves."

TidBits:  New Athletic Director Mollie Marcoux ’91 did a terrific job addressing our players at our team meeting.

Also, we continue to have NFL scouts at nearly every practice.  The Princeton football program enjoys the opportunity to have pro football scouts evaluate our talented, high character and intelligent players as they work hard on the field and in the weight room throughout the season.


Go Tigers!
2013 Ivy League Champions

Training Camp Day 2 Training Camp Day 2

Theme: No Limits: Video link of what our team watched last night:

Coach Surace:
"I thought the returning players were sharp with their alignments and assignments, and that has allowed us to play at an even faster tempo the first two practices."

Inside Linebackers Coach Stephen Thomas:
"The incoming freshmen adjusting to the tempo of practice and they are making strides with their effort."

Q: In your recruitment, what was the number one reason you decided to attend Princeton?
A: I felt like I fit in. I wanted to be part of a turn around like the one we've had.
Q: What was your “Welcome To College Football” moment?
A: Getting pancaked by Mike Ramos.
Q: Favorite memory of the 2013 Ivy League championship season?
A: Beating Penn at Penn and seeing Elijah Mitchell run an interception back for a TD.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence on campus?
A: My teammates, especially the older guys. They showed me how to conduct myself the right way.
Q: What is a special or unique pre game routine you exercise?
A: I don't listen to music like a lot of other guys, but I'll go out on the field early to stretch and just relax.
Q: What is your favorite place to grab a bite to eat off campus?
A: Winberies and Witherspoon grill are always good.
Q: What is the best advice you've ever received from your position coach?
A: “Don't think or hesitate just go.”
Q: If you could have dinner with 3 people from any time in history, whom would you invite?
A: Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, and Reggie White.
Q: What are your post-graduation plans?
A: Get a job and start working, hopefully in something finance related _____________________________________________________________
Alumni Bio

Anthony DiTommaso
Executive Board Member, Princeton Football Association

New Jersey


Graduation Year:


Post-Graduate Study:
Seton Hall University

CEO, IVY Equities LLC

Special Guests At Practice Today:

Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey addressed the team after practice today. I continue to be impressed and thankful for the support we receive from the Princeton University administration!

Go Tigers!
2013 Ivy League Champions

Training Camp Day 1

This is the first installment of daily updates on the happenings of Princeton Football.  - Training Camp Day 1

Practice Theme: Kaizen: The Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a Single Step

Head Coach Bob Surace's thoughts on the first practice:

“I thought the mindset of our veterans at practice today was excellent. Every team has enthusiasm the first day, but our leaders came out ready to work and set a terrific tempo right from the start for their new teammates and it carried through the entire practice. “

A quote from our Running Backs Coach Sean Gleeson:
"Always great to shake off the rust and get started on a new season. We're all excited for the work ahead. I like how we finished drills today"



Special Guests At Practice Today:
Princeton Hall of Fame RB Cosmo Iacavazzi ’65 and Johnny O’Brien ’65 addressed the team after practice. Both were members of the 1964 undefeated Princeton football team that will be honored at the Harvard game this fall. Johnny O’s autobiography Semisweet: An Orphan’s Journey Through the School the Hersheys Built was Coach Surace’s favorite book this summer.

Monday, August 25, 2014

They Will Give Each Other a Run for Precious Carries


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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

As 'The Pick', 2014 Tigers Need to Choose Their Battles Internally.


Just two full seasons removed from consecutive 1-9 records, Princeton, the preseason favorite to repeat as Ivy League champions, has gone from the hunters to the hunted. 

Of course, it may help that the Tigers also are the haunted.  A Week 10 loss at Dartmouth cost them an undisputed title, causing quarterback Quinn Epperly to announce to the team at the end of spring practice that nothing less than 10-0 is going to be acceptable in 2014.  

Coming from a returning league Offensive Player of the Year and a captain, this would seem like quintessential reassurance that the Tigers won’t be blinded by the glares created by their championship rings. Nevertheless, Coach Bob Surace would prefer that when the Tigers hit the field on August 26, their concentration be on the process, not the results.

Quinn Epperly '15
“They are 18-22 year-olds and they get excited," the coach said recently. 

“It’s like being picked to win in the preseason. I don’t care what they say. I see better than I hear. To me their focus should be on becoming better players than they were last year, not worrying about week 10, which is a long way down the road.

"That’s what we are working to have their focus be. And for the most part it has been.”

As for the loss of the opportunity to any longer sneak up on anybody, Surace suggests it’s an insult to suggest Princeton ever did.

“We have good coaches in our league who always have prepared for us,” he said.  “We prepared our tails off for Brown three years ago and they kicked our butts 35-0. The last two years we beat them because we made more plays.

“I didn’t care when we were picked fifth (in 2013) so I don’t care when we are picked first. It’s all about how we approach every day. I hope our habits are engrained.

“Epperly was the best offensive player in the league last year, yet Connor Michelsen has been preparing for this season with as much, if not more, focus and dedication than any other season in his four years here. So Quinn has guys pushing him to get better every day.  Anthony Gaffney can’t worry about the Penn receiver in week eight, he has to concentrate on being the best player he can be today.”

As Year Five of the Surace era begins, depth has increased so greatly at every position that even seven returning All-Ivy players will be pushed to keep their starting positions.  But of course, the Tigers will prepare for their September 20 opener at San Diego with some spots more open than others:

DEFENSIVE LINE – “Obviously we lost (all three starters on) our defensive line,” said Surace. “I don’t know if is going to be a weakness but, unlike at some other positions, this is one where we have no guys who have played 50 per cent of the reps.

“Evan Kappatos and Ian McGeary got to play (in 2013) when we didn’t have Greg Sotereanos the first two weeks, which is good. And the number of blowouts we were in -- that doesn’t happen very often -- enabled us to get Tyler Desire and Dan Dreher a lot of reps in pass rushing situations.”
Dan Dreher '16

It is a lot to expect the long, quick, and intriguing Desire to instantly live up to the standards of Caraun Reid, an NFL draft choice. But the next step in that process will be the sophomore being able to stay on the field in running situations. 

“Tyler was anchoring the run game this spring much better and we expect him to be a rock solid player,” said Surace.  “Kappatos and McGeary are wide bodies but both need to be more consistent so they need to step it up at training camp.

“We have added to the mix two of our better athletes in (converted linebackers) Brannon Jones and Baxter Ingram, plus have five freshmen coming in. You combine (the highly recruited freshman Kurt) Holuba with Desire and you really feel comfortable. I also love the way Henry Schlossberg, John Hummel, Grayson Fisher and Dreher practice. Plus, Vic Prato came on during the spring.

“It will be an interesting group to sort out. We probably will play a little more niche, like when we found ways to get (running back) Dre Nelson on the field (during his freshman and sophomore years) He wasn’t the best player for every down. But he could do some things exceptionally.”


Jason Ray and Elijah Mitchell, who set the edge and rushed the passer in an effective one-two combination, have graduated, compounding the need for new sources of pressure on the quarterback.

“Birk Olson, Matt Skowron and Marcus Stroud all have explosive ability and had good springs,” said Surace. “None of those guys had practically any playing time last year and yet their mental mistakes were at a minimum.  We probably will alternate those three for a while.”


“Teams went to so much spread offense with three and four wide receiver that Mike Zeuli was playing 75 per cent inside instead of at the SAM and so was Luke Merrell,” said Surace.  So we moved them both to inside backer with Garrit Leicht and Rohan Hylton (at the other inside spot.)  

“We feel good about R.J. Paige, Teddy Graves and Jimmy von Thron, so let’s let them compete for a spot (at the SAM) where we need a guy on the field 25 per cent of the time and let Zeuli and Merrell play at the spot where we can use them 80 per cent.    When teams play more of a base offense, R.J, Teddy and Jimmy are ready for that.”


“Scott Carpenter had one of the best winters of any of our guys and that led to a confident spring,” said Surace.  “Both Mark Hayes (’13) Hayes and Des Smith (’14) were exceptional blockers who as seniors turned out to be exceptional receivers.  We think Scott might be versatile enough to do both earlier in his career.

Scott Carpenter '17
“Dylan White has flashed at times, but we want him to be more consistent.  He was very thin coming to us, but has put on 25 pounds and his blocking has improved. He is a big target, faster than Des and Mark, and a reliable receiver.  We need him to get the strength to be a blocker. He is starting to turn the corner.”


With the return of Seth DeValve and Connor Kelley, both all-Ivy League players, plus Matt Costello, who easily could have been an all-Conference selection, the Tigers are loaded with proven clutch possession-type receivers.  But if the offense is going to approach last season’s record-breaking efficiency, at least some of the many dimensions of Roman Wilson need to be replaced.

“Roman was an All-American. It might take a few guys to replace all the things he did,” said Surace.  ‘Robbie Templeton may not be able to run those shovels and inside routes like Roman did but Robbie is taller so he may be a better target down the field.”

“It doesn’t happen often that a Senior makes the physical jump that Costello made this off season. He’s always been a possession guy, and now he is more athletic and stronger.  I am very impressed.

“James Frusciante had a good, consistent, spring in the slot.  Trevor Osborne is very explosive and working on cutting down his mental errors and improving his technique.  There are days he looks like he is going to be a big time guy and he knows we want that light to turn on this year.

“Isaiah Barnes and Lawrence Wilson also flashed with great practices that told you they have a chance to be special but need to be more consistent to solidify a role.”


Mike Ramos '15
“We continued to play eight-to-ten guys in the course of a game," said Surace. "So when you lose a Joe Goss and a Max Coale, you can still feel like you have a lot of experience coming back.

"Taylor Pearson, who was a starter (in 2013) is back (at right guard) and so is (first-team All-Ivy left tackle Spenser) Huston, who has been a rock for three years.
With Mike Ramos and Britt Colcolough at the other tackle, we have three guys playing at a (potential All-Ivy) level at the two spots.  

“We moved Joe Tull to center last year too and he seemed to be a natural at it.  The last three years Ryan Peloquin has been very solid as a 20-play-per game type playing in place of Joe. We would like to see him expand that.

“Caleb Slate was our most improved lineman in the spring. He is really pushing to play a significant role behind Jack Woodall, who has been a constant at the guard spot. And (tackles) Mason Darrow and Max Wardaki had terrific springs as well.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What Two Inches Meant to the 1966 Tigers is Immeasurable


Stas Maliszewski and Paul Savidge, probably the best combination of interior defensive linemen in the East, had graduated. So had Ron Landeck, who had broken the all-time single-season Ivy League yardage record; Charlie Gogolak, a kicker so good he went sixth overall to Washington in the NFL draft; and Lauson Cashdollar, who had just set a Princeton record for catches in one season.

Of six first-team All-Ivy players on the 8-1 team of 1965 only one, safety Marty Eichelberger, was returning. And still nobody knew the trouble the 1966 team would see until during its three-week training camp in Blairstown, N.J.  Sophomore tailback Doug Boe collapsed during drills, got up,  then buckled again and was taken to Princeton Hospital. Permanently brain damaged, he would spend five months in a coma before dying from pneumonia.
Dick Colman
On top of jarring tragedy, the hits to Princeton’s title chances kept on coming. Homer Ashby, regarded as the team’s best offensive lineman, and expected starter Ron Marvin suffered camp injuries that ended their football careers while the team’s returning offensive backs -- tailback Bob Weber (who also was the team’s chief passer) and Dave (Truck) Martin -- were not expected to be ready for the opener against Rutgers.

Three returning members of a strong defensive backfield were most of what the Tigers had to recommend them for hopefully a seventh consecutive winning season, never mind an Ivy League championship over defending champion Dartmouth, which had ended Princeton’s 17 game winning streak at Palmer Stadium, 28-14, to close the 1965 season.

“Bad Day at Black Rock”, one of the feature films the coaches screened for the players to break up the Spartan tedium in Blairstown, may not specifically have been shown the day that Coach Dick Colman counted 29 Tigers unable to practice.  But to Eichelberger, business continued at usual.   

“My freshman year, we had 150 guys (including 55 high school captains) come out,” Eichelberger recalls. “As a sophomore, you took a place at your position behind at least two guys.

“Having practiced with and against these guys every day for three years, I always was impressed with our talent. Players just had to wait their turn. The coaches did a good job of holding us accountable and camaraderie was really tight. When Landeck moved to offense-only in ’65, he spent a lot of time coaching me.            

“We had lost the players who got most of the publicity. But even with them we had lost to Dartmouth so what do stars guarantee?  I still thought we were pretty strong all around.”

The last team in the league running a single wing offense, the Tigers figured to need any advantage they could get.  They would have to play too many sophomores to run anything too sophisticated, though. Seven returning defensive starters knew they would have to hold the fort.

“I wasn’t of the opinion we could match the ’64 (9-0) team or ’65 team (8-1),” recalls cornerback Hayward Gipson, then already a two-year letterman.  “But if the offense developed, I thought we had a chance to make it a race.”

Dick Bracken runs against Harvard
Few outside the team agreed and, as the season began, the Tigers weren’t changing any minds, either.  Against Rutgers at Palmer Stadium, sophomore tailback Dick Bracken, playing in place of Weber, debuted with 172 total yards, running for one touchdown and throwing to Steve Pierce for another.  Still, Doug James’ 49-yard punt return that set up a touchdown was by far the most impressive offensive play as Princeton, which lost two fumbles, suffered nine penalties and gave up touchdowns of 88 yards (on a kickoff return) and 82 yards (on a pass) barely held on to win 16-12.

The following week against Columbia, a driving rain reduced an expected Palmer Stadium crowd of 30,000 to just 2,000 and obliterated enough yard markings to cause the officials to erroneously give the Tigers a first down on a 15-yard penalty when they had started the play needing 17. 

An early Bracken TD run and a jitterbugging 83-yard touchdown punt return by James built a 14-0 lead.  But Lee Hitchner’s tackle on a two-point conversion attempt ended up being the difference when Columbia, which rallied on 67 and 80–yard bombs by Lions QB Rich Ballantine, ran out of time to get its field goal team on the field at the Princeton 20.

At 2-0 (if barely) the Tigers went to Hanover, NH sick of losing to Dartmouth (only 3-7 against since the Indians since the Ivy League’s formation in 1956). That was before Colman's team got sick period.  An apparent case of food poisoning that would put 40 team members in the infirmary the following week began to set in during a 30-13 debacle.

The Tigers scored first and last and moved the ball in between, too. But Dartmouth got the red zone stops and, thanks to 313 passing yards, a tie with Harvard for the early league lead.

“After what happened the year before, we were focused,” recalls Eichelberger. “But Dartmouth had a good team and we had changed things that week, dropping a fourth [linebacker] into coverage, so that instead of coming up and rotating to the left as usual, we were going back and rotating to the right.  

“We didn’t have enough time to get ready for it and made some big mistakes.”

With the Tigers giving up big plays on defense, and looking green and uncoordinated on offense, Colman thought they were suffering more than just a bad day and bad food against a superior opponent.

After the Tigers arrived back at Caldwell Field House, Colman, a cerebral Quaker whose most profane expression was ‘fiddly-dee”, delivered the toughest, most impassioned lecture anybody who ever played for him can recall.

“He wasn’t a screamer but he could make you feel like nothing,” recalls Pierce. “He didn’t hold back, said he thought we were quitters and losers.”

Remembers Bracken, “He said we were more concerned with girlfriends and eating clubs than football. “I was a sophomore, of the mindset that if they said ‘jump’ I started to jump, and he scared the hell out of me. It made me feel like we were letting the school down.
Lee Hitchner Makes a Stop Versus Columbia

“The seniors took up the challenge.”
Those seniors who weren’t taking up all the space in the training room, he means. Starting offensive tackle Bob Hausleiter was lost for the season with a neck injury suffered at practice, then Martin, who with Bracken’s emergence was being moved to fullback to give the Tigers a two-headed threat out of the backfield, returned from a two-game absence only to have his nose broken by All-American Ray Ilg on the second play of the next game, against Colgate.  

“Put his foot through my facemask and my nose into my right ear,” recalls Martin, who spent the rest of the contest having his features put back in place, while the Tiger offense continued to look faceless.  Colgate was just as stymied though until, thanks to a Tiger penalty, the Raiders kept possession following a punt and drove 45 yards for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter Bracken was stopped on a double reverse on fourth-and-four at the 14 and the Tigers, 7-0 losers, had dropped consecutive games for the first time in four seasons.

Captain Walt Kozumbo Closes In
Content to defer to the more vocal Gipson and linebacker Ron Grossman, Captain Walt Kozumbo said he never considered himself an orator. “My role model had been Paul Savidge, who tried to lead by example,” Kozumbo recalls. But with the season on the brink, teammates remember the defensive end making an eloquent plea that the 2-2 Tigers not let go of the rope.

“Walt unequivocally and unhesitatingly, said, “We are going for the gold’,” recalls Grossman.  “With no superstars to depend on and an injury list that never stopped growing, we resurrected our confidence and recommitted ourselves. We knew our limitations, but still thought we could win.”

Certainly the Tigers thought they could win their next two, against Penn, whom the Tigers had clobbered over the last three meetings by an aggregate score of 140-0, and Brown, which had enjoyed only one winning league season in the 10-year existence of the Ivy League At Franklin Field. Against Penn, the Tigers completed drives of 68, 70, 60 and 60 yards while defensive end Charles Baby blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety. Martin contributed 92 yards in his first full game of the season as the
Tigers rolled 30-13.

This was by far the best the offense had looked, and despite two late Penn scores on big plays, a good defense was hunkering down.

“(Assistant) Warren Harris was an outstanding (defensive) coach,” recalls Eichelberger.  “Straightforward, emotional, and always pushing you forward.

“How the hell did you get into Princeton?’ he asked me one day when I made a mistake, but you also got kudos when you did something well. The approach was professional all the way. Every Sunday, every member of the team would receive a grade on three-by-five card.

"Losing is part of life that teaches you to crank it up. We just wanted to win. I don’t have any memory of us developing a chip on our shoulder about being written off. (Linebackers Jim) Kokoskie and Grossman were tough guys. We still had good players.”

This was especially true in the secondary, where junior Bruce Wayne was joining three seniors who had played together for three years.

“James was our best overall athlete in terms of speed and agility,” recalls Wayne. “Marty was the fiery captain of the secondary, a very good athlete with good hands and football sense who kind of kept the four of us together.

“Gibby (Gipson) wasn’t the fastest guy, but he was a good hitter and a proven run defender who used his football instincts to always get the job done.”

Gipson, the first African American to play football at Princeton, had been accepted from Day One.

“In high school (Abington, Pa.) 20 per cent of the players were African-Americans so this wasn’t an anomaly to me,” recalls Eichelberger. “Gibby was forthright, fun and articulate, all you would want as a teammate and friend. He was in my wedding.

“I think everyone realized he was in a tough spot, was sensitive about it, and embraced him.  Most of the guys on our team had gone to public high schools, were not elite private school guys.”

Indeed Gipson, who says he came on a whim for a campus visit convinced he would not be comfortable at an Ivy League school, was stunned by his reception. 

“Of the students that I met, I enjoyed everyone,” he recalls.  “Including Bill Bradley.”

Truck Martin Prepares to Go Over the Top
“My high school (Scotch Plains, NJ) had an African-American population of maybe 10 per cent. I had done all the things -- student body president, National Honor Society -- that students need to do to get into Princeton. So I wasn’t coming from an inner city educational experience that would make it night and day for me.

“As I recall, there were maybe 10 African-American students in an undergraduate population of 3,200 at Princeton and five were in my class.   But I knew what kind of education I was going to get, and the school was in New Jersey, so I could get home whenever I felt the need.

“If I had any misgivings when I made my decision, they were about snobbery, not racism. I thought a wealthy student body might present an issue more than anything else. But I believe my freshman class was [Princeton’s] first that consisted of more public school than private school students. So there were other changes going that were all positive under President (Dr. Robert) Goheem’s administration.

“My first day as a student, I ran into Bill Bradley on Nassau Street and he remembered me.  That was very impactful for me.”

No member of the starting secondary missed a game in 1966, hugely impactful for turning around the season. At other positions, the Tigers continued to drop.  Against Brown, tailback Weber went down, as did starting guard Lynn Brewbaker but Colman had beefy underclass line replacements in Bob Mauterstock and Dave Hantz, helping the one-two backfield combination of Martin and Bracken wear down the Bears in the fourth quarter, 24-7.

Harvard’s late come-from-behind 18-14 upset of Dartmouth two weeks earlier had opened the door for the Tigers, 3-1 in the league even if they were not believed to be in the same league with the Crimson. Harvard came to Palmer Stadium a two-touchdown favorite.

“I remember after a practice that week sitting in the empty stadium, knowing Harvard had beaten Dartmouth, thinking, ‘it just isn’t over yet.’” recalls Center Bob Ehrets, who, given the opportunity to start when incumbent Carl Behnke was moved to defense, was emerging as the Tigers’ best offensive lineman. “Everybody had written us off, but I felt confident, I really did.”

Since Harvard averaged 219 rushing yards per game with a three-headed monster of tailbacks Bobby Leo, Vic Gatto and fullback Tom Choquette, the Tigers, prepped by assistant coach Arthur Robinson’s scouting report, logically decided to load up against the run.

“Leo was good outside, Gatto good inside and their quarterback (Rick Zimmerman) was good but only on short passes,” recalls Wayne. “Having Doug James back there as the safety to take care of any long balls, we decided to jam an extra cornerback -- whether it was me or Gibby depending upon which side they split their end -- near the line.
Bob Weber Makes Yards Against Brown

Kicker Ted Garcia missed a chip shot field goal on an early drive but after Martin had led the Tigers back downfield, the Princeton kicker nailed a second opportunity for a 3-0 second quarter lead. But Harvard responded on the next possession by going 74 yards, finishing off the drive when Leo out-dove Baby to a ball lying in the end zone because Gipson had stripped it from Gatto.

Baby immediately ran off with a dislocated shoulder. The next man up in an endless chain was senior Larry Stupski, whose own availability had been limited over the first six games.  He couldn’t stop Harvard from driving 63 yards with the second half kickoff to go up 14-3, but after Martin fumbled at the Princeton 19 on the next series, Stupski made consecutive tackles of Zimmerman for losses and Kokoskie yanked down an interception on third-and-long.

The Tigers had rescued themselves from disaster.  Runs by Martin and John Bowers picked up first downs and completions by Bracken to ends Pete Zeitzoff and Pierce enabled Martin to leap over the top for the last two yards to make the score 14-9.

Stupski later recalled that he and Hitchner had to talk Colman into going for two. James, the full-time safety and tailback-in-a-pinch, doesn’t remember any discussion, only that, as the fastest guy on the team, the call on the conversion attempt was for him to sprint for the corner. 

“I knew two offensive plays,” James recalled. “The sweep and the sweep pass, and the coach called for the sweep.

“Harvard saw me in there, wasn’t stupid.  Their guys were yelling, ‘watch the sweep!’  I ran right and there were about five guys waiting.  

“I looked up and saw Bowers in the back of the end zone.”

James' pass was lobbed as perfectly as it had to be, over a defender standing two yards in front of the receiver. Bowers turned and caught the ball just inside the back line to leave the Tigers down by just a field goal.  Palmer Stadium was alive again with the possibilities. 

Zimmerman scrambled for a first down at midfield, but on third-and-five, Gatto got thrown for a loss. When Eichelberger unsuccessfully gave five yards trying to break a punt return, the Tigers began the fourth quarter at their seven-yard line.  

Quarterback Chuck Peters -- the lead blocker in the single wing scheme, had – what else? -- been hurt earlier in the game. His replacement was little used senior Tad Howard.

“Tad was measurably below Peters, my roommate, in strength and blocking skills, but he was a great head and a team player,” recalls Martin. “He got in the huddle and said, ‘We are going down and going to score. Anyone who doesn’t believe this, go to the sideline. ‘“

Bracken remembers the veins standing out in Howard’s face as he forcefully called the plays.  “The way our defense played we always felt two or three touchdowns would be enough,” recalls Howard. “Now we needed just one.

“It wasn’t that complicated. We went on the same snap count every play for four years. Colman apparently didn’t want to confuse us, must have thought we were idiots.”

On the first play, Martin broke two tackles to gain 16 yards of precious operating space. Bracken completed passes of 19 and 11 yards to Pierce.  On fourth down and one, Martin went wide for two, then plunged inside three times to the Harvard 32. Bracken went left for 18 more, then bulled to the three.  On Martin’s third try, he leaped and stretched the ball over the top of the goal line. Princeton had chewed up eight-and-a half-minutes of the fourth quarter clock to go ahead 18-14 with 6:18 to go.

The euphoria was short lived. Leo’s kickoff return to the 33, compounded by a personal foul penalty, set Harvard up at the 48. Leo then reached back to make a remarkable one-handed catch on fourth down to keep the drive alive.

A third-down pass made it fourth-and-two at the 20.

“They hadn’t run at me all day, but I thought ‘maybe this time they will, so I thought I had to be moving forward,” recalls Kozumbo.

Indeed Choquette ran off right tackle but Kozumbo shed a block and grabbed the fullback low, just before Kokoskie arrived and James grabbed the ball carrier to keep him from falling forward. The side judge quickly made an accurate spot. As Wayne went to all fours, the chains were stretched beyond the ball, but not as far as the Tigers’ belief in themselves. Harvard was short by two inches with 1:35 remaining.
It's the Tigers' Ball -- And Game

While most of the Tigers leaped with joy, Stupski picked up the ball and threw it into the stands.  After Bracken picked up a first down and Martin ran around with the ball to kill the clock, the Tigers celebrated what Colman called Princeton's biggest and most thrilling upset since beating Penn 20 years earlier. That time, Princeton had played only the spoiler. On this occasion, it had moved into a 3-way tie for the league lead with games remaining at Yale and at home against Cornell.

Both of the Bulldogs sensational sophomores, Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill, were too injured to play, but the Tigers recognized a dangerous wounded animal, having become being one themselves.
“There is nothing that hasn’t happened to us,” said Gipson as Brewbaker had to come out of the lineup again and Bohdan Stefkiwsky, another lineman who had had become a starter, went down. Then, so did Bracken on the first play from scrimmage but now bad things were happening to the other guys, too.  Eighty-six yards of Yale penalties resulted in one touchdown being called back on a hold – the field goal then was missed – and stalled two other long drives.

Nevertheless the Bulldogs had converted a 70-yard drive in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead that threatened to hold up until James’ late third-quarter interception -- off a hurry by Grossman -- set up a 42-yard drive capped by Martin’s one-yard dive. But a successful Garcia PAT was killed on a procedure penalty and when he missed the retry, Princeton was still down a point and running out of time.

In the descending darkness – the game had started at 2 p.m. for television, Yale used 13 plays to pick up three first downs and reach a second-and three at the Princeton 28.
Stupski (left) and Kokoskie Apply Pressure

“With three minutes left, we thought we were doomed,” recalls Kozumbo. But after being penalized for delay of game as a result of substitution confusion, the Bulldogs made up only two of the yards on a third-down run. From the 31, Coach Carm Cozza ordered a punt.

“Somebody in our huddle said ‘James is going to run this back.’” recalls Grossman. “ I said 'hell no, we’re blocking it. I had just missed one in the end zone earlier.”

Grossman led the charge up the middle.  “The snap wasn’t dead-on, [punter Bob Kenney] had to juggle it for a spilt second and that made the difference,” recalls Kozumbo, the second guy in. “He kicked it into my right arm.”

“Larry (Stupski) said later that when he knew he couldn’t get there he started looking for the ball.”

Stupski found it at the Yale 40. Gipson leveled Kenney with a memorable block and Stupski had a five-blocker escort though the darkening mist, running like he had materialized out of the Tigers’ dreams. After falling into the end zone, Stupski held the ball to the turf as if to make sure the officials believed it.  

There was 2:02 to go.  After Princeton got one stop, James, playing tailback in Bracken’s absence, couldn’t make a first down, but Yale’s last prayer in Princeton's 13-7 victory was gobbled up by Eichelberger at the gun.

“They are all guts,” glowed Colman, “I don’t know how they do it,”  Frankly, this time, neither did his Tigers, still in a 3-way tie for the lead after having been outgained from scrimmage, 311 yards to 161. 

“We were really elated after Harvard, mostly thankful after that one,” recalls Kozumbo.

Dartmouth was finishing with Penn and Harvard with Yale. Cornell, coming to Palmer Stadium at 4-2 and with huge offensive and defensive lines (averaged 238 pounds), represented giant unfinished business. 

Bending, not breaking, Princeton held the game scoreless despite 112 yards by Pete Larson, the league’s leading ground gainer, and dodged a bullet early in the fourth quarter when Gipson recovered a fumble at the Tiger 20. The Tigers countered with enough yardage before having to punt to allow a second Gipson recovery, off a hit by Hitchner, to set them up 51 yards away.

On fourth-and-six Bracken threw to Howard to keep the drive alive. Bill Berkley gained a first down at the nine, and on third down Bracken swept left for five yards, going in untouched for a 7-0 lead.

Princeton forced two three-and-outs, James sealed the deal with an interception, and the Tigers celebrated their three-way share – the hardest share -- of the Ivy League title with locker room champagne and cigars. Long into the morning on The Street, the Tigers, most of them members of Tiger Inn, partied. Kozumbo, a Cannon Club guy himself, overdid the scotch so badly that he developed an aversion to it that exists to this day. 

One more ongoing life lesson taught by Princeton’s Ivy League champions of 1966.

“Like the Cinderella stories, it has all the classic ingredients -- background, plot, conflict, action, crisis, resolution,” says Grossman. “Good qualities were underestimated, ignored or unrecognized but we expected more of ourselves.

“We emerged from obscurity, triumphed over hardship and, to everyone’s surprise, had success.”

Princeton had been outgained by 220 yards for the season, scoring just three more touchdowns than it gave up. The Tigers threw only two touchdown passes all year. But clutch fourth-quarter plays made them one of just five teams in the school’s history to ever combine Ivy and Big Three titles. The whole of the ’66 team vastly exceeded the sum of its parts. 

“All for one and one for all,” says Martin. “Trite, but true.

“When they moved me to fullback I beat out Bill Berkley. He was so down about it, but right from camp his attitude was ‘how can we work together?’  When I wasn’t effective in the Cornell game for reasons I can never explain, Bill came in and played outstanding on our touchdown drive, one of the key reasons we scored at all. Howard came in for Peters and in a clean uniform led the team 93 yards. We don’t score without him.

"We had one story after another like that. There is tangible power that comes from feeling the power of the team. We were on the brink of a very non-Princeton season -- .500 being impossible to swallow after the prior two years -- and we won five straight.  Our best players were not as good as the best players from 1964 and 1965. We were so outmanned by Harvard that to win was an incredible accomplishment and the way we did it was storybook.

“Most special of all, 48 years later the camaraderie and teamwork has mushroomed in value.”

Of the 19 football members of the Class of ’67, 16 survive.  Jim Kokoskie died in 1969, on a Princeton visit, when a truck crossed the centerline of Route 206, hit his car and killed him instantly. Peters -- Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Medical School, surgeon -- battled depression before taking his own life in 1989.  Stupski passed away from an unusually deadly strain of prostate cancer in 2013.

“Larry Stupski was my best friend," said Martin. "We both got married in college, he moved back to California when I did, and we stayed in touch.

“Last year, before he passed away, Joyce, his wife, asked me to put together some Princeton support so I put out an email and he heard from 16 of us in his hour of need. That’s a damn good expression of the importance of team and friendship and the epitome of it was the memorial service. Ten of us (seniors on the ’66 team) plus two earlier team members from our class and [22] other Tigers came.

“We decided to wear our class blazers to the memorial service at AT&T Park (Stupski, once-CEO of Charles Schwab, was a minority owner of the San Francisco Giants). Looking out at a sea of orange and black, I gave one of the eulogies before we all came up on the podium and in front of 700 people did the Tiger locomotive cheer in Larry’s name.

‘The vividness when you are playing is so phenomenal that, years later, you can remember plays and team events. But in many respects the more time that goes by, the more caring there is amongst the team, and that's even more powerful.”