BY JAY GREENBERG
NEW YORK -- When Kathy Epperly thinks about the statistical best season of any Princeton quarterback in history, the mother of its producer has a particularly hard time believing it happened because it almost didn’t.
“That’s why this is such a thrill beyond thrill,” said Kathy, her son named the Asa S. Bushnell Cup winner Monday as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year.
“This exceeded expectations on so many levels. But to me this became a miraculous thing because at the beginning of the season, I didn’t know how he was going to be able to play.”
Less than a week before training camp in August, tests indicated Epperly was suffering from mononucleosis.
“Before he came home (to Knoxville, Tenn.) for a little break before fall camp he called me and said ‘they have diagnosed me with an enlarged spleen.’
“He said, ‘I can’t believe it because I had good times yesterday (in conditioning monitoring runs).
“I said, ‘Maybe you just have a light case of it,’ but he got progressively worse with a case of Strep B. They put him on penicillin and steroids and sent him home, where he kept getting sicker. On the Sunday before we sent him back to Princeton, we had him at the emergency room because his throat was so swollen he couldn’t swallow.
“He got an ultrasound the next day. On Tuesday the doctor walked in and said
‘I don’t believe this, as sick as he has been, but he does not have an enlarged spleen.’
Quinn jumped off the bench and was high-fiving the doctor, I said, ‘well, there’s your miracle.’
“The following Sunday Dr. (Margot) Putukian (Princeton’s Director of Athletic Medicine) examined him, then ran tests and said, ‘We’re going to take this slowly, but I will let you start.’”
Two summers ago both Joe Goss and Ian McGeary were limited in camp participation because of mono and recovered in time to start the season. “So I never thought Quinn’s career or season was in jeopardy, just worried about him falling behind,” said Coach Bob Surace.
Because Princeton quarterbacks wear red vests in practice as warnings that they are not to be touched even on their healthiest days, Epperly taking one in the spleen was not a concern. But there were others.
“First two or three days, his body was cramping badly and Quinn wouldn’t talk about it,” said Don Epperly, Quinn’s father. “He feels that’s part of leadership and he didn’t want the coaches to pull him out so he said he felt fine.”
Within a couple of weeks, Epperly actually was, thanks to good hydration and selective drill participation to preserve his energy.
“When we ran gassers for conditioning, I had to say, ‘No, you’re not running,'” said Surace. “He still would sneak up into the drills. We had to limit him and he doesn’t like to be limited.”
Turned out, the best offensive line and deepest set of receivers in the Ivy League learned the limit was the sky, Princeton producing the Ancient Eight’s best-ever season in both points scored and yards gained even before the tenth game was played. Throwing for a Princeton record-tying 25 touchdowns, Epperly passed more than just medical tests with flying colors, and with 18 touchdowns on the ground, he even out-ran Brown senior running back John Spooney, the other finalist, for Princeton’s first offensive Bushnell Cup since Jeff Terrell in 2006.
“I really see this as a team award,” Epperly said in acceptance Monday at the Waldorf-Astoria. That said, after two games of functioning as he did in 2012 – as a red zone and usually second-quarter quarterback used in an effective tandem with incumbent starter Connor Michelsen. Epperly seized the opportunity to make a good offense largely unstoppable.
When Michelsen showed effects from a hard hit suffered against Columbia, and ultimately was held out of the Harvard game, Epperly that day threw for six touchdowns, including the winner in triple overtime, then the next week the “running quarterback” cemented himself as the rest-of-the-season starter by completing an NCAA record 29 consecutive passes in a rout of Cornell.
“Quinn always has been an accuracy guy, that’s his mentality,” said his father. “He threw very few interceptions in high school but he realized he had to step it up a notch and throw with more velocity.”
Epperly solicited mechanical advice from Charlie Petrone, once a Tennessee-based guru to Chad Pennington and Todd Helton, worked long and hard summers both with his Princeton receivers and with ex-quarterbacks and receivers at his alma mater, the Christian Academy of Knoxville. Epperly also wore out the trampolines hung in his Knoxville backyard.
The steam he gained on his passes carrying Princeton to an 8-2 record, a shared Ivy title with Harvard, and a second Asa S. Bushnell Cup in two years for Princeton, following Mike Catapano’s as Defensive Player of the Year in 2012.
Caraun Reid ’14 was a finalist to give Princeton a defensive repeat, but lost to Harvard junior Zach Hodges. “You work to be recognized as the best, but if it doesn’t happen that’s okay,” said Reid. “It gives me something to work for.”
He will follow Catapano into pro football while Epperly comes back to Princeton for a senior season that statistically will be almost impossible to replicate, even if the Tigers win every game next season.
|Caraun 'Reid '14|
“What he wants is to have the A game and win,” said Kathy. “But you have to take sometimes what life gives you.”
“I always tell my kids, they aren’t going to remember your statistics; they are going to remember your character. He has a very strong faith – I looked out in the back yard when his season seemed in jeopardy and he was reading his bible by the pool -- and he works pretty hard at that and tries to keep everything in perspective. So his character is what I am most proud of.”
The stats – he is the only person in Ivy League history to account for more than 40 touchdowns in one season, were worth some celebration, too. Epperly became the player most responsible for the revival of a program that suffered a second consecutive 1-9 season during his freshman year, even if in the aftermath of the hugely disappointing season-ending loss to Dartmouth that denied Princeton a solo title, said it “tarnished” all that Princeton had accomplished.
“I think he has set that aside, if not 100 percent I think 90 percent,” said Don Epperly.
Like Mom said, you have to take what live gives you. It not only gave Quinn Epperly a Princeton education, but delivered him to a program on the rise, an offensive line that allowed less than one sack per game, a deep and surehanded cadre of receivers, and the brilliant playcalling of offensive coordinator James Perry. Overwhelmingly Princeton proved the best place for Epperly to be after other options dried up.
“I can’t say Kathy and I weren’t trying to figure out why he was going 11 hours away, even if it was to a prestigious university,” said Don. “But he always valued education and when we looked around on some of the visits (to other schools) we just didn’t feel they were the right fit.
“Roman (Wilson) was Quinn’s guide on his visit to Princeton. Roman also has a strong faith and they clicked. At the Yale game I told (quarterback) Tommy Wornham (’12) that he had a lot to do with Quinn coming here.
“He went to Vanderbilt camp and Villanova and some other others and they were very interested but for some reason doors closed. Either a coach got fired or they had a chance to take a transfer or they took somebody else and it was little bit of a downer at the time. But in reality that was the answer to our prayers. Everything opened towards Princeton.”