Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Big Quarterback Question


With an absence in the pocket after losing veteran quarterbacks Quinn Epperly and Connor Michelson to graduation, the Tigers are left to decide between senior Kedric Bostic, junior Chad Kanoff and sophomore John Lovett who will lead the fast, hurry-up offense in the upcoming fall season.

Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback Coach James Perry looks to fill the position that can keep the fast and physical brand the Tigers are known for.

“We develop schematics based on the abilities of our players,” Perry said. “Most important thing for our current quarterbacks to do is demonstrate they can operate our offense fast. Being fast is the most pivotal part of what our offense is, and we can only go as fast as our quarterback will direct.”

Yet, the Tigers remain undecided as to how they will approach fitting the quarterbacks into their fast offense.

“We are learning their strengths this spring,” Perry said. “Having three talented guys compete is an ideal situation for them all to get the most out of their ability. The most important advantage is we can put our best players on field as opposed to leaving backup quarterback on sideline”.

It is unknown whether Princeton will see another 2- or 3-quarterback play style or if the team will stick with one player.

“We used to have 2 to 3 quarterbacks the last few years because they demonstrated they were some of our best players,” Perry said. “We will evaluate this crew and if they show they deserve it, we will continue to do that.”

The race is a tight one.

Bostic’s strength lies in his ability as a runner, quick to the edge with the ability to make cuts, but it is unknown whether he throws the ball well enough to capture the starting position.

Kanoff, however, amazes in his passing game as a more pro-style pocket passer. He was a recruiting coup, decommitted from Vanderbilt, who throws an extremely accurate ball. Although he is more lacking in the run game than the other two, not really the option to make cutbacks or beat defenders to the edge, but once up to speed, Kanoff has long strides that can cover ground.

Lovett dazzled in his Junior Varsity games last season, emerging as a passing and throwing hybrid. Yet, he is younger than the other two competitors, and quarterback is the hardest position to learn.

The competition remains open, though. Epperly and Michelson represented hard workers, and the quarterbacks who fill the position have to bring the same qualities to practice, said Perry. It’s about the improvement. Epperly started with far superior running skills to passing skills, while Michelson was the opposite. Epperly improved astonishingly at the pass game, and Michelson became better at the run.

Whoever winds up with the majority of the snaps, Perry will find a way to put all three athletes on the field.

Part of a team with an influx of young quarterbacks and receivers, Bostic’s previous three years of experience with Epperly and Michelson give him an edge in the competition. Since his collegiate debut against Dartmouth in 2012, Bostic has seen significant play time as a member of 2- and 3-quarterback plays. Over his Princeton career, he rushed 21 times for a total of 125 yards, earning two touchdowns, completed 11 of 18 passing attempts for 101 yards, and received 16 passes for 81 yards.

Kedric Bostic 909798
Kedric Bostic '17

“Quinn and Connor provided a leadership to all of us in that basically they’d been in the system for four years working in the game and everything, so all three of us have to step up and lead the team,” Bostic said. “I’ve seen how everything has gone for four years. We need to make sure that we’re still playing fast and physical. We can’t drop off at all.”

Bostic looks to improve his accuracy, positioning and decision-making during spring practice.

“We’re focused on getting better every day,” Bostic said. “We’re not focused on just Japan [Princeton football is currently there playing in the Legacy Bowl], but every day in practice trying to get better. That’s how we get where we want to be next year, which is winning another Ivy League Championship. Every day we go out, we just focus on that day and that practice. We just focus on something we want to improve.”

Kanoff, however, is entering his third season having seen time on-field as well.

Chad Kanoff 1567238
Chad Kanoff '17
“It’s a new team this year, and we have a good start to spring football,” Kanoff said. “We just have to know the offense at this point. We’re just aiming to get better and striving toward the championship.”

Kanoff’s goal in spring practice is efficiency.

“I’ve been working on weight and strength,” Kanoff said. “Football wise, I’m trying to make sure I’m efficient. It’s a goal for the team and individually.”

Yet, sophomore Lovett could be a dark horse in the competition for starting position. Seniority gives Kanoff and Bostic an edge in experience, but Lovett could prove ready. Recruited from DeMatha Catholic, Lovett led his high school in passing yards and passing touchdowns and successfully to a state championship.

“I’m looking to going out with this team for another football season and doing whatever the coaches ask me to do,” Lovett said. “As a unit, we aim to get better each day.”
John Lovett 1861143
John Lovett '18

Though he didn’t see field time in 2014, Lovett played quarterback during Junior Varsity games. He entered spring practice with the goal of improving varying aspects of his play.

“As quarterback, you can never know enough or be accurate enough,” Lovett said. “We watch a lot of film. We’re running and throwing with receivers. Quinn and Connor provided leadership and both graduated. We all have to step up and be leaders so we can achieve our goals.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

There is a Nippon in the Air


Whatever the temperatures on the first day of spring practice on Friday, they won’t leave the Tigers any colder than did a 5-5 season. Getting on the field five weeks earlier than normal might work towards a better 2015.

In the program change necessitated by Princeton’s trip to Osaka, Japan for the final week of drills, Coach Bob Surace can see enough potential advantages to ponder making permanent this revised spring schedule. But not if the majority of the 12 NCAA-allowed spring practices take place in concentration-sapping snow and wind.

John Lovett '18
“Until we have an indoor facility, it’s [going to be] cold,”  said Surace. “But the advantage is that when spring ball ends this year, we get the guys for another six-week, power (lifting) session before spring break, so I think our lifting numbers will go up.

“Instead of running in the (Jadwin Gym) basement, we also are going to be able to work on some real speed training outside. The other thing is that after spring ball has ended, our coaches have always been on the road recruiting (high school juniors). This year, before they leave, we will have a month where if a player wants to have a voluntary meeting with a coach he can do it.

“So I think in all those ways it will be a positive. The negative, besides the weather, is that the players need more urgency (in preparation before spring practice), but they seem to have it. Saturday the whole team was out there (for an unsupervised workout.)”

The players have understood that the ones who make the biggest jumps in the weight room through the winter often make the biggest ones on the field during the spring.  

“John Lovett has had tremendous workouts,” said Surace. “Dre Nelson continues to just take good steps in everything he is doing.  

“From last year to this year at this time, A.J. Glass has made a huge jump. Scott Carpenter made a leap last year and has made another one. Hunter Hill has made a huge jump, we’re looking forward to seeing if he can take a jump on the field. 
Mark Fosatti '18
“It will be interesting to see the defensive backs. Both the incumbents and the others have looked good at the workouts. We’ll see when they put the pads on. But I’m really excited to see what they look like.”

The players too, figure to be more excited about a real game against a true opponent -- perennial Japanese powerhouse Kwansei Gakuin University -- rather than just the usual controlled intra-squad scrimmage. The downside of a 14-hour time zone trip and all the jet lag it will bring should be trumped by the total experience, Surace believes.

“Talking to some of the guys who went on the last trip there (in 2001), Coach (Steve) Verbit being one of them, Taylor Northrop '02 being another, the team bonding outweighed any of the disadvantages,” said the coach.

In Osaka, the Tigers will be tourists on Tuesday and Thursday between practices which will be held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to the March 21st game. But of course, they have plenty of work to do before they get on the plane, principally to begin the process of replacing two Asa S. Bushnell Cup winners, quarterback Quinn Epperly and linebacker Mike Zeuli.

Two years ago, Chad Kanoff was Princeton’s biggest recruiting coup in two decades. His teammates have remarked that he throws some of the prettiest balls ever seen on a practice field. But Kedric Bostic’s multiple-option abilities likely will earn his share of snaps come fall. And it’s not just because Surace would promote a competition between two guys clipping their toe nails that rising freshman John Lovett quickly is in the mix.
Scott Northcutt '17
“Lovett is tremendous athletically, up to 220 pounds, very much like Kedric in terms of speed and athleticism,” said Surace.  “And from what we saw in the JV games he throws the ball really well.”

“I think all of them have talent. But who is going to take the checkdown and make the smart decision and who is going to force the ball into a small window? Watching film of Quinn, it was very rare where you had to ask him, ‘Why did you force that?’ As these guys get reps, we have to get them making good decisions.”

Zeuli is the only 2014 defensive starter not returning, some consolation but not much considering he was the most indispensible member of the unit.  His backup, Luke Merrell, also is graduating, so the competition at the WIL linebacker spot is wide open. Mark Fossati, Luke Catarius, Scott Northcutt, and Deion King perhaps have some advantage over Thomas Martello, who was injured last year. Or, perhaps not. Because of the depth behind R.J. Paige at SAM linebacker, he might move over, if at least two of the underclassmen above not yet emerge as starting caliber.

Just as James Perry will continue to find ways to put more than one quarterback on the field, it will take more than one linebacker to plug Zeuli’s spot


Leon Wright, who played cornerback and returned punts on Duke teams that began that program's turnaround, then worked his way up from an internship to join the defensive staff at the school, has joined Princeton as a defensive assistant. He replaces Stephen Thomas, who has left for a quality control position with the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff.

“In addition to being a good teacher, one of the qualities I look for in almost every hire is that the [candidate] coached or played at a school similar to Princeton,” said Surace. “That’s because of the balance that athletes need here.

“And if they coached or played at the NFL level or the highest college level, that helps in developing the players. 

“I think Leon, like [Stephen Thomas], is going to connect unbelievably with our players. Every one we talked to says he is a hard worker.”

"It's the type of environment I want to be around," said Wright. "Once I arrived on campus, it just solidified this as a place where I would see myself continuing to grow as a coach."


Because of a looming deadline on a book for my primary employer, the Philadelphia Flyers, I reluctantly have to step back for a time from my duties at  I will write the game stories this fall and perhaps the occasional piece while Rebeccah Barger '18 will handle the bulk of the coverage.  My hope is to return in a more fulltime role in September 2016.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The First Sign of Spring is Gallucci Chirping


The weights don't wait. The Tigers were in the weight room the Monday after Thanksgiving, Jason Gallucci having no time for procrastinators in any winter, let alone this one.

He, not Punxsutawney Phil (the legendary groundhog), has taken first responsibility for declaring it spring. The Tigers are playing the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters in Osaka on March 21, which means they will take their last week of spring practice in Japan. causing them to take their first week of it here on February 27, almost a month earlier than usual. Thus Gallucci's time to turn these guys into Godzillas is as short as his patience is generally this time of the year.

“Every time we test this time of year I always come out of it a little frustrated,” said Princeton's Director of Strength and Conditioning. “I want to see the kids come back and blow their old weight out of the water and that’s just unrealistic.  

Jason Gallucci
“The nature of what we do takes time. If it does happen overnight, it is not happening in the right way. So I always eventually go back and look at the numbers and say we did well. Considering the guys we didn’t test, we probably are close to where we typically are."

The first of three tests always is right after the season, the second in early February, then the third during late March.  The benefit of the early practice will be having a late period this spring in April.

“It will give us chance to reevaluate, tweak our game at halftime" said Gallucci. "The format give us a chance to make some gains we couldn’t in the past."

So far the gains, as measured by an earlier middle test -- in mid-January rather than mid-February, are less dramatic that usual. But they are gains nevertheless. In the combined bench, squat and hang clean -- by which the Tigers set a minimum goal of 1000 pounds for everyone -- 11 players made a 50-pound plus increase, 30 improved by 30 pounds and 15 went up 20.

This was true was even though Evan Kappatos and Ian McGeary, the two highest scoring Tigers a year ago, were not tested as they are recovering from physical setbacks suffered during the 2014 season.

Then, too, annually missing this time of year, are senior who are onto the rest of their lives. They are replaced by freshmen participating in their first offseason at Princeton, an annual rite of passage that is Gallucci's annual rite of anxiety.  Required at practically every January reading period is him reading the riot act, challenging rising sophomores in particular to lift their expectations.

 “You can see in our younger guys that they don’t have that hunger, the understanding of our guys who went through two 1-9 seasons that this could happen again," he said."Absolutely, you need the fear that someone is outworking you and will come in and beat you. 

"That is one of the things I always preach because it was preached to me [as a linebacker at Penn State]. You have to run scared.”

Brannon Jones '17

In the absence of Kappatos, who scored 1208 a year ago, Brannon Jones ’17 is the current king of Princeton’s weight room at 1167 pounds. Tom Yetter '15 is second at 1095, Hunter Hill ’18 is third at 1088, Marcus Stroud '17 is fourth at 1082 , and Dre Nelson, ’16, all 170 pounds of him, an astounding fifth at 1071.  Sixth at 1069 is Logan Dziak, a freshman outlier before he lifted a single pound at Princeton..

“Henry Schlossberg (’17) was strong in certain ways last year, more well-rounded now,” said Gallucci. “Rohan Hylton (’17) did really well. 

“Alex Ford (’17) has really come along.  Khalil Bryant (’18) came back from winter break looking like he really worked it and Joe Percival (’18) gets better every day he is in here.”

For the underclassmen, you either are getting better or you are getting worse. This is not quite so true for upperclass high achievers trying to get over 1200 – why Gallucci is instituting some Olympic-style lifting for devotes struggling to get off plateaus.

Generally, the guys who make the best jumps in the winter often make the most progress on the field in the spring. When your best players are among your highest achievers in the weight room, as was the case with Mike Zeuli, Caraun Reid and Make Catapano, impressionable young minds are quicker to see a cause and effect between grunts and glory.

Individual responsibility, however, still is the bottom line in an environment where Tigers are given every means -- including a longer off-season than the teams that play 12 and 13 games -- to achieve every possible ounce of strength. Fat chance of any player suffering any confusion about what is expected of him.  

Victoria Rosenfeld
Victoria P. Rosenfeld, the anthropometrist and sports dietitian, is the lady with the calipers and the advice.

"I can’t say that nutrition directly brings wins, only indirectly say that bigger stronger, faster athletes do," she said.  “I can tell them how improved body compositions and recovery will help lead to improved speed, strength and endurance.

“I talk to them about sleep, stress reduction and time management whenever they meet (individually) with me and whenever I do team presentations. After that, what the athlete does with that is out of my hands."

Three years after Ms. Rosenfeld came to Princeton, the Tigers know this woman is not just chewing the fat. The Tigers are learning that they are what they eat.

“The biggest thing I have done is increase what I call their food IQ; change the way they will nourish themselves for the rest of their lives," said Rosenfeld. "Basically, anything that comes off a tree or out of the ground is golden.

"We are stressing recovery in whole foods by using more products like chocolate milk and tart cherry juice. Real food has a greater viability of nutrient and also is less expensive -- a banana instead of a protein bar, a chocolate milk instead of a shake in a can. Fruit. Greek yogurt. Nutrition. Antioxidants.

Tom Yetter '16

"Being here three years, only the seniors remember what it was like to recover during training camp with just a bar and a Gatorade. Now it’s salty pretzels, pickles, icees when it is hot. We have gotten oatmeal back, brown rice in the camp dining hall. In the last two years we have had virtually no weight loss at the end of camp, a great indicator they are getting what they need to survive it."

Of course, winning is not the only fun to be had during these guys' college years. It might be a losing battle to convince them to be as wary of processed sugar as much as they are say, Yale. 

"I teach them an 80-20 rule, the 20 being enjoyable," said Rosenfeld. "You want a pizza night? Then have a pizza night. The chocolate fountain at Forbes a few times a week? Do that.

“I tell them not to drink (alcohol) at all if they want to perform at their best. And then I tell them, ‘whatever level you can moderate that is ideal.’ I show them a picture of 20 beers per week and how that equates into 15 cheesesteaks, which is a pound every week, like you would gain eating candy bars. 

"There is a slew of evidence that alcohol doesn’t support recovery. So I share with them the science and I leave it in their hands. I think they all respect what I do but they are all young too, so some are going to do the work and some aren’t.” 

Hunter Hill '18 
White rice -- with different nutrients than brown but nutrients nevertheless -- has gotten a bad rap, says Victoria, convenient for the Tigers given their upcoming trip as rice is a staple of the Japanese diet. Speaking of Japan, that’s almost as far to go as Gallucci insists some of the rising sophomores have to go in their progress this offseason. But the move-up in spring practice because of the international trip ultimately accommodates his agenda.

“It’s almost nice because it will give us chance to reevaluate, tweak our game at halftime," he said. "The format give us a chance to make some gains we couldn’t in the past. It’s just not going to happen as fast. “

Then again, it never happens as fast as Gallucci desires.  

“A freshman who is 250 pounds, if he can only move 750 (pounds of weight) now then he is not going to get to 1200," he frets. "If that kid gets on the field we probably are in trouble.

“The common message I am trying to send is if you are not reaching your goals it is due to a poor approach when it comes to rest and recovery. Nutrition is a huge part of that. 

“If they are not fueling properly and getting enough sleep, that certainly will curtail their ability to make the progress they would like to make and we would like them to make.”  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bastone Has Been a Tiger on Behalf of Patients


The lump that forms in Dr. Peter Bastone’s throat for Princeton and its football program started with a lump at his collarbone.

“In May of my senior year of high school, I found a node right above my clavicle, hard like a golf ball,” said Bastone ’80,  “Then I had an appendicitis attack and they had to take care of it and the biopsy of the node at the same time.

“While in there, they felt my spleen and it was enlarged. Hodgkin's Disease, almost Stage Four. I had had no other symptoms, no night sweats, no weight loss, wasn’t even tired. The doctors were amazed it was so advanced.”

Dr. Peter Bastone '80
He was diagnosed three weeks after his father Frank, a homicide detective for the Chicago Police Department, dropped dead of a heart attack chasing a suspect. All this five months before Bastone was scheduled to start Princeton. That’s a lot at any age, let alone 17, but what didn’t kill Pete Bastone has made every health system he has run that much stronger.

Christmas, the ultimate time for giving, is time to give this President and CEO of the Chesapeake (Va.) Regional Medical Center, his due. This is not just another suit, unless it is a Santa suit. Bastone has dedicated his career to putting the heart back into hospitals, even as one after another has hired him to improve their bottom lines.

Medical systems pay Bastone. But patients need him. Four decades ago he was one of them, sick and scared of the persons whom he could only hope were treating his disease better than they were treating him. In 1975, the officious, busy guys in the white coats were bewildering to a first generation, just-widowed Italian mother, even confusing to her straight-As, senior class president son.

“For my mother (Concetta) especially, just going to doctors was a challenge,” said Bastone. “We didn’t understand them and were afraid of talking with them.

“At the University of Chicago Hospital, I was kind of treated like a laboratory animal from process to process, clinic to clinic.‘Do you want to be part of this trial or that trial? Take his drug or that drug?’ There was no discussion that the treatments were going to make me sterile at age 17 or about any alternatives in chemotherapy. There was no information.”

Forty years later, Hodgkin's has become one of the more curable cancers.  Bastone did his part to raise the survival rate by winning three different bouts with something most Hodgkin's patients get only once, then, at 38, coming through a quintuple heart bypass operation that likely was necessitated by overdoses of chemo two decades earlier. 

Back in the day, they only worried about saving the patient’s life, not about the treatment potentially killing you down the road.  But the advances have been remarkable. Even when Bastone suffered his last relapse, 10 years after the original diagnosis, tangential radiation pinpointed the target and cut the length of the chemotherapy from a year to six months.
Bastone Started For the 1979 Tigers

Today, Bastone still can’t get his own insurance. “On paper, I look terrible,” he said. But not only has he beaten his life expectancy, but spent it raising the expectancy of information and compassion.    

“If there is one thing that I enjoy doing it is helping people get through the complexity of the health machine,” he said. “Being a cancer survivor, the satisfaction I have is being a patient advocate.”

He pays it forward on behalf of former Princeton coach Bob Casciola, who allowed Bastone -- down 50 pounds in the immediate aftermath of massive chemotherapy blasts administered during his year of deferred admission – to walk onto the freshman team, then stood up for the kid again when university housing tried to force him to live in quarantine at McCosh Infirmary.

Thanks to the suggestion of a social worker-clinical case manager at Stanford University Medical Center -- state of the art for Hodgkins care then and now – Bastone’s stored sperm produced four children. Through the grace of the Charles Caldwell Fellowship, which is presented to Princeton football players, Bastone, who couldn’t get into medical school because of his history, gained a dual masters degree in Public Health and Corporate Management from University of California-Berkley before tackling a doctorate in Public Health from St. Louis University.   

And thanks maybe most of all to Princeton football, Bastone has friendships for life, including his best one with Steve Verbit, the Princeton assistant head coach.

Verbit, who recruits California -- where Bastone spent his career until 2012 -- refers to him football players looking for health care careers or advice about them. Thus, 35 years later, Bastone still is blocking for Princeton. Football didn’t get him in, but without it, he likely wouldn’t have stayed. 

Bob Casciola '58
“The best time of my life was at Princeton,” he says. “It gave me the foundation to be part of an extraordinary tradition. My teammates and their accomplishments professionally and personally are nothing short of phenomenal.”

Then and now, Pete Bastone, too, is high on that List of All Lists. The Latin School of Chicago, for which had been All-State, dropped football before his senior year, turning him into a soccer goalie. Cancer made him scrawny. Regardless, Casciola made a place on the field for a recuperating offensive guard and, literally, a bed for him, too.  

“Great man, extraordinary gentleman,” said Bastone. “Knowing my history he allowed me to try out.

“Having gone through the whole trauma of radiation and chemo, I told my roommate, ‘if anything goes wrong, these are my doctors’. He talked to his father, who was a physician aware of a study about clusters of Hodgkin’s patients that concluded with the possibility that the disease was contagious.  

“It was completely erroneous, yet the father called the chief medical officer of the university and got him to open up and share my medical records. HIPPA was not in place at that time. 

“The university said I had to be quarantined in a single at McCosh. I almost transferred to Notre Dame. My doctor at Stanford told me I should file suit against Princeton. But it was Casciola’s support in a meeting at the Dean of Student Affair’s office that got the University to relent.  

“My roommate left. Ted Frangos, a friend and another football player did the research, said ‘this is ridiculous’ and moved in with me.

“The support of my teammates was tremendous. I needed it, too. At every checkup, every time the doorknob turned, I expected to hear the worst.”

Indeed, after coming back so fast and so far that he had been named captain of the freshman team, Bastone suffered his first relapse later that school year. But as a senior under Coach Frank Navarro. Bastone started on Princeton’s only winning team (5-4) of the seventies.

“We went 5-2 in the league and shut out Dartmouth, the champion from the year before, who had everybody back,” he recalls. “I recovered a fumble against Harvard and we beat them 9-7.

“But the most fun I ever had in a football game was a JV game where we were losing 28-0 at halftime to Rutgers and came back to beat them 30-28.”

Bastone had a tryout with the Baltimore Colts. But the real reason he came to Princeton was to prepare for medical school.
It Has Been a Career of Patient Advocacy
“I had had a talk with Dr. Art Blevins at Northwestern Medical School. He told me that even if did well in school and had all the plusses of activities they would take a comparable candidate over me because of my health history.  

“They didn’t want to take time training someone who wasn’t going to live very long. So I made it a point when I went to Princeton that not only would I do well academically and extend myself with service to the church and community but also be an athlete to prove to those graduate schools that I was not a risk. 

Ten years before the American Disabilities Act made such discrimination illegal, the best response Bastone got from medical schools was a wait list, another way of saying they were waiting for him to die.  So Bastone went to Berkeley to study for a career in running hospitals, why he was in position to tell Congress how badly the nation needed an ADA before it passed in 1990.

By then, he had fought through a second Hodgkin's relapse at age 28. 

“The first time around I had football, something to look forward to, plus I was very body-conscious, another incentive,” Bastone said. “People looked at me as a cancer survivor playing football at Princeton; it was all positive.

“Ten years later I was CEO of a hospital (in Encino, California), an athlete no longer. So I had to go back and re-address who I was, how I was going to get over this, where the positive was in all this. 

“Cancer patients were like certain minorities, blocked out of jobs and discriminated against. It affected your relationships. I didn’t get married until I was 32 because I felt I couldn’t make a full commitment to a woman and have kids. Then I met Julie, a wonderful woman who said ‘I’m taking the risk, you aren’t. I want to be with you for the rest of my life.’

“I had a limited amount of sperm, she had to go into surgery to have eggs removed as opposed to how they do it now. Just to have our children, she had to take a lot of fertility drugs that may affect her later in life.”

His children kid him that he wasn’t a real athlete playing with a ball, only a grunt football lineman. Bastone did okay for himself regardless, turning an inner city Los Angeles hospital $40 million in the hole into a money maker in just 18 months, then growing another community Catholic hospital in Orange County into one of the top private medical and trauma center in the country. 

Bastone says he has gotten hired for the wrong reason; the stockholders, not the patients. The patients nevertheless have benefited. His favorite book is Jesus CEO, Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership. But Bastone doesn’t wear his Christianity on his sleeve, only his humanity.

“I still have a deep regret about not being able to go to medical school,” he said. “I kind of fell into administration vowing something like that won’t again happen to me or to other students with significant challenges like mine.

“I try to be an advocate for those students to go into medicine. If they don’t, there still will be hospitals that won’t treat them the way I was treated.”


Mike Zeuli. who shared the Asa S. Bushnell Cup with Harvard's Zack Hodges as co-defensive player of the year in the Ivy League, has added a third-team All America honor (chosen by The Sports Network) to being named one of the Division IAA Collegiate Players of the Year by the BrooksIrvine Club of South Jersey.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

There Was No Quit in These Seniors


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


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.”