One of the best things about being elected a new Princeton football captain is that Andrew Starks gets to serve with the old one.
“Mike Catapano is a phenomenal leader and phenomenal guy,” said Starks. “His character and intensity carries everybody.
“When we have a guy like that in the locker room, it sets the tone for the entire day. I can learn from that how to be a vocal leader.”
He wants to bring this team close, unlike the vote of the players that chose him.
“There was a big dropoff after him, but then a bunch of guys after that with about the same amount of votes,” said Coach Bob Surace. “That not only made Andrew the obvious pick, but tells me we have a lot of leadership.”
Surace already knew what he had in appointing Catapano, who turned down scholarship offers he received from Maryland and Miami while Princeton was deciding to grant him a fourth year on the field. The defensive lineman missed his freshman season with an injury.
“These are my friends, my teammates,” said Catapano. “I only considered [transferring] when I didn’t think I was going to be able to come back here.
“Coach kind of hinted at [the captaincy] but nothing is guaranteed, and to hear it in front of all the guys [following the spring scrimmage Saturday] is great. To be captain one time. . . two times, it’s surreal. I want to do the best I can to lead this team again, hopefully with a much better [win-loss] turnout.”
Catapano, who has been on semester leave – and attending former All Pro defensive end Chuck Smith’s pass rushing camp in Atlanta – while his status was being decided, told the Tigers after watching the scrimmage that “it looks and feels different” after consecutive 1-9 seasons.
“It feels faster,” he then told PrincetonTigersFootball.com. “It feels like we’re hitting harder and guys are looking bigger too, I’ve got to say.
“A new team, a new season. We have to let the past be the past. We have every tool. This could be the turning point.”
With a young offensive unit, Surace has decided to pick a weekly captain for that side of the ball. Catapano already is an all-Ivy player and Starks has the potential to be.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead these guys,” Starks said. “ For them to think of me as leader on this team is phenomenal because we truly have quite a few leaders who could have potentially stepped up into this role. I’m excited for the opportunity to get this thing turned around.”
More Than a Safety Valve
The clear offensive star of the scrimmage, which concluded spring drills, was Seth DeValve '15, with several catches on deep throws by both Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly.
“With Connor Kelley coming back in the fall, that gives us two wide receivers who can block on the inside plus run create matchup issues with their size,” said Surace.
“We didn’t throw the ball real well early in the scrimmage but in the middle third we did. And as many big catches that we had, our defensive backs were right there on most of them. It wasn’t like those 12 yards off the ball on third-and-eight where you say ‘you kidding me?’”
Brian Mills '14, making the conversion from running back to corner, made an impressive rundown of Akil Sharp at the flag on a goalline drill. “Brian played better today,” said Surace. “It kind of stinks we can’t continue to coach him (until pre-season practice) but I think he will take a big jump by August.”
Cloud of Dust
“Jonathan [Esposito '15] broke one long run,” said Surace. “Otherwise, we didn’t have any with a big number of yards, but we had those hammering kind of yards, turning four yards into five yards, the kind or runs with which Penn was won Ivy League championships. If we don’t have Chuck [Dibilio], that’s the kind of running game I think we’ll have. “
Dibilio, who was at the scrimmage, has taken the final in Math 103, Basic Calculus, for which he was studying in January when he suffered a blood clot and stroke. He received an A. Uncertain remains his return to the field, but obviously not to the classroom.
“He got an A in a Princeton course after having a stroke three months ago,” said Surace. “He’s come so far, that’s just great.“