During a lot of deep thinking done during visits to the training room to check on injured players, Bob Surace concluded it’s all about the depth. He went into each of his first two seasons believing Princeton had as many top-tier Ivy League players as any of the eight schools and still went 1-9 both times.
For 2012, Surace doesn’t know who will be his starting quarterback, running back, place kicker, and doesn’t have a clear frontrunner for one open spot at both safety and cornerback, the team’s most glaring shortcoming last season. Yet when asked for his greatest concern he still insists “depth on both lines.”
Surace believes he has recruited plenty of superior Ivy-level speed in the Class of 2016. But there is going to be no fast turnaround in 2012 without reinforcements coming quickly on both lines and at linebacker. Deep in the trenches is no place for bottom-of-the-barrel recruits.
“The way we run our [no huddle] tempo, we need more than two offensive tackles,” said Surace. “Last year we played three and in some cases four.
“After Kevin Mill ['13], who has been wonderful, and Spenser Huston ['15], who has come on, there is not a lot behind them. Somebody has to emerge and I think both Britt Colcolough [Memphis, TN] and Alex Dixon [Alpharetta, GA] will have a chance.
“Britt has tremendous size [6'5"], long arms, is a physical run blocker and has some really good feet to block end rushers.
“It is so hard to find guys who play the outside OL positions and that goes to every level, why tackles go so high in the NFL draft. You’re talking about guys who are a certain size and strength requirement who also have the agility to block guys with speed off the edge.
“It’s very rare to find a guy who can do both so we were holding our breath on Britt because we got in on him a little late in the process. Memphis, Vanderbilt, and good I-AA athletic schools like Richmond were all in on him.
“Alex will be either a right tackle or a guard but he could play tackle because he is so long. He decided early that Princeton was his No. 1 choice but throughout the process a lot of schools were all over him. Both of these guys will compete to get on the field for us soon.
“Last year we brought in seven offensive linemen. This year we wanted quality and got four good guys. After Britt and Alex, the other two are for the interior.
“Joe Graen [Pittsford, NY], our No. 1 center, set the national high school record for power clean lift, probably the lift that most simulates explosiveness coming off the ball. Division I schools might not have offered him because he wasn’t big enough but now he’s 6'2 ½" and growing and has some rare traits. At center you can get away with being a little shorter. I’m really excited about him.
“Caleb Slate [Middleburg, FL] has all the upside in the world. He is up to 260 pounds with long arms and athletic, the kind of guy I always hoped we could draft in the middle rounds when I was at the Bengals.
“When he came to our Princeton Football Prospect Camp in the summer, Caleb probably was the least highly recruited of these guys, then had a really good season. We thought we had a sleeper and then all these schools started offering scholarships and we thought ‘this is not going to be easy.’ But Caleb comes from a very education-oriented family and that won out in the end for us.”
The worst pass defense in the Ivy League in 2011 could not entirely be blamed on the secondary. A total of 18 sacks also was reflective of a mediocre pass rush, hopefully to be rectified over four years with help from the Class of 2016.
“We think we have three guys – Marcus Stroud, Grayson Fisher and Matthew Skowron – who fit as outside pass rushers,” said Surace.
“Skowron [Cary, NC] is a physical player but also was more than one-sport star [lacrosse] so he is athletic. That cliché, the motor is running, applies to him. We really feel comfortable with this guy being able to rush the passer but he also is a good run stopper. Those are pretty hard traits to find, a guy who can do both.
“Stroud [Prosper, TX] jumped at you on the film with his pass rush. His first step is super quick and he is hustling all over the field. He is a little on the short side and we need to build his body up to play the run some. But he has a good enough range to become strong enough to help us in all situations and his first steps are so explosive, he will help us with the pass rush next year.”
“Fisher [Upper Arlington, OH] is the kind of guy Division I schools want to redshirt for a year to get him stronger. He’s going to be a fixture for us just because of his length.”
And then of course, you can need some linebackers who can play in space. Surace shot for the moon and landed one from the Rockies.
“Watching Wes Moon play at safety last year [in Superior, CO] the guy that came to mind was [co-captain] Andrew Starks ['13],” said Surace. “He is up to about 6'4" and 220 pounds but in addition to his size and length, he can play in space, in pass coverage up on the tight end, and is a terrific run support guy just like Andrew. We think he will be a real good fit as a SAM.
“Andrew Eherts [Allentown, PA] is the closest thing to Garrit Leicht ['15] we had in our camp. He had great measurables, is tall and strong. He needs some coaching up, that is why they hire us, but he is high effort guy.
“Joe Smith [West Seneca, NY] was tremendous at our camp. He had a lot of sacks last year and we think he has the skill to play out on pass coverage as well.
“Baxter Ingram [Lebanon, TN] is the prototypical linebacker-tackler, 225 pounds, not the fastest guy but a really physical runstopper very similar to Tim Kingsbury ['13].”
Princeton has two all Ivy League defensive linemen in Mike Catapano '13 and Caraun Reid '14 but inevitably will need more.
“It’s so hard to find a guy who can play over the center,” said Surace. “And Ian McGeary [North Brunswick, NJ] is much like Greg Sotereanos ['14], in that he can take on multiple blockers and control games once he learns technique.
“He’s 6'1", 270, not a Casey Hampton-type 350 who gets to the NFL. But for us he’s going to be a really good leverage guy, the kind Penn always has.
“Dan Dreher [Westlake, OH] and Brian Sheng [Jericho NY] are big, strong guys who will compete early on the defensive line.
“When Brian came to our camp he could run and was strong but he weighed 225 and we were the only school that recruited him. Now he’s a rock-solid 255. He is going to be about 270, reminds me so much of Catapano in body type.”
“Dreher was another who excelled in our camp. My initial evaluation was that he would be good versus the run game, and his senior year he improved his pass rush and became a terrific all-around player.
"That's why out camp helps us. In all the other sports [prospects] go to select tournaments and play against each other. In football, they can put together highlight tapes but it may not be against good competition. A guy comes to our camp and we have had him for three days, we had better turn out to be right with all the information we have."
The more recruits that Division I schools had sought, the less that can go wrong. But there always are players that slip through the cracks. And emerging is the profile of what Surace and his staff want to rebuild the program.
“If guys have toughness, work ethic, and enough speed for their position, even if they are lean we will continue to follow them throughout the process because football players physically mature late sometimes,” said the coach.
“I’m big on length in linemen, so we are going to take guys that are quick twitch and long. If they don’t have the necessary size/strength, I am confident they can develop that in our strength program.
“This group, at all positions, is similar to last year’s in that they love to compete, whether it is when we saw them play live on the football field, when they played high level basketball, won the state title in wrestling, broke national power clean records, played on top lacrosse teams, or broke sprint records in track.
“I am excited, can’t wait to get going in training camp.”
Princeton Football Class of 2016
Prior Lake, MN
Prior Lake HS
Peachtree Ridge HS
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Saint Thomas Aquinas School
Kedric Bostic, III
Jupiter Christian HS
Memphis University School
Mount Pisgah Christian School
Holy Name HS
Salisbury Senior HS
Elizabeth Forward HS
Upper Arlington, OH
Upper Arlington HS
Pittsford Sutherland HS
Detroit Country Day School
Wilson Central HS
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Saint Thomas Aquinas School
North Brunswick, NJ
North Brunswick HS
Bellarmine College Prep
Stone Mountain, GA
Greater Atlanta Christian School
Newport Beach, CA
Sage Hill HS
Cardinal Gibbons HS
West Seneca, NY
Saint Francis HS
Saint Mary's-Colgan HS
Saint Mary's-Colgan HS
Prosper , TX
Haddonfield Memorial HS
Mount Lebanon HS