Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Depth Is in the Quality of These Guys


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

High School
Matt Arends
Prior Lake, MN
Prior Lake HS
DiAndre Atwater
Duluth, GA
Peachtree Ridge HS
Isaiah Barnes
Freeport, NY
Freeport HS
Nolan Bieck
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Saint Thomas Aquinas School
Kedric Bostic, III
Jupiter, FL
Jupiter Christian HS
Britt Colcolough
Memphis, TN
Memphis University School
Alex Dixon
Alpharetta, GA
Mount Pisgah Christian School
Dan Dreher
Westlake, OH
Holy Name HS
Andrew Eherts
Allentown, PA
Salisbury Senior HS
Nick Fekula
Monongahela, PA
Elizabeth Forward HS
Grayson Fisher
Upper Arlington, OH
Upper Arlington HS
Andrew Frisby
Tucson, AZ
Sabino HS
Anthony Gaffney
Columbus, NJ
Taft School
Joe Graen
Pittsford, NY
Pittsford Sutherland HS
John Hill
Warren, MI
Detroit Country Day School
Baxter Ingram
Lebanon, TN
Wilson Central HS
Evan Kappatos
Syosset, NY
Syosset HS
Max Lescano
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Saint Thomas Aquinas School
Ian McGeary
North Brunswick, NJ
North Brunswick HS
Travis McHugh
Woodside, CA
Bellarmine College Prep
Wes Moon
Superior, CO
Monarch HS
Dre' Nelson
Stone Mountain, GA
Greater Atlanta Christian School
Taylor Petty
Newport Beach, CA
Sage Hill HS
Brian Sheng
Jericho, NY
Syosset HS
Matthew Skowron
Cary, NC
Cardinal Gibbons HS
Caleb Slate
Middleburg, FL
Clay HS
Joe Smith
West Seneca, NY
Saint Francis HS
Chris Smith
Pittsburgh, KS
Saint Mary's-Colgan HS
Zach Smith
Pittsburgh, KS
Saint Mary's-Colgan HS
Marcus Stroud
Prosper , TX
Prosper HS
Alex Walter
Haddonfield, NJ
Haddonfield Memorial HS
Dylan White
Pittsburgh, PA
Mount Lebanon HS

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The 2016 Class Is Quick to Get the Coach Excited


The common denominator in the uncommonly athletic Princeton football Class of 2016 is players who can run and make plays. So Bob Surace will not hide from their potential.
“I asked a friend at a major scholarship school who was on the road with me recruiting who he thought [quarterback] Kedric Bostic is like,” recalled the Tigers coach.  He said ‘Tony Romo’.

“I’m not trying to put that on him.  But he is broad shouldered and can throw on the run. Preparing the QB's at our Princeton Football Prospect Camp prior to his senior year Kedric was a slightly better thrower than Quinn [Epperly] and a better runner than [Connor] Michelsen and that’s high praise.”

And that may not even be the highest acclaim Surace has for 32 recruits who are smart enough to do Princeton classroom work and confident enough to sign on amidst plenty of competition. There are seven incoming freshmen who could find playing time in their freshman year in either the offensive or defensive backfields and one who may even play in both. 

“Two years ago, we wanted Anthony Gaffney as a receiver,” said Surace. “Then he does a year of post-grad [at Taft School in Watertown, CT] and he is so good in the defensive backfield that right now he is both for us.

“You know how hard it is to find cornerbacks. He might play both ways, that’s how highly I value a guy who just broke a 72-year-old long jump record at his school as an athlete.

“I thought for sure Matt Arends [Prior Lake, Minnesota] was going to be a wide receiver, then he plays a senior season where he is just as good at safety.

“Fred Samara, our [Princeton] track coach, told us that John Hill [Warren, MI] is the fastest football recruit he’s ever have on the team.  He ran approxamately a 10.4 in the 100 meters and was state champion [for Detroit Country Day School]. For a track guy he can catch the ball, so we thought of him as an offensive player. But senior year he got more physical so maybe he’s a cornerback.

“The Smith twins [Zach and Chris] from [Pittsburg] Kansas were at our camp last summer playing running back, defensive back and linebacker.  In my own evaluation, I thought Zach was more straight line explosive and Chris more agile, but they are both eerily similar on their measurables.

“Both averaged over 10 yards per carry in high school and were leading tacklers.  These are phenomenal athletes who do 4.5 in the 40 and have broad jumps of 10 feet.

“I’m not sure what positions they are, may have to put them at different ones so I can tell them apart.  At least they’ll wear different numbers. But they are the type of players who can help us [soon] on special teams.  And Gaffney and Arends remind me of guys who have pushed to compete [for a position] early in their careers.

“Travis McHugh [Woodside, CA] led Bellarmine Prep to a great season as an option QB. They actually ran plays where he would toss the ball to a running back and Travis would be the lead blocker.

“He is a tremendous combination of size [6'1", 195 pounds] and speed [ran a 4.6 in the 40 at Princeton’s football camp]. I am strongly leaning towards defensive back with him, but he also kicked and punted and I think with refinement he can be a terrific punter for us eventually.

"Max Lescano [Fort Lauderdale, FL] was a quarterback last year who showed good athletic ability we think translates into free safety. We think he will make a real easy adjustment.

"Andrew Frisby [Tucson, AZ] was our No. 1 cornerback at camp, a state title wrestler as a junior. Nick Fekula (Monongehela. PA) is safety with tremendous size/speed combo from the same school [Elizabeth Forward] as Greg Sotereanos.

Matt Costello became a freshman starter in 2011 not only because of his talent, of course, but because wide receiver is not as difficult--or potentially as dangerous to the team--as other positions to learn. So there may be one more instant addition to Princeton’s considerable depth at wide-out.

“The only guy we brought in as a receiver who will stay as a receiver is Taylor Petty [Newport Beach, CA],” said Surace.  “At camp he reminded me so much of Andrew Kerr ['11]. Built like him, looks like him, runs and catches the ball.”

Chuck Dibilio, who suffered a blood clot and stroke in January after running for 1092 yards as a freshman does not yet know whether he can return.  Regardless, Surace remains excited about the future at running back.  The football Class of 2016 does not have a legacy in the usual sense of Princeton parentage, but there is a chip off the old block.  The son of Steve Atwater, an 8-time Pro Bowl defensive back with the Denver Broncos, is one of two running backs recruited from Georgia.

“I call DiAndre Atwater and Dre’ Nelson ‘Thunder and Lightning,’” said Surace. “I love running backs who finish and DiAndre was the best I saw on video.

“He and Dre’ played together as freshmen in high school before the Atwaters moved. They ended playing at different schools but they are long-time friends. I think the friendship helped [recruiting] with DiAndre because we got off to a late start after being in the lead with Dre’ for a long time. But we never pushed that aspect.

“In DiAndre, we got the most physical back on our board to add to a lot of our guys who are power-types backs. But I also thought we needed a Darren Sproles change-of-pace-type-of-back and we got one in Dre’.  He is the most dynamic back I have seen [in three years recruiting], tough, quick, can catch the ball in space.

“Sometime in his career, and I’m hoping he can do it early, Dre’ can catch the ball 6-7 times in a game and add that element.”

"Evan Kappatos [Syosset, NY] was the top fullback prospect at our camp, even if he only played one game on offense in high school . He was named the best linebacker on Long Island the past three years, and was first-team All State so we thought he could play either spot. 

"But fullback is very difficult position for us to fill and he has size [250 pounds], and speed [4.9 in the 40] to run and catch in addition to being able to block. Even beat a guy who is coming to Princeton to wrestle on the way to a state championship.And wrestling leverage is blocking leverage."

Princeton received only 13 catches in 2011 from its tight ends, both of which, Mark Hayes and Des Smith, will be seniors. So the last two players alphabetically on the freshman class roster, Alex Walter [Haddonfield, NJ] and Dylan White [Pittsburgh, PA], were far from Surace’s final priority.

“Mark Hayes ['13] and Des Smith ['13] are terrific blockers,” said Surace. And Alex Powell ['15] is going to be a terrific blocker and I think they all have the ability to catch the balls thrown to them.

“The more football I watched outside of the Ivy League, though, the tight ends emerging have length and speed then eventually get strong enough to be good blockers.  I think these guys will balance the attack because they are huge targets

“When tight ends can catch passes that threaten a defense, it becomes a security blanket for a quarterback. Hopefully we will start giving our quarterbacks another option.”

Surace still has plenty of immediate anxieties for 2012, including defensive backfield, and depth along both lines and at placekicker.  Enter Nolan Bieck (St. Thomas Aquinas School, Fort Lauderdale) to perhaps give Princeton’s field-goal uncertainties the boot.

“Everybody wants to know who our quarterback is but I am confident we will play well no matter who it turns out to be,” said the coach. “But filling the shoes of Patrick Jacob [’12], who made 80 percent of his field goals here, is a tall order. 

“We will now have Nolan and Brendan Sofen [’15] going at it.  Both have the potential to be very good. And we need one to be good right away.”

Coming: The early line on the linemen and linebackers of the Class of 2016.