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.
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.
“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.”