The O Doesn’t Stand for Old on This Line – Jay Greenberg
The O Doesn’t Stand for Old on This Line
By Jay Greenberg
It’s a little early to shout about this, but Princeton has another good offensive line.
Granted in any year, on any football team, guards, tackles and centers generally need to get caught holding for anyone to vociferate about them. But three games into the 2016 season, it is time to at least start whispering that all this whispering being done by Andy Aurich, the first year O-line coach, is paying off.
“It is a little quieter out here,” smiles Mitchell Sweigart, the starting left tackle. Under Eddy Morrissey, the louder the line coach yelled at you, the more he generally embraced your potential. But preliminary indications are that the only thing soft about the new guy is his voice, at least relative to Morrissey’s.
Morrissey produced four first-or-second team All-Ivy linemen in his six years on Bob Surace’s staff, so it’s hard to argue that a little sarcasm–okay, maybe a lot of sarcasm– isn’t good for the soul. Besides, it’s more about the message than how it’s delivered. “I was the tight end coach and that’s an offensive line position,” says Aurich. “So I learned Eddy’s coaching points.
Aurich went to Princeton. He is a fast study, just like these underclassmen getting serious snaps in the rotation. Last week, freshman tackle Reily Radosevich started, as has sophomore tackle Stefan Ivanisevic in the opener before being injured. Sophomore guard George Attea is a starter and sophomore Jack Corso receives considerable playing time.
Morrissey, who left coaching because of a family situation, coached a line that steamrolled the Tigers to record-breaking yardage totals during the 2013 Ivy League championship season. Greatness is measured over 10 games, not three, but the 2016 Tigers already have scored 12 rushing touchdowns and surrendered only five sacks, most of those of the coverage variety.
Senior starting guard Jack Knight has yet to play, and Aurich still has been able to rotate nine guys, thanks to some precocious performances.
“I had a good feeling this spring about (senior center) Mason Darrow, (junior) Mitchell Sweigart and (junior guard) Erik Ramirez,” said Surace. “Those guys were playing at a really high level against our D-line, which is a good D-Line.”
“Now guys like Zach Kuehm, Attea, Corso, Radosevic, and Ivanisevic have really come on. That’s been a big for us, developing those guys.”
“Right now we have a lot of depth.”
Three games into last season, most of the Tigers’ very best players were already not playing, most never to return as the Tigers faded from a 4-1 start to a 5-5 finish. But knock on wood, this year Princeton has healthy players pacing the sideline like caged Tigers, keeping the practice tempo high and morale even higher.
Sweigart, honorable mention All-Ivy a year ago, is the anchor, the only true returning starter. Darrow was a swing tackle a year ago, Ramirez a backup guard. The rest of these players spent the offseason either trying to overcome injury, gaining ground in the weight room, or, in Radosevich’s case, going to the Manalapan (NJ) High School prom.
“I think it helped Reily to live close by and be able to spend the summer working out with these guys,” said Aurich. “But he has some things you can’t teach.”
Radosevich is not the only prodigy the Surace era has produced, but he is in select company.
“I told Reily he reminds me of Spenser Huston (‘16), in that he’s a Jersey kid who is a little undersized but tremendously athletic and mature at an early age,” said Surace. “Sweigart (who also played as a freshman) was a little taller, but he had the same quick feet and lots of maturity.”
“Whether its keeping them out after practice or giving them four lifts a week, we work really hard with our freshmen. Attea and Ivanisevic might have made the biggest jump of any players on our team from training camp to the end of the (2015) year.”
“Kuehm, physically, is everything you want in an offensive lineman–6’5”, 290, graceful, energetic, but injuries kept [the junior] from playing. He stayed with it and this year hasn’t missed a beat. (Backup junior center) Richard Bush is getting 20-25 snaps a game and grading well.”
“Ramirez was the last guy we recruited that year (2014). Ross Tucker (former Princeton All-Ivy tackle, NFL player and commentator) called us and said, ‘Take a look at this guy.’
“This was late January, when you are almost done recruiting. You get these emails all the time, and usually if he’s being brought to your attention that late, the kid is not a player. But we got the video and omigawd it was ‘Look at this guy!’ He had great grades, too, and nobody was recruiting him. They had a coaching change there (at Central York, PA High School, not far from where Tucker grew up in Wyomissing, PA), which may have had something to do with it. We called Erik and asked him to visit.”
Ramirez, a junior, played considerably as a sophomore, which really makes him the only seasoned guy in the rotation after Sweigart and Darrow, yet the unit hardly appears to be suffering from inexperience.
Being Princeton students, they learn fast in the classroom, but this position is not a 100 level course. “We snap the ball within two or three seconds,” said Sweigart, who got on the field as a freshman. “There is not much time to think and most guys take time to adapt to it.”
Sweigart is the resident strong, silent, type. “Doesn’t say much, just performs,” says Aurich. “Darrow is a natural who makes everybody else play faster.”
When they are able to speed up the process like this, it’s about more than talent and coaching, insists Surace. “These guys are following Spenser and Britt Colcolough (‘16),” said the coach. “Each class we get is that much more in tune because of the examples set in the weight room and at practice.”
“So I don’t know if I would call this group gifted. I know they work hard.”
TIGER TAILS: We threw a bad pick in our game story from Columbia, crediting the lone interception thrown in the game by Princeton to Chad Kanoff, rather than the real perpetrator, Johnny Lovett . Our deepest apologies . . . Tigers are 1-1 vs. the Hoyas since the series was revived in 2012, Princeton losing 21-20 in 2012 on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium because of botched snaps and kicks, and avenging that loss in 2013, 50-22, in D.C., when Quinn Epperly scored four touchdowns. Teams play next year at Princeton . . . Tigers, with seven touchdowns in seven red zone possessions this season, are the only team in Division I to be perfect this season . . . Thirteen other clubs have scored every time, but have at least one field goal . . . Tigers are also second in the FCS in third down conversion percentage (.549).