The Days (and Drops) are a Precious Few

  • November 10, 2016

BY JAY GREENBERG

Four years have flown by quicker than the Tigers like to snap the ball, even faster than James Perry will go back to the same receiver on consecutive plays.

“It seems like yesterday I was at FSI with Frusc (James Frusciante),” said Trevor Osborne. “No way, it has been four years; this is pretty surreal.”

Three members of another excellent class of Princeton receivers–Isaiah Barnes, Frusciante and Osborne–are down to their final two games, maybe the two largest of their careers. With the help of a Penn win over Harvard Friday night, those contests–with Yale Saturday at the Yale Bowl followed by Dartmouth on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium–could yet be career-defining, even after 183 balls combined that these players have already caught.

Whether high they have arrived, low, a little behind them, or right into their hands, these guys have hung onto a lot. So indulge them for wanting to hang onto their final couple weeks as Princeton football players.

Barnes received a red-shirt year because of a gruesome broken ankle suffered in a scrimmage his freshman year. And still his time at Princeton went by just as fast as Osborne’s and Frusciante’s.

“This is the sport I’ve played since I was six,” said Barnes. “You always had an offseason but football was coming around again.

“This is a weird feeling that it is ending, but I’m excited to see what occurs these next two games. Whatever else happens in the league will sort itself out, but I want to go out strong.”

Strong is the operative word not only for all three of these seniors, but for the deepest group of wide outs of the seven-year Bob Surace era, maybe even in the program’s long history. Frusciante’s greatest strength has always been in his fundamentally sound route running, Osborne’s in yards after the catch and blocking. Barnes’ greatest attribute is coming down with the ball, but in fact, all have evolved into doing everything well.

“James is an awfully good technician when it comes to running routes,” said receivers coach Dennis Goldman. “He is a student of the game.

“Osborne is a very steady guy, good route runner, good speed, excellent hands and a physical football player. We have plays that come from inside routes that go out on the perimeter and he does a fantastic job blocking.

“Isaiah has made tremendous progress. We moved him to receiver (from quarterback) very early, then he suffered an obvious big setback when he broke his ankle.

“Some guys who haven’t played the position are not natural at catching the football.  Isaiah will be the first to tell you that early on he kind of fought it at times. It’s remarkable the improvement he has made. He makes great catches for us.”

Terrific kid. Terrific story, provided you can handle this mental image:

“My foot was turned backwards that day,” Barnes recalls. “Thoughts go through your head. I didn’t know if I would be able to play again.

“It wasn’t right after the first surgery. After my sophomore year they had to do another one. I kind of got down but there was too much left on the field for me to bow out like that.

“I’m glad I was able to show what I could do these last two years. I’m proud I have been able to come back.”

This season Barnes has added another 30 passes in addition to the 33 he caught last year. Osborne and Frusciante each have over 20 receptions, much to the distress of opponent’s defensive game planners, as Chad Kanoff and Johnny Lovett spray around the ball.

“It’s been what I would consider a full group effort this year,” said Goldman. “We played seven guys on Saturday (28-0 win over Penn) which is the ultimate situation that you want when you coach receivers.”

That’s not even the half of it. Sixteen Tigers have caught footballs this year. Sophomore wide out Jesper Horsted has 20 receptions, running backs Joe Rhattigan and Charlie Volker 18 each; tight ends Scott Carpenter and Graham Adomitis have combined for 13 more.

Throw in three from freshman dynamo Tiger Bech, who returns this week, two by fullback Cody Smith, and a deuce by sophomore Stephen Carlson. And let’s not forget 21 by quarterback Johnny Lovett and another by Chad Kanoff.

You never know who the next guy out is for the next pass. And if you have never heard of Jordan Argue, by next year you will because he is another talent coming in a long line.

Goldman, mentor to Marvin Harrison, Qadry Ismail and David Tyree during a long stint on the staff at Syracuse, is in his fifth decade of coaching. He has produced seven All-Ivy receivers in seven Princeton seasons.

“Since the first time I set foot on campus at one of the summer camps my junior year I felt a connection to Coach Goldman,” said Osborne. “He was the one from the get-go yelling at you to run, run; kind of classic coach yelling, but he was a fun guy, too.

“We always had fun in the meetings when the time was right. I learned so much off the field and on. My thanks to him.”

Also, to these quarterbacks and this offense.

“It’s easier for us to recruit the skill guys because this offense runs a lot of plays and it is very creative,” said Surace. “[Recruits] see success years after year with guys who fit into this offense.”

So they don’t seem to mind earning their turn.

“It was hard for Isaiah, Matt, and Trevor to get onto the field over Matt Costello, Roman Wilson and Connor Kelley,” said Surace. “Because Frusciante and Seth (DeValve) were injured Parkinson got the ball more last year than he has this one.

“I thought these guys could be really good and it turned out they were. They’ve been terrific. And now more are developing.

Advancing fastest has been Horsted, who is already a horse. He gets yards after the catch like DeValve, now of the Cleveland Browns, except not exactly.

“Jesper is really fearless in catching the football, so there are a lot of traits that he and Seth have in common,” said Goldman.

“Both are very athletic, have big hands and can run. But I just think he’s different than Seth, maybe a little more speed and athleticism.”

“If we had Seth more his senior year (missed four games), we would have used him more as a tight end. Not sure Jesper is that guy. But we got two more years to go with him so who knows?”

Two more years of Horsted is an exciting thought, in addition to being a reassuring one, as three more in a long line of fine Princeton receivers run that ultimate route through FitzRandolph Gate.

TIGER TAILS

Yale leads the second longest-running series in college football (to Lehigh-Lafayette) 76-52-10. . . Bulldogs, who rallied from three deficits last season for a 35-28 win, have won the last two following consecutive Princeton wins. . . Game will be streamed on Ivy League Digital Network and radio WPRB 103.3 (Cody Chrusciel and Dave Giancola).