Lovett is Another Princeton Bushnell Winner
BY JAY GREENBERG
NEW YORK – Thirty-one touchdowns are, after all, 31 touchdowns. They pretty well sold themselves, alleviating concerns that the Ivy League coaches would question what Johnny Lovett did for the other 80 yards of the field.
“One of my college roommates said, ‘How amazing is it that your back-up is up for (the Asa S.) Bushnell Cup?” said Bob Surace. “I said, ‘He’s not a backup, he plays five different positions.
“Besides, the league has great coaches; they know how hard it is to defense certain guys. John presents a challenge to game planning.
“We have a creative coaching staff, so [the opposition] doesn’t know where he is going to wind up. That’s a good thing to have but it’s not just that we can put him anywhere, but that John does it all. He is the best receiver, runner, a really good passer, does everything at a level that is really high.”
Twenty running touchdowns, 10 passing, and one more receiving represents an impressive career, let alone a season, but who knows how much higher Lovett can take it in his senior year? In the meantime, in 2016 he was the most dynamic presence in the Ivy League by if not a mile, than certainly a lot more than the 20 red zone yards for which he would be at quarterback. Lovett was appropriately rewarded Monday at the Waldorf-Astoria with the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the Ancient Eight’s Offensive Player of the Year.
The other finalist, Penn receiver Justin Watson, is likely to play in the NFL, which tells you about the competition for these Bushnells and why the front row seat where finalist Kurt Holuba remained as Dartmouth senior linebacker Folarin Orimolade came to the podium to accept the defensive award should have a “Reserved” placard placed on it for the Tiger defensive end for 2017.
“Kurt already works as hard as he can possibly work,” said Surace. “So I don’t know how much more motivation he can use.
“But yeah you want to win so, sure, he will come back stronger and continue to progress.”
Holuba took the disappointment with a smile, the only way he could. “I am happy as I could be,” he said. “I have another year or two (Holuba will have the option of a another year after being injured most of 2015) and Folarin deserves it. He was all over the place this year, making tackles, just a great player.
“I’m going to keep working at it to be back next year. For now, I am so excited for John. He is the heart and soul of our team, plays with such emotion. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Holuba has 100-plus Princeton players sharing those feelings, as evidenced by the number of them who attended the presentation.
“We go through so much as a team that we have a family mindset,” said guard Erik Ramirez. “That’s what it’s all about; supporting the family. Our success is their success and their success is our success.
“John is a freak athlete. It’s a lot of fun playing in front of him, knowing he has the possibility of breaking open the game. He’s so willing to go for it, it gives you extra motivation.”
Lovett, selfless as always, thanked his line among many others in his short acceptance, but his linemen thank him, too, for making them look so efficient. The Tigers were all but automatic inside the 20, just like they were in the Bushnell season (2013) of their last offensive winner, Quinn Epperly.
Sure, Surace thought Lovett could be a worthy successor when first laying eyes upon him at Princeton summer camp before the kid’s junior high school season. But it turned out the coach had no idea.
“First of all he was big,” recalls Surace. “But he ran well and moved athletically, Coach (James) Perry noted right away that the (passing) delivery was smooth, too.
“So many quarterbacks have to change mechanics or have to figure something out to become successful. John was pretty good with it right away.
“From the beginning, there were a lot of similarities in talent between John and Quinn. But as I got to know John there were even more. They are both the nicest guys when you talk to them, yet so competitive, have so much passion.”
Humility, too, going back long before they came to one of the most competitive schools and, as it is turning out after two Ivy League titles in four seasons, football programs in the country,
“John grew up in a house where being humble is important,” said John Sr., a retired fireman. “We tell our kids what goes around always comes around.
“We’re just loving parents like most. John knows it is a very humbling game; he has been fortunate to have good coaches and players around him at DeMatha (Washington D.C.) and at Princeton. It doesn’t surprise me he acts like he does. It’s a nice trait to have.”
After all, when the picture taking is over, the school displays the trophy, not the winner. This was Princeton’s fourth Bushnell of the Surace era–following Epperly, Mike Catapano (2012) and Mike Zeuli (2014)–so obviously more is at work in all this success than just Lovett’s talents, considerable as they may be.
“What means the most to me about this is representing Princeton, my teammates, and my family,” Lovett said. “My Mom (Joan) and Dad have done everything that got me here, it’s great to reward them and my team.
“I don’t know what made me more nervous, whether I would win or, if I did, the speech I would have to make. Probably, it was combination of both.
“It’s an honor to win in the presence of so many great Ivy League players of the past. I met Archie Manning today (in town for the National Football Foundation dinner) there have been a lot of things like that mesmerizing me. So I was nervous to come up and speak.
“When they announced me I was consumed by emotion, started to tear up a little bit. My family has done so much for me to be able to share this with them is incredible. I will remember this the rest of my life.”