They Project to Make Themselves Hard to Ignore
BY JAY GREENBERG
All the quantitative evidence that scouts from the Jets, Giants and Raiders gathered on Monday from James Gales, Dorian Williams and Quinn Epperly did not definitively measure their ambition.
“Playing pro football is something I have dreamed of since I was five or six years old,” said Gales. “I want it a lot.”
Then again, so did Mike Zeuli, the ultra-driven Ivy League’s co-Defensive Player of the Year two seasons ago and he did not even make it past the Eagles’ minicamp. This was a big-time college playmaker, unable to project as a professional player. Using body sizes and measuring athleticism to project standards of survivability in the NFL, the scouts are right far more often than they are wrong.
But there are exceptions. And teams need bodies for camps. So three Princeton players who drove their school to two Ivy championships worked out for the NFL clubs on Pro Day knowing that if they don’t take their best shot, they never will forgive themselves.
If football goes no further for these guys, one suspects that the world’s most prestigious undergraduate degree will help them get along just fine. But two years out of Princeton, Epperly–except for getting married this coming Saturday in Knoxville–has not gone on to the rest of his life. And Williams and Gales, both of whom will graduate in two months, are in no hurry.
“Football is my first thought,” Williams said. “There can’t be a Plan B.”
So the three, cheered on by many of their once-teammates, including the Cleveland Browns’ Seth DeValve, ran, jumped, caught, and, in Epperly’s case, threw, hoping to be somewhere in July showcasing their stuff.
Epperly, the offensive Bushnell Cup winner as a junior in 2013, made it onto an Edmonton Eskimos protected list a year ago, only to be released after receiving minimal reps at mini-camp.
“Waste of a year,” he said.
“After I got cut by Edmonton, the only team that needed a quarterback was the worst team ever. It was based in Manheim, Germany, and we went 0-16, giving up 50 a game in front of about 100 people in the stands.
“I called the plays on the field, ran the practices, and slept on a blow-up mattress for three months. The good thing was my fiancé got to come over and we saw Europe. It was more of a life experience than it was really getting a chance to play.
“I recently have heard from a couple (CFL) teams that liked me. I’m waiting to hear back from them. I would play anywhere right now. I’m doing this today just trying to get in front of whomever I can and get into a camp somewhere. Because of (back) injury my senior year I was missed a little bit. I think I can hang with anyone right now. I would love a shot.”
Bob Surace agrees that no matter how much film NFL and CFL teams have of Epperly setting Ivy League touchdown records as a junior, his senior season was a setback.
“No doubt it hurt him,” said the Princeton coach. “I kick myself.”
“Quinn was kind of Superman here. So even after surgery, you think he’s going to perform at a level even better than he was as a Bushnell winner.
“In hindsight, we should have taken a different approach—either slow the pace down early in the (senior) year or redshirt him his senior year. Statistically and to the eye test, he wasn’t healthy.
“Now he’s better than he ever was. People in the CFL that I know are commenting on how well he is throwing the ball.”
In part because DeValve, who was subsequently taken in the fourth round, missed most of his fifth year, many more NFL clubs showed up at Princeton Pro Day a year ago. But all 32 teams have been by the Princeton football office, many two and three times, to evaluate Williams and Gales. And all clubs will share the testing results from yesterday. Surace believes Williams, who was one of the best free safeties in Princeton history, plus Gales, who blossomed dramatically as a senior starter, will be better helped by the position they play than was Zeuli, a linebacker.
“There is a scarcity of defensive backs in the NFL,” said the coach. “In Dorian’s case he has four years of great video.
“James really came on this year. He played the cornerback position last year for us as well as you can play it. Sometimes the light comes on late; NFL teams see that all the time, may figure he will continue to get better. To have a corner of his size and strength that can play the ball and tackle that well.
“I think they both will open up eyes when scouts watch video. There’s 32 teams, it just takes one to have interest.”
A Denver scout, in the area last week to do other school’s Pro Days, but unable to attend yesterday, took the time to meet with Williams and was encouraging. The teams take the time because video doesn’t tell them everything.
“They are measuring you for explosion that they can’t see on the film,” said Williams. “It gives them peace of mind that you are as good as you looked.
“Plus they see how you perform under pressure. It’s nerve-wracking coming out here with your dream on the line.”