Arming – and Legging – for the Future
(Second of three parts)
BY JAY GREENBERG
New offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson undoubtedly will have some tweaks, but is not going to try to fix what is anything but broken. The use of two quarterbacks, often in the game at the same time, has become The Princeton Offense, probably even more distinctive than the basketball version, now that baseline cuts no longer are its staple.
For three seasons Quinn Epperly, the touchdown-making runner, was complimented by Connor Michelsen, the dropback thrower, just as Johnny Lovett now finishes off what Chad Kanoff starts. In 2018, we likely will see a combo of Kevin Davidson and Zach Keller.
The idea is to put the most athletic talents on the field in the best spots where they can succeed. There may yet come a season when the Tigers have a clear No. One and No. 2, rather than a 1 and 1a. But quarterbacks Cole Smith and John Tracy are coming in as freshmen with different strengths, one as a pocket passer, and the other as an all-around athlete. This obviously has become the ongoing plan.
“To win you have to be at least good at that position,” said Coach Bob Surace. “We typically take two and have gotten guys to reach the elite level.”
The two quarterbacks, two running backs, three wideouts, three offensive linemen, two tight ends, two kickers from the same high school and a long snapper make up the offensive football Class of 2021.
“They are tremendously accomplished high school players,” said Surace. “And they arrive with the work ethic and traits that have made our offense successful.”
Cole Smith, Christian Academy, Knoxville TN.—“He set the all-time state of Tennessee passing record in a predominantly throwing offense, so on film we rarely got a chance to see him do athletic stuff,” said Surace. “We had to get him into camp to learn his time in the 40 and broad jump and they are very similar to Lovett’s and Epperly’s at this stage.
“Cole (6-2, 190) is not coming in as strong physically as did John or Quinn, but he can escape and throw on the run.
“Because he is coming from the same school as Quinn, they, of course, have been compared a great deal. In building our relationship it was important that Cole knew he was recruited based on his own skill set and would have his own journey here. He may have had some concern about that, why he considered scholarship offers at mid-level programs and went through the process. But the more Cole was around our team, he became convinced we were the right school for him.”
John Tracy, Walled Lake Western High, Commerce Township, MI. — “John didn’t catch our eye with his junior year video,” said Surace. “But the day he came to our camp I was summoned by (offensive coordinator) James Perry after only about five minutes. We have had more than 1,000 quarterbacks in our camps but only a few guys, like Michelsen and Davidson, threw a ball that whistled like John’s.
“At the end of the day, I wondered how I overlooked this guy, so I went back and watched his junior video and hadn’t missed the boat at all. His mechanics had been terrible but, with help, he fixed them. We offered him and he committed in the fall. John (6-3, 200) is two inches taller than Michelsen and has more room to grow. We have gotten the two quarterbacks we most wanted from the camps that summer.”
E.J. Caldwell, Upper Arlington High School, Columbus, OH — “John Cooper (retired Ohio State head coach, now a scouting consultant for the Bengals) occasionally calls me when he sees, reads about, or hears about a Columbus-area prospect with strong academic qualifications,” said Surace. “When we looked at E.J.’s video I couldn’t figure out who he reminded me of until Sean said ‘Ryan Quigley’ and nailed it. He is the same kind of slashing runner and, like Ryan, a good all-around player, which enabled us to put him on the field as a freshman.
“E.J. came on late his senior year and drew some FCS scholarship offers before committing to us. We never discourage anyone who wants to play an additional sport at Princeton. But E.J., who played lacrosse in high school, is making the right decision to concentrate solely on football. Training for just one sport, he can get bigger, get up to a good 215 from 205.”
Collin Eaddy, Garner Magnet High School, Raleigh, NC – “Off his junior year, he became the top running back on our list,” said Surace. “Collin had an injury early his senior year and then just exploded. He had ACC offers but I think the Ivy League is what he wanted all along.
“For vision, balance and grace, he reminds me of Jordan Culbreath (’11). It’s like the feet don’t touch the ground, and, unlike a lot of graceful runners Collin finishes his runs, Even At 5-11, 200, there is nothing soft about him.”
Jacob Birmelin, Palm Beach Gardens High, Royal Palm Beach, FLA. – “We got Jacob a little later, over considerable in-state interest. He is super quick, (at 5-8, 160) very much in the mold of Roman Wilson (’14) and Tiger Bech (’20). Jacob gets open, and is so dynamic with the ball in his hands. He will be immediately competitive on special teams and in the return game, where he can utilize his ability to make defenders miss.”
Cash Goodhart – Sunnyvale High, Sunnyvale, Tex. “In contrast to Jacob, Cash (at 6-3, 190) is more an outside guy, similar to Stephen Carlson and some of our recent, taller, receivers. Cash has good speed for the outside and goes up and gets the ball. He already knows how to get off press coverage; is polished in the little things that it often take receivers time to learn. So he could see the field as a freshman; we just have to see how he holds up physically.”
Luke Montgomery – Glendale High, Springfield, MO. – “Like Jordan Argue and Trevor Osborne, Luke tested off the charts at camp, jumps through the roof, and (at 6-0) 189, comes to us as a guy who could play inside or outside,” said Surace. “Really good straight line speed enabled him to catch 290 balls over his three high school seasons. Despite a thick lower body, he can run away from people in the open field.
“We saw Trevor spend two good years with Dennis (receivers coach Goldman) and then blossom his junior year. Luke has a chance to be similar. “
Adam Buchanan, Buckingham Browne and Nichols High, Lynnfield, MASS — “At camp, he was a good blocker and caught everything near him,” said Surace. “Adam is a (6-4, 220) tight end in the Mark Hayes (’13) mold, which is so valuable. If Adam can improve his speed, he has a chance to be a complete player. He had some scholarship offers with majors and the Patriot League but wanted an Ivy.”
Carter Dunaway, Brother Rice High, Birmingham, MI. – “We saw his junior year video and it was outstanding, but he committed to Michigan before our camps,” said Surace. “One day in the fall (Tight End Coach) Mike Willis and Sean came to my office to let me know Carter was available again. He had outstanding academic credentials; was worth pursing hard. Once things reopened, Carter decided he wanted Ivy League.
“He is very much like (expected 2017 starter) Graham Adomitis, adding another all-around-type tight end with a speed dimension. We were a little thin at the position; have moved Nick Peabody there from quarterback and have Sam Johnson, who will be a sophomore. We’re trying to break out of the mold of a tight end being mostly a receiver or mostly a blocker. Both of the two we’re bringing in have athleticism and will be competitive right away.”
David Hoffman, Immaculata High, Basking Ridge, NJ — “With so many returnees with experience, we were not going to take a big group of O-lineman this year,” said Surace. “There were other positions, like defensive backs, that we wanted to replenish, so we set out limiting ourselves to no more than four offensive linemen. When we finished with our camps on August 7, we ranked the top, center, tackle and combination type and were fortunate to get all three to commit by October.”
“David is a huge (6-6, 280) drive blocker in the Jack Knight mold and, kind of like Jack, he is the quiet, cerebral type. He has tackle length and the drive you need from a guard in the running game, so we’ll see what develops at both spots. He has a chance to be outstanding at either position.”
Ryan Huth, Allentown High, Cream Ridge, NJ – “As an angular (6-5, 215) junior, Ryan, was much more likely to get scholarship offers for baseball,” said Surace. “Then his body blew up over the summer and fall of last year to 275 and he drew a lot of football interest. Fortunately, we were close enough (geographically) to build a great relationship with Ryan in a short time.
“I think he is a natural tackle in the (Mitchell) Sweigart mold. Mitch, too, hit a growth spurt, went from 230 and played for us as a freshman at 260.”
Niko Ivanisevic, Hinsdale Central High, Hinsdale, ILL — “In physical nature, he is similar to his brother Stefan (who started for the Tigers in 2016 as a sophomore),” said Surace. “But where Stefan is a tackle-guard, Niko is a natural center. He was second in Illinois as a wrestler, which helped him develop the leverage you need at that position, since you lose that distance there from the D linemen. He is 6-1, in the 275 range, and probably going to be a 300 pounder; one of those shorter, stronger, explosive centers with which we have had good luck.”
Antonio Ferrer, Ransom Everglades School, Miami, FLA. – “At our camps we had four punters rated top-20 in the nation and Ferrer was better than all of them by five yards,” said Surace. “And he can get distance without sacrificing hang time.
“He is a good athlete, much similar to Tyler Roth, only with the right foot and also a holder, which is a plus.”
Nicolas Ramos, Ransom Everglades School, Miami, FLA – “So a few days following Antonio, Niko Ramos, from the same school, comes to our camp and kicks six straight field goals of 50-60 yards, each one right down the middle,” said Surace. “Most schools will take at most one kicker in a class. I said, ‘Let’s offer both,’ and we did on the same day.
“We receive the added benefit of Niko and Antonio having worked together in the past. They grew up with Tavish Rice, although they didn’t go to the same high school. Including (sophomore-to-be punter) Steven Mejia, we will have four South Florida kickers, all challenging each other on campus and when they are home.
“Ferrer and Mejia will go to camp one-two to be our punter. Tavish is going in with a leg up (at placekicker) because he had such a good (freshman) year. Competition will make them all better.”
Ryan McNeil, Saint John’s Prep, Marblehead, MASS. – “Towards the end of recruiting, long snapper was the one position we did not feel like we had enough competition,” said Surace. “Ryan and Chris Sayan will push each other to replace Pat Hall, who was so consistent the last three years. Ryan had Division III offers as a linebacker, which is important because, in today’s game, the long snapper has to cover kicks.”
Coming: The Defense Recruits.