Princeton Was a Little Out of the Way for Bech
BY JAY GREENBERG
One might assume that since he was bestowed a school nickname when still “in the womb” by lawyer parents and earned Princeton-requisite high academic achievement, that Tiger Bech’s destiny was preordained.
Ultimately that proved to be the case, too. But as you watch Bech zig and zag against Columbia Saturday, understand that he performed a cutback or two to get to Old Nassau. Let the record show that Bech became Tiger because two uncles played football for the Louisiana State University variety of the species. And, in fact, their nephew was ready to play for the Ragin’ Cajuns of his hometown–Lafayette, LA.
That was until an offer of a full athletic scholarship got yanked at a date too late for Bech to believe there was another school that had saved a spot for a 5-9 receiver-returner. “I thought football was done for me,” he recalls.
It wasn’t until spring semester of his senior year at St. Thomas More Catholic in Lafayette that Cornell asked Bech (it’s pronounced Besh) to do a year at the Loomis-Chafee School in Windsor, Connecticut, and then enroll in Ithaca. An older football buddy who had followed a parallel path – a year at The Taft School before going to Dartmouth-didn’t necessarily open a door, but piqued Bech’s curiosity about what might be behind it.
“I had never thought about the Ivy League,” he said.
This Princeton staff liked Bech’s film and has gotten good returns from preppies. Durelle Napier ’17 and R.J. Paige ’17 in fact came from Loomis-Chafee. So Bech was committed there for a post-graduate year when he was invited to a Princeton football summer camp that mostly is a look-see for high school seniors-to-be.
‘We loved his quickness, his hands, and his ability to go in and out of cuts,” recalls Bob Surace. “We were so successful with Roman Wilson who is the same body type.
The coach smiled. “And that nickname kind of sealed the deal.”
Bech did not hear from LSU, Clemson or Missouri. Or even Detroit. No matter, after spending that camp day with instructor John Lovett, this Tiger knew where he wanted to earn his stripes.
“Princeton was the first camp I came to,” he recalls. “I hung out with John and he and the coaches kind of convinced me a little bit.
“I did other Ivy camps for a while, but when I left Princeton that day I knew this was where I was going to go. There were a lot of reasons. The campus is amazing and Philadelphia is right here and New York not far away.
“It is the No. 1 school in the country, obviously. And when I looked up the average game day temperatures in the league, Princeton was second to Penn.”
There will be no cold feet for this sophomore when he takes a kick on Saturday afternoon on Power Field at Princeton Stadium and throws himself to Lions who outweigh him by up to 30 pounds. Last Saturday night at Lafayette, the underdog Leopards had just tied the score at 10 when Bech caught a kickoff at the four and wasn’t dragged down until the Lafayette 45.
To be accurate, it was Bech who did the dragging–of two defenders for an additional 10 yards. And that return returned the game to Princeton’s control, the Tigers scoring touchdowns on that drive and the one following.
That still may not have been Bech’s most athletic play of the game either. In the third quarter, Chad Kanoff, unloading under pressure, back footed a sideline pass for Bech perfectly into “the only place I could have caught it.”
Despite a cornerback on his back, Bech got a foot down and caught the ball for a first down in a touchdown drive. “Great footwork and he really competed on that one,” said Surace.
Of course, standing 5-9, including the chip on his shoulder, Bech has had to compete for everything he earns.
“Even close family members have told me I’m too small to play football,” Bech says. “I don’t do too much talking on the field, but I come in with a little bit of attitude.”
He takes that to the weight room, where he has become one of 16 current Tigers in the 1100-pound club – a combined score in three different lifts. Of the 16, only Bech, Mark Fossati and Quincy Wolf are under six-feet tall.
The last Princeton mighty-mite, Dre Nelson, lifted 1100 too. Two more super-gnats on the roster – Jacob Bermelin and Austin Carbone, have more than a few pounds to go, but Bech has taken responsibility to get them there. As Al Pacino’s Tony D’Amato exhorted in “Any Given Sunday”, on this team they fight for the inches that are all around them.
“I think [smaller players] that are any good have something in common that they have been told is a weakness,” says Surace. “The ones who are strong mentally turn that into a positive.”
Bech had caught three passes as a freshman in 2016 and was about to take a larger role before suddenly taking ill, ending his season after five games. He’s back; the only thing soft about him being his hands. “Tiger catches kicks up high, just like we teach,” said Surace.
He also instinctively knows where the opening will be, which can’t really be taught. The punt return for a touchdown is a rare feat in the Ivy League, but Bech has almost three seasons to make one happen and probably will.
“Punt returns are my favorite,” He said. “It’s just you and the ball, then it’s find the seam, make somebody miss. There’s not too much thinking.”
Wilson ‘14, the scourge of Harvard, was eventually excused from returning duties because he was such a big part of the passing attack. But with all these other weapons, Bech can comfortably do double duty as the Tigers have some awfully big boys who can catch. “We are always going against tired defensive backs,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
So would be a Princeton diploma, written in Latin, inscribed with somebody’s nickname, but even his professors call him Tiger, so why not? “It’s my name,” he smiles, cutting all formality, but you have waited 26 paragraphs to learn Bech’s given name, so let’s also cut the suspense:
It’s Martin. But you call him electric.
Kurt Holuba’s targeting penalty that resulted in his second-half ejection at Lafayette, has been overturned by the league upon review. Had it not been, Holuba would have been ineligible for Saturday’s first half. Video and stills submitted by Princeton proved that he hit Leopard quarterback Sean O’Malley only on the shoulder, not the head.
Princeton has won its last six meetings with Columbia, none of them against a Lion team as good as this one, but both squads have come in 2-0 twice since they began opening the Ivy schedule against each other in 2000. Tigers prevailed in both. The series stands 70-15-1 Princeton. . . Chad Kanoff, who threw only six touchdown passes last year before coming out in red-zone possessions in favor of Lovett, has six already this season.. . . Kickoff is at 12:30. Game can be seen on Eleven Sport and heard on WPRB 103.3) and the TuneIn app (search Princeton IMG Sports Network).