Kanoff is Princeton’s Third Bushnell Winner in Three Years
BY JAY GREENBERG
NEW YORK – Take a kid who could have played quarterback in the SEC, who had a change of heart towards Princeton in full understanding he would wait two years for an incumbent All-Ivy quarterback to graduate, then cheerfully accepted being a starter for 80 yards because there was somebody better suited for the last 20, and maybe the dumbest question you could pose to him was whether he came here Monday nervous about winning an individual award.
”Nah,” said Chad Kanoff. “Well, maybe a little. Seemed like the speeches were a little long until they announced it.”
Kanoff, cool in the pocket, would have been just as copacetic with Justin Watson of Penn, perhaps the Ivy League’s best receiver of all time, winning the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League’s offensive player of the year. His parents, in a roomful of Princeton teammates and coaches at the New York Hilton, would have taken it a lot harder had Kanoff not been named, but he was, as completely expected and fully earned.
“Chad is steady soul,” said Chris Kanoff, who Monday became the father of Princeton’s second Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year in two seasons and the third Tiger in three years (with John Lovett and Mike Zeuli) to win either the offensive or defensive awards. “He tells me he doesn’t get nervous, but I don’t know how that can be. I couldn’t do what he does.
“He has always been very focused, looking forwards, never backwards in everything he has done. He has great discipline, focus on the task at hand whether it is in school or in any sport. I don’t know what caused him to be that way.”
Kanoff went 21-for-21 in the first half against Harvard this season. We went 0-for-21 during the greatest passing career in 148 years of Princeton football trying to ever get him to talk about himself in any kind of depth.
The proof of the best passing season in Ivy League history was on the video and in the numbers, not in any promotion, especially self-promotion. Imagine the pain–or by now the resignation-of runner-up Justin Watson of Pennsylvania, who three times attended the Bushnell Cup announcement only to finish second three times. But this was an award for the best player this season, not for a career. Thanks to Kanoff, Princeton’s Jesper Horsted had more receptions in 2017 than did Watson.
“We all have sympathy for Justin,” said Princeton coach Bob Surace. “Maybe in the future there should be an achievement award for an entire career. I don’t think there have been any better in the Ivy League.
“But I know what Chad has done, statistically and otherwise. We have had all 31 NFL teams come in and watch him and talk to us about him. They don’t give much feedback; just ask me about character and I have five years of stories to tell about his leadership and work ethic. He always put the team first and there were times he carried it,”
Of course, Kanoff, who followed John Lovett (’16), who followed Quinn Epperly (’13) in becoming the third quarterback and fifth Princeton player (Mike Catapano and Mike Zeuli were defensive honorees) of the eight-year Surace era to win Bushnell Cups, credited his line, blocking backs, offensive linemen and offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson’s play calling. Just as the honoree dutifully and sincerely did all season on the way to breaking Doug Butler’s 24-year old Princeton record for yards in a season, among others.
“I accept on behalf of my teammates,” Kanoff told a room that included three defensive candidates, including winner Matt Oplinger of Ivy Champion Yale, former Bushnell winners including Lovett and Jay Fiedler, plus other friends of Ivy football.
Competition built a winning Princeton program–imagine a quarterback who completed a league record 73 per cent of his passes and threw for 3474 yards as a senior, having to wait two years to get his shot. So it was neck and neck between Kanoff and Lovett to see who could accept an honor with greater humility.
But this quarterback so beloved for never believing he was special assuredly was. Good luck to Surace to ever find another passer to nail his receivers and his priorities with greater accuracy. “Where it comes from I’m not sure,” said Mary Ellen Kanoff, Chad’s mother, who celebrated the happiest birthday of her life Monday. “But when you measure yourself against the highest standards, that necessarily makes you humble.”
When Lovett was unable to play this season due to injury, there probably never was a quarterback in Princeton history who was better prepared.
“I think one of the things Chad didn’t get enough credit for was his physical development,” said Gleeson. “He was a long, wiry, kid in high school.
“There is a maturity that comes with growing into a man but he also committed himself tremendously, both in the weight room and the spring he took off (to be eligible for a fifth year to make up for an injured one.)
“He put a lot of time into his body, spending the spring with Seth DeValve (Princeton ’16, now of the Cleveland Browns) to take himself to a new level. Chad looks like a seasoned kid now, big and strong.
“I don’t think I will ever see a kid again as accurate as he is.
“There are always seasoned kids who, by their senior years have played a lot of snaps. And there is Chad, who combined a great intellect with a ton of experience.
Whether it was pressure, or a particular coverage, there wasn’t anything this year that spooked him. That’s (reflective of) time in the film room and time under Coach (James) Perry (Gleeson’s’ predecessor, now head coach at Bryant University), a great developer of quarterbacks.
“As a coordinator, you are playing the game, too, on the sideline. There were times I would have gone differently with the ball on a play but then Chad would turn it into an explosive play. That is a kid who has a huge way about him in finding matchups and delivering the ball where it needs to go.
“He will be somewhere next year. He is an NFL quarterback. As far as arm strength, I don’t think he has peaked but more important, when you play quarterback and deliver the ball the way he can and can go into a room and learn an offense so quickly, that becomes another thing in his favor. He will be imparting his knowledge on young receivers from his first camp and that only increases his value.
“There have been plenty of kids with arm strength who have gone the way of the Do-Do Bird. And plenty of guys who have made careers in the league based on their tremendous accuracy. He’s still working on his body. He throws the ball hard, and accurately, every single time, which means yards after the catch.”
Kanoff wasn’t Surace’s first big catch for Princeton, but he was the most publicized after de-committing from Vanderbilt. An older sister, Christine, who graduated from Dartmouth brought the value of a an Ivy education into Kanoff’s focus, but the degree of comfort with Surace, Perry, and his future teammates is what most won him over. When Surace said the Ivies get scouted too, by the NFL, Kanoff believed him, as he did the coach in all ways that rang true and proved true.
“Won a (2016) championship, got an extra year’s school, made friends,” said Kanoff. “I couldn’t have dreamed it out much better than this.”