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At 6 pm Saturday, the final Division I college football opener will finally begin.
For some Tigers, like Jesper Horsted, Stephen Carlson, and Tom Johnson, they are looking to build off some historic performances from the 2017 season. For others, the wait has been longer — injuries derailed several promising seasons last fall, including ones that never even began.
Yes, the wait has been significant. But the 150th fall of Princeton Football is finally here, and this squad is ready.
Princeton will make its first ever trip to Indiana Saturday to take on an unbeaten Butler Bulldogs (2-0) team that already has one of the FCS’ best wins of the season, a Week 1 comeback win over #24 Youngstown State. It will be only the team’s third flight this century, and the first to a site other than San Diego (though the Tigers will stay within the Pioneer League).
Those — and plenty of ones below — are the details for a game these players have trained the last 42 weeks to play. They don’t care who lines up against them, as long as it’s somebody else.
Princeton Football is back.
|Week 1: Princeton (0-0) at Butler (2-0)
Lights, Camera, Action
At long last, Princeton opens its 2018 season Saturday at 6 pm against Butler (2-0). The game will be streamed on Facebook Live, which you can access on the Princeton or Butler schedule page. Fans can listen to Cody Chrusciel and Craig Sachson live on the Princeton IMG Sports Network (103.3 FM WPRB in Princeton) or through the TuneIn app (search “Princeton IMG Sports Network”). The RWJ Barnabas Health pregame show begins 30 minutes prior to kickoff.
Something Old, Something New
On the eve of the 150th celebration of college football in 2019, one of the two oldest programs in the sport — Princeton played Rutgers in the first game on Nov. 6, 1869 — will play a brand new opponent for the first time since 2007, when the Tigers welcomed Hampton to Princeton.
The next time Princeton faces a new opponent won’t take nearly as long; the Tigers will play Monmouth for the first time the following Saturday in the home opener.
A New Pioneer
Princeton is 3-1 all-time against Pioneer League teams, though the previous four matchups were all against the University of San Diego. Princeton defeated the Toreros, who have either won outright or shared every Pioneer League title since Butler won the league in 2013, by a 27-17 score in last year’s season opener.
Princeton will be playing its first game in the state of Indiana for the first time in program history. The Tigers are 0-2 all-time against teams for the Hoosier State, though both games were played nearly a century ago at Princeton’s former home, Palmer Stadium. The Knute Rockne-coached Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat Princeton 25-2 in 1923, and 12-0 in 1924.
On Your Marks …
Princeton had lost eight straight season openers from 2007 through a loss at San Diego in 2014, but the Tigers have won each of their last three. They can match their longest streak of season-opening victories on Saturday since 1964-67 with a win at Butler.
O Captain, Our Captains
Princeton has four captains for the 2018 season. Senior John Lovett is the lone captain from the offense, while Mark Fossati, Kurt Holuba, and Tom Johnson are captains from the defensive side of the ball. Of those four, only Johnson was healthy for the entirety of the 2017 season, when he earned first-team All-Ivy League honors.
Lovett Or Leave It
Saturday marks the return of John Lovett, the 2016 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. Lovett, who was recently profiled during the “Beyond The Stripes” series, was a First-Team All-America standout on the 2016 Ivy League championship team. A utility player, Lovett’s 2016 highlights included:
• breaking Princeton’s single-season touchdown rushing record (20)
• accounting for 31 TDs (20 rush, 10 pass, 1 receive), which was more than five Ivy League teams scored all season
• accounted for a Princeton-record 7 TDs in a single game at Cornell (4 rush, 2 pass, 1 receive)
• completing over 66% of his passes and averaging 4.2 yards per rush during the season
• throwing a 95-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Barnes in the win over Cornell
John Lovett moves into the full-time quarterback role this season following the graduation of Chad Kanoff ’18, who followed Lovett’s Bushnell Cup-winning 2016 season by earning the 2017 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year award. Kanoff signed a contract with the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason, and he is a current member of the team’s practice squad.
That Winning Feeling
Since the start of the 2015 season, Princeton is 13-4 in games Lovett plays, and it is 5-8 in games he doesn’t play. He has accounted for at least one touchdown in each of his last 15 games, and he has accounted for multiple touchdowns in 13 of those 15 games.
Quite The Catch
Senior Jesper Horsted is coming off one of the greatest receiving seasons in Ivy League history. The All-American broke Princeton single-season records in both receptions (92) and TD receptions (14), and he was named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List, which honors the top offensive players in the FCS. Horsted led the Ivy League in receptions, receiving yards (1226), and receiving TDs last season, and he caught multiple touchdown passes in six of 10 games.
Rewriting The Record Book
While Jesper Horsted broke several single-season records last season, he could break all three major Princeton career receiving records this season. He has 124 career catches, and he needs 69 more to match Kevin Guthrie’s record total of 193. Horsted has 1,656 career receiving yards, and he needs 1,142 yards to match Deker Graham’s record of 2,798. The closest career record within his reach is touchdown receptions; Horsted currently has 15, only four fewer than Graham’s current record total of 19.
Jesper Horsted is a multiple-time All-Ivy League honoree in two sports at Princeton; he earned first-team All-Ivy League honors as a centerfielder on the baseball team last spring. During the 2016 calendar year, Horsted won Ivy League championships for both the baseball and football teams. Horsted has been an All-Ivy football player over each of the last two seasons.
While his teammate may have grabbed most of the receiving headlines last season, senior Stephen Carlson posted a Top-10 all-time season for a Princeton receiver last year. Carlson earned All-Ivy honors after ranking fourth in the Ivy League in both receptions (71) and receiving yards (935). He recorded 11 touchdown catches, which was a Princeton record entering the year, though Jesper Horsted ended the season with 14.
Stephen Carlson didn’t wait long to give a preview for his 2017 season. He entered the season opener with two career catches, but he caught six passes for 94 yards — including three touchdowns — in the victory over eventual Pioneer League champion San Diego.
Senior running back Charlie Volker needs one more rushing touchdown to become the 10th player in program history with at least 20 career rushing touchdowns. Volker, who has rushed for 1,319 career yards, scored 14 touchdowns last season, including four in a victory over Brown and three apiece against both Harvard and Dartmouth.
Like Horsted, Volker is a two-sport All-Ivy honoree, as well as an Ivy League champion; he is a key member of the sprint corps for the men’s track & field team.
On The Mark
Senior linebacker Mark Fossati, who will be profiled in this week’s episode of “Beyond The Stripes,” returns to the field after suffering a broken leg during Princeton’s Week 3 game against Columbia last season. Through the first two games last season, Fossati was the Ivy League leader in tackles (11.5 per game) and had received the team’s defensive game ball in both victories. Because you need to play 30% or fewer of your team’s games to qualify for an extra year of NCAA eligibility, that was the last possible game that Fossati could be injured and return for 2018.
Tackling The Issue
Senior Tom Johnson started all 10 games at the middle linebacker position last season, and he earned first-team All-Ivy honors after ranking third in the Ivy League with 95 tackles.
Johnson & Johnson (& Johnson)
Tom Johnson already has a strong connection with his backup. Sophomore James Johnson, Tom’s younger brother and one of four boys to parents Paul and Regina Johnson, moved into the backup role at middle linebacker after recording 18 tackles as a freshmen.
The Johnson family has another branch, as backup tight end Sam Johnson is the cousin to both Tom and James. Cornerback Will Johnson is unrelated.
The Johnsons aren’t the only set of brothers on the team. Backup offensive lineman Stefan (guard) and Nikola (center) Ivanisevic are also brothers; Stefan is a senior, while Nikola is a junior.
Line It Up
Princeton saw an avalanche of injuries to its defensive line last season, a run that coincided with the team’s season-ending losing streak. Between the season opener (Jake Strain) and the Cornell game (Matt Hampson and Joe Percival), Princeton lost five starting offensive linemen over a seven-week stretch. Those injuries allowed for the early development of players like Jay Rolader and Samuel Wright, both of whom are part of the line rotation heading into the Butler game. Princeton also returns Joey DeMarco and Jeremiah Tyler, both of whom missed the full 2017 season.
Cover It Up
When Princeton faced San Diego in the 2017 season opener, the Tigers used new starters at all four defensive backfield positions — and they were led by a new defensive backs coach in Marvin Clecidor. This week, Princeton will put out returning starters in all four positions, including safeties Ben Ellis and TJ Floyd, who started all 10 games at the safety position.
Princeton brought in the FCS’ top-ranked recruiting class (per HeroSports.com and 247sports.com) last summer, and several members of the class will travel to Butler for their collegiate debut. One freshman is listed as a gameday starter for Princeton; punter George Triplett was named to the Kohl’s Kicking High School All-America Team, and he was selected to play in the 2018 Blue-Grey All-American Game in Jacksonville, Fla.
Princeton was picked to finish second to reigning Ivy champion Yale in the 2018 preseason media poll. Five different teams received at least one first-place vote, though Yale (11) and Princeton (3) were the only teams to receive multiple ones. Princeton will play the team picked first (Yale), third (Harvard), and fourth (Columbia) on the road this season.
Seth DeValve ’16 became Princeton’s highest-drafted player in the modern era when the Cleveland Browns selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He entered his third season with 70 receptions and three touchdowns for the Browns, where he plays tight end. Chad Kanoff ’18, the reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, signed a contract with the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason and made the team’s practice squad.
The new partnership between the Ivy League and ESPN means that all Princeton home games, as well as Ivy League road games, will be streamed live on ESPN+; that partnership extends throughout all Princeton sports, meaning the majority of Princeton home games will be streamed at ESPN+. A monthly ($4.99) or yearly ($49.99) subscription is less expensive than the Ivy League Network subscription would be, and it gives you access to the full platform of live events and other features of ESPN+.
Princeton will make its return to ESPNU later this season as well; the Tigers will head to New York City Sept. 28 to face Columbia at 6 pm.
There will be two weekly podcasts during the football season for Princeton fans. The “Original Eleven” returns for its second season, and it will be available at the beginning of each game week (typically Monday, Tuesday at the latest) to recap the previous game and chat with a member of the team. The new “Bob Surace Show” will be available on Thursday nights, and it will be a replay of the radio show held each Thursday at Alchemist & Barrister at Princeton.
You can have both podcasts downloaded automatically — as well as the full library of Princeton Athletics podcasts — by subscribing to “Princeton Tigers.”
Coach ‘Em Up
Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90, the 2016 Ivy League Coach of the Year, is a three-time
finalist for FCS National Head Coach of the Year honors. He is one of two men to win an Ivy League championship as both a player (1989) and a head coach (2013/2016).
The Crystal Ball
Princeton will make its home debut next Saturday, Sept. 22, when it faces Monmouth at 4:30 pm on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. This will be the first meeting between the two New Jersey programs, and it will be the first of two 2017 NCAA tournament teams (Lehigh is the other) that Princeton will face over a three-week span. Sept. 22 will be Community & Staff Day at Princeton Stadium, and it will begin with a free youth clinic with various Princeton athletic teams from 3-4 pm. Tickets can be purchased on GoPrincetonTigers.com.