Princeton Piling on the Threats
BY JAY GREENBERG
Charlie Volker scored 14 touchdowns last season by pushing the pile, the exception being the time there was no pile, just 96 yards of clear sailing on a quick opener at Brown, the longest run in Princeton history.
So we’ll give it to you straight, just like Volker runs the ball. Princeton has a freshman, Tre Gray, who gets through a hole even faster than the offensive line goes through Lynn Volker’s banana bread on the bus home from Providence. Bob Surace, Offensive Coordinator Sean Gleeson and Running Backs Coach Jamel Mutunga may be the guys with the playing time, but Mom has made Volker the guy with the banana bread, which gives him a certain sway with the offensive line, mostly because of the big reward inside the foil.
It was a sweet ride home for sure, with more to come in 2018. But now that Princeton has three new starters on the offensive line, it begs the question: How soon do they get to eat?
“Everything gets earned around here,” laughs Volker.
That includes compliments.
“Gotta love Tre,” says Volker. “Great vision, and shifty too,”
Holy Chuck Dibilio! This kid can run. But of course Gray has to be good in the. . . we’ll call them the Gray areas of pass protection and route running, if he expects to be on the field sooner rather than later. He already is in the mix to return kicks but, for all his inarguable flash, he needs a grinder’s soul to earn time from scrimmage. There is a pile of backs ahead of Gray, including junior Ryan Quigley and sophomore Collin Eaddy, who remain pushing Volker, All-Ivy second team a year ago.
Eaddy darted 32 yards for a put away touchdown at Harvard, averaged a gaudy six yards per in his 63 carries. The line forms behind him for who becomes the first option after Volker graduates in June.
“Collin has really improved in all the areas that freshmen usually struggle–pass pro, route-running, catching the ball,” said Surace. “A true runner in high school like he was doesn’t have to do all that.”
Gray had an injury his senior year that caused a lot of schools, including FBS ones, to recruit elsewhere. This was to Princeton’s good fortune, and possibly to Gray’s too, as he was used in less pounding ways. He learned to be a receiver. And after catching the ball? Well, they can’t teach just anybody what Gray does then.
“Terrific vision,” said Surace. “He can read a linebacker or safety and set blocks up. We’ve had guys who had the vision to do that, but not this kind of acceleration to make it pay off.
“In practice we’ve seen Tre set up a block and then flash for a run that only elite backs do. He just has to keep working at picking up the offense.”
In the meantime, Gray’s receiving ability should give him some role. Similar versatility certainly hasn’t hurt Quigley, who had by far the most receptions of any Princeton running back last season–21—adding value to his four yards per carry. No mere placeholder is he. As a freshman Quigley ran 50 yards for a touchdown at Cornell.
If sophomore E.J. Caldwell, first team All-Ohio Division I, continues to progress with the details, it will give Princeton four backs to trust, which is what a team probably needs for rotation and fourth-quarter freshness purposes.
Last season, the only games missed by the backs were one each by Volker and Quigley. At a position that collects tolls, this is not likely to happen again, although Volker reported to camp with his best body yet, putting on five lean, mean pounds to get up to 220.
“Charlie has been more decisive the last week-and-a-half of camp,” said Surace. “And he’s not making mental errors.
“Up five pounds, stronger than ever, and hasn’t lost a step.”
All-Ivy second team, bidding for first.
“I was here all summer working at the library again, which means I had a lot more time for football and lifting in the mornings and throwing with John (quarterback Lovett) in the afternoons,” Volker said. “I worked on mobility with the strength coaches and trying to get my hands loosened up a bit more, things I hadn’t focused on as much in the past.”
There is no catch to it. Surace and Offensive Coordinator Sean Gleeson love a back with sure hands. It can get you on the field fast. Increasingly in the Ivy League, the slow should not apply.
Butler, Princeton’s opening opponent Saturday night in Indianapolis, beat NAIA school Taylor, 31-17 on Saturday to go 2-0… Monmouth, Princeton’s September 22 foe, smashed Hampton, 56-28 to even its record at 1-1… FCS power Villanova outclassed Lehigh (1-1), the Tigers’ final non-league opponent, 31-9.