Princeton Football’s Best Players of the Ivy League Era: Defense
By Jay Greenberg
(Second of three parts)
We continue with our committee-picked best Princeton performers of the Ivy League Era, part of the 150th anniversary celebration of both the program and college football.
Tim Boardman ’08 – One of the leaders of the 2006 championship team. First-team All-Ivy performer in 2007. Eight-and-a-half tackles for losses in his career, one of the most clutch being against Colgate in 2006 – it pushed the Raiders out of field goal range and forced overtime in what would be a 27-26 Tiger victory. “Tough guy (at only 5-10, 215) who owned it between the tackles,” said Roger Hughes, head coach from 2000 to 2009. “Loved to play and especially loved to blitz.”
Luke Catarius ’17 – Dominant senior season on one of Princeton’s best-ever defenses, resulting in a first-team All-Ivy selection. Led the team in tackles that year, including seven for a loss. “The best of all worlds – strong enough to play between the tackles and athletic to run sideline to sideline,” said Steve Verbit P05, H54, a Princeton assistant since 1986, “Luke was as tough a linebacker as we have had in any given year.”
Steve Cody ’12 – “Had the ability to hit and always send you the other way,” said Hughes. “He understood leverage; his hips always were in the right spot and he could run sideline to sideline. Had Steve not gotten hurt (broken leg) he would have played at the next level, no question.” Had 104 tackles – a decade high for a Princeton player – during his junior All–Ivy season, 10 of them for losses. “I thought Roger had left me two NFL players,” recalls Bob Surace ’90, who succeeded Hughes. “Caraun (Reid) ’14 got hurt and missed that year and Steve, our best player in camp, was lost the first game. When he came back (a year later) I don’t think his change-of-direction was the same, but he remained a tackling machine.”
Gene DeMorat ’93 – Overshadowed in the linebacking corps on the 1992 championship team by the presence of the great Aaron Harris, but not underappreciated. “Very physical, despite non-imposing (5-11, 215) size,” said Steve Tosches H83, H88, head coach from 1987 to 1999. “Excellent speed and quickness.” DeMorat had five sacks his senior season and was selected All-Ivy.
Anthony DiTommaso ’86 – Two-time first-team All-Ivy selection. “Had the athleticism of a defensive back,” said Verbit. Teams ran away from him, often to no avail. Lean and tall, not a classic linebacker build, but had the prototypical mentality for the position. “Would tackle you very hard,” said Doug Butler ’84, the quarterback in those years. “And from our first game as freshmen, Anthony pretty much was the leader on and off the field.”
Mark Fossati ’19 – Co-captain of Princeton’s first undefeated team in 54 years, one which dominated defensively despite the season-long absence of NFL prospect Kurt Holuba ’19. “Mark went beyond being a great tackler to an ability to play the pass sideline-to-sideline, bringing speed and energy to a tremendous defense,” said Surace. “His (first-team All-Ivy) senior year was one of the best we ever had at linebacker.”
Tim Greene ’98 – Two-time first-team All-Ivy
selection. “He could run like a deer and hit like a truck,” said Verbit. “Tim
was one of the more physical linebackers that ever played in Palmer Stadium. Blocked
a punt as a freshman, recovered late in the game in the end zone, to beat
Bucknell. Had 16 tackles for a loss his senior season.
Aaron Harris ’93 – On the Mount Rushmore of Princeton linebackers, a two-time first-team All-Ivy choice. “A linebacker that size (6-3, 235) was really ahead of his time in our league,” recalls Verbit. “Aaron could play without his hand on the ground because of a great knee bend that made him impregnable to low body blocks.” Fierce mentality left the A-Train relentlessly causing wrecks. Had 17 tackles as Princeton won its opener at Dartmouth in 1992, a key win in a title year. Totaled 115 tackles his junior season.
Rohan Hylton ’17 – Three-year starter and an anchor with Kurt Holuba on the 2016 Ivy championship defense that averaged only 11 points allowed over the final eight contests. “The fastest linebacker we’ve had since I’ve been coaching here; no blocker could get a proper angle on him,” said Surace. “He made one big play after another.”
Tom Johnson ’19 – Two-time first-team All-Ivy. Co-captain with Fossati on Princeton’s first 10-0 team in over 100 years. “Tom was to our defense what (quarterback) John Lovett ’19 was to our offense,” said Surace. “He was one of the three or four best defensive players in the league as a junior and even better as a senior. We put a lot on his plate by moving him to the inside and making him the guy who did the checks. And Tom did everything in a dominant way.”
Zak Keasey ’05 – “One of the strongest inside linebackers ever for us,” said Verbit. “And because he ran untypically well for an inside guy, we doubled him as an edge rusher in nickel situations.” Two-time first-team All-Ivy selection.
Stas’ Maliszewski ’66 – An iconic figure in the program. Freakishly quick, stunningly relentless, and domineeringly physical two-way star of three Princeton teams that went 24-3, winning two titles in his three seasons. With Cosmo Iacavazzi ’65 and Keith Elias ’94, Staś is one of only three repeat All-Americans in Princeton’s Ivy era. In program history, only Dave Patterson ’96, is considered in Maliszewski’s class as a linebacker. Even after the NCAA loosened substitution rules in 1964 to allow for two platoons, Maliszewski still was used as an offensive guard.
Joe Parsons ’73 –“A tough hombre,” said Bill Cronin ’74, an offensive lineman in Parsons’ time. “Not an overly big guy (6-0, 208) but physical, probably related to the fact that he also was boxer. I can remember some scraps he got into at Blairstown (training camp) and that he also played through some injuries.” Two-time All–Ivy selection, first-team as a senior.
Dave Patterson ’96 – Generally acknowledged with Maliszewski as the greatest defensive presence in Princeton’s Ivy era. Princeton’s all-time leading tackler with 352, 25 of them for losses. One of only six Ivy defensive players to win the Bushnell Cup as league’s most valuable player between the award’s inception in 1970 and 2008, when it was divided into yearly offensive and defensive honors. Three-time All-Ivy choice, twice first-team. Had six career interceptions and a 52-yard touchdown return off a recovered fumble to beat Dartmouth in 1994, “The best I ever have been around,” said Verbit. “Physical, athletic & fearless. He terrified the opposition on every play in every game.”
Chris Roser-Jones ’02 – “Nobody could block him off the edge,” said Hughes. “He could cover the flat and flatten any receiver in it”. Recorded 17 tackles for a loss in his career and tipped 16 passes. Two-time All-Ivy choice, first-team in 2001, and the rare exceptional blitzer and run stuffer who was just as adept dropping into coverage. “Exceptional ball skills,” said Verbit. “Had a knack for making the big interception (10 his final two seasons).”
Vic Ruterbusch ’83 – Ultra-aggressive inside linebacker, co-captain and first-team All-Ivy performer. ”Tough, relentless, and had a great sense for knowing where the ball was going,” said teammate Steve Simcox ’83, current president of the Princeton Football Association. “Vic ran sideline to sideline and punished everyone he hit.”
Andrew Starks ’13 – Recruited as a quarterback, moved to safety and then SAM. Starks’ versatility, leadership and performance as a senior captain was instrumental in a turnaround for the program. Had 96 tackles as a senior; none of the four other linebackers from the Surace era on his list ever had more. “Good at the point of attack but really good in space,” said Surace. “Andrew set a tone that lingers in what we have done since.”
Justin Stull ’06 – First two-time Princeton captain in 103 years, not only knew the right thing to say but the right place to be. “Very instinctual,” said Hughes. “He could diagnose plays before they happened and was very physical, too.” Three-time All-Ivy performer, twice first-team. “Tough against the inside run, but fast enough to capture the quickest running back trying to get the ball outside,” said Verbit.
Brig Walker ’07 – “Every time a play was made he was one of the guys doing it,” said Hughes. All-Ivy in 2006 after recording eight solo tackles in the victory over unbeaten Yale, when Princeton, down 14 at the half, held the Bulldogs to just three points in the second half. Had 11 tackles for a loss that championship season. “A special combination of speed and size on the outside,” said Verbit.
Matt Whalen ’88 – Tough and physically-gifted inside and outside linebacker who proved a leader among leaders in an extraordinary time. “By keeping the ship afloat after the (August) death of (Coach) Ron Rogerson, Matt changed the football history at Princeton,” said Surace. “Without his leadership, no way we win six games that year (1987) and who knows whether (interim coach) Steve Tosches would have gotten the job (and won three titles in seven seasons). I never blocked a guy in practice who more loved football and was more contagious than Matt. He was an inspiration.”
Mike Zeuli ’15 – Quick and incessant Bushnell-winning force in 2014. Two-time All-Ivy selection. Whirlwind play-making safety bulked up to fill a need and became better than ever as linebacker. “We blitzed him often in the confidence he would find his way through,” said Surace. “It was like having another D-lineman. Watching him go against (offensive Bushnell winner) Tyler Varga was like a heavyweight championship match. (Varga carried 26 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns, Zeuli had 12 tackles, two-and-a-half for losses). Mike was as good a competitor as I’ve coached, pro or college.”
Jimmy Archie ’97 – Physical two-time All-Ivy safety “His talents and career developed each year,” said Tosches. End zone interception at Penn in 1995 sealed win that enabled a title. Four picks his senior season. “Tackling machine,” said Verbit.
J.J. Artis ’07 – Cover machine. “Tremendous man-to-man skills,” said Hughes. “An eraser, one of best talents at any position in my time at Princeton.” First-team All-Ivy in the 2006 title season. Six career interceptions.
Peter Bartlett ’77
–Quick, agile for his size (6-1, 190) and tough
safety-cornerback who distinguished himself as a superior tackler by being
named All-Ivy in a season (1976) the Tigers won only two games. “Big, hard
hitting, safety that filled the alley,” said Verbit.
Dean Cain ’88 – Played Superman on television. Impersonated him on the field, too, with a Princeton best-ever 22 career interceptions in just three seasons, 12 his senior year. Recorded three picks in one game three times. Opponents threw away from him of course, and Princeton’s greatest-ever free safety still made plays. “Incredible instincts, athleticism and underrated as a tackler,” said teammate Surace. First-team All-American and two-time first-team All-Ivy. “Physical and smart, there was not a ball in the air that he did not believe was his to catch,” said Verbit.
Keith Ducker ’93 – First-team All-Ivy safety on the 1992 championship team. “As athletic as they possibly come,” said Mark Harriman, the defensive coordinator of the ’92 title team. Also as fearless, being a relentless hitter despite weighing barely 185 pounds. Had four sacks as a junior. “Strong forcing the run and athletic in space versus the pass,” said Verbit.
Anthony Gaffney ’16 – One of the program changing recruits of the Surace era, used not only as corner but a kick returner and even a receiver. Had nine career interceptions. “One of the better ball-skills corners we’ve had,” said Surace. “And he sparked us when we needed it.” Princeton had lost 20 of Surace’s first 22 games when Gaffney returned the opening kickoff at Columbia 94 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers won 33-6 to start a 5-game winning streak and record first non-losing season in seven years.
James Gales ’17 – First-team All-Ivy in Princeton’s title season of 2016. “Had a shutdown senior year that rivaled any a Princeton defensive back ever has had”, said Surace. “For eight weeks James did it as well as (Damani ’98) Leech, (Jay ’06) McCareins and (Frank ’90) Leal–at the highest tier.” During that run had interceptions in three consecutive weeks.
Mike Hirou ’91 – One of the most feared defenders in program history. “Somebody blind could have known who made the play at the sound of a hit by Mike Hirou,” said teammate Surace. “And then that particular play wouldn’t be run anymore. He was as strong and physical at the point of attack as anyone I’ve been around on any level and the best strong safety in my Princeton experience until Dorian Williams ’17.” Two-time first-team All-Ivy performer. Four sacks and two interceptions as a senior.
Doug James ’67– “Excellent defender with speed to play man-to-man,” recalls Bob Casciola ’58 an assistant coach then who became head coach from 1973-79. And, despite a slight 180 pounds, a “tough, sure hitter, who was a run stuffer,” as remembered by linebacker and classmate Ron Grossman. One of Princeton’s all- time best as a returner, too, and even improvised a two-point conversion pass to get the Tigers back into the game in an upset of Harvard that enabled a share of the 1966 title.
Kevin Kongslie ’03 – Safety who was around the ball–and therefore in the heads–of opposing Ivy coaches who voted him first-team All-Ivy. “Opponents knew where he was all the time,” said Hughes. Five interceptions and four tackles for losses as a senior. “Terrific ball skills and outstanding tackler,” said Verbit.
Frank Leal ’90 – Probably the best cover corner in program history. “Put No. 26 on a wide receiver and his game was over,” said Verbit. “Unique length (6-0) and coverage skills.” Two-time first-team All-Ivy selection. Sixteen career interceptions, three against Yale in 1988. “Some of the interceptions were highlight-reel worthy,” said teammate Surace. “He caught the ball as well as any receiver we have had.”
Damani Leech ’98 – Two-time first-team All-Ivy safety
with outstanding ball skills. Had 20 interceptions in his career, second to
Cain all-time. “Would lull quarterbacks to sleep but always be in position to
go up and take the ball away,” said Verbit.
Tom Ludwig ’98 – “Had a sixth sense of when the ball was coming out of the quarterbacks’ hands,” said Verbit. Safety recorded a spectacular seven interceptions after injuries forced him into the starting lineup as a freshman. He had three picks against Harvard, and totaled 14 for his career. Also recorded a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Brian Mangene ’94 – Leader of the secondary on the ’92 title team and the ’93 club that took its title chase to the final game. First-team All-Ivy in 1993. “Never out of position,” said Keith Ducker ’93. “Super fast, super smart. He taught us all to think about things situationally.”
Keith Mauney ‘70 – One of only two Princeton defenders (with Maliszewski) named to the first team of the Silver Anniversary All–Ivy team selected in 1981. “Always could count on him to be very near where the ball was,” said classmate Ellis Moore, an All-Ivy tailback. “He had a great sense for what was going on around him.”
Jay McCareins ’06 – In a two-man cornerback class with Leal as all-time, all-Princeton. Eighteen interceptions in a three-time All-Ivy career, twice first-team, and All-American his senior season. “Probably the best overall player I coached at Princeton,” said Hughes. “He could cover man or zone.” Too skilled to not have on the field, McCareins caught three passes in a game-winning two-minute drill at Columbia and made this list as a returner too, plus had a PAT block. “Great length, unbelievable ball skills, tremendous quickness and change of direction,” said Verbit. “A true lockdown corner.”
Eric Robinson ’85 – First-team All-Ivy corner as a senior. Had 10 career interceptions. “Quick and athletic,” said teammate DiTommaso. “Found his way to the ball.”
Don Roth ’65 – “Had size, strength, speed and a sense for the game,” said teammate Maliszewski. “Knew how to stop the ballcarrier.” First-team All-Ivy in 1964, when he was critical cog in a defense that had four straight shutouts and allowed fewer than six points a game during an undefeated season. Multiple letterwinner in lacrosse and basketball, where he was sixth man on the Tigers’ 1965 Final Four basketball team.
Tim Strickland ’07 – Safety was one of the biggest-play defensive backfield performers in Princeton’s Ivy-era history, starting with significant contributions as a freshman. All-Ivy first-team his senior year, when Strickland had an extraordinary 14 pass break-ups, three of them (plus a tackle for a loss) in the Yale showdown for the Ivy title. Also had on overtime interception against Cornell as a junior, setting up the winning field goal. “Always around the ball,” said Hughes. “Very explosive, great change of direction and ability to react. When you needed a big play, you believed he would be there to shut it down.”
Bruce Wayne ’68 – Only junior member of the 1966 championship starting secondary, remembered as one of the best in school history. Became senior leader in ’67, when voted first-team All-Ivy. “Excellent defender of both the pass and the run,” said Grossman. “Good football instincts.”
Dorian Williams ’17 – Rare three-time All–Ivy selection and even more exceptionally, a difference maker on two Princeton championships. One of the harder hitters and smarter defenders ever to grace a Tiger secondary. “You could put Dorian anywhere – over the best slot receivers man-to-man or have him fill the alley – and he could tackle as well as anyone I have been around,” said Surace. “He made plays with an emotional impact. The hit that separated the Yale quarterback (Kurt Rawlings) from the ball (in 2016) ended any doubt in that (31-3) victory.”
Carl Barisich ’73 – Dominant tackle named to the Silver Anniversary All-Ivy team. Nine-year player in the NFL. “Was 6-4 and ran a 4.9 and, with some practice, might have even been even faster,” said Bill Cronin, teammate and All-Ivy guard. “And strong; he threw around a 35-pound weight in the winter. I can remember Harvard going from double teaming him to even triple teaming Big, fast, just a handful, almost unblockable.”
Mike Catapano ’13 – Bushnell Cup winner born too soon to play on any of the three title teams in this era but just in time to make all things possible that followed. “Nobody played with the intensity Mike did,” said Surace. “From the weight room to the practice field to Saturdays, his energy was an inspiration for turning around the program.” Lightly-recruited high school running back developed his body and technique into a five year NFL career, ultimate tribute to his dedication.
Ned Elton ’87 – Captain and All-Ivy selection. “Undersized lineman (6-2, 220), played big on each and every play,” said Verbit. “Tremendous leader, giving 100 per cent was the only thing he knew.”
Rick Emery ’90 – Edge rusher who terrorized quarterbacks in defined passing situations. “He brought a nasty disposition to each and every play,” said Verbit. First-team All-Ivy as Tigers ended a 20-year title drought. Three-year starter. Had 16 sacks combined in final two seasons. “Long (6-4), with great hands to knock down passes, and so good at the point of attack, too,” said Surace. “He disrupted the quarterback every game for three years. “
Pete Funke ’79 – Two-time All–Ivy selection, first-team in 1978. “Great quickness enabled him to be a top pass rusher,” said Casciola. “Tough, dependable and consistent pressure from the inside.”
David Ferrara ’00 – Two-time first-team All-Ivy
selection. “He could beat an offensive tackle with size, speed or quickness,”
said Verbit. “Great technician who had a
knack for getting to the ball.” Had 17 sacks junior and senior years combined.
Reggie Harris ’94 – One of the quickest D-linemen in program history. Three-year anchor on teams that went 24-6 and two-time first-team All-Ivy selection. Captain in 1993, when he recorded 5.5 sacks. “Cannot remember him ever getting blocked one-on-one,” said Verbit. “And a tremendous leader.”
Bob Hews ’70 – Huge (6-6) for his day–or any day. Excellent feet, good technique and 245 pounds of toughness carried this tackle to first-team All-Ivy honors and Princeton to a league title his senior season.
Steve Hillegeist ’90 – Came from the inside while Emery did from the outside. Met at the quarterback for a first championship in 20 years. Eight sacks that year. “Really small (220 pounds) for an interior player but had the quickest first step of anybody I played with or coached,” said Surace. “ So athletic you couldn’t get your hands on him and if you did, he’d use leverage to push you into the backfield.”
Kurt Holuba ’19 – Bushnell runner-up as a sophomore seemed to have plenty of time to win the award, but not nearly enough luck as ACL blew out twice. Quick, strong, and studious. “Kurt spent more time learning technique from film and in the weight room developing strength than anybody,” said Surace. “He was going to be a longtime NFL player.” Shed disappointment like blockers, tearfully addressing the team two days after his devastating relapse, promising to be there for them and challenging them to go 10-0 without him, which they did with the help of his daily mentoring. “He somehow found a way to be as good a leader as I ever have been around at any level,” said Surace. “I don’t know if I ever have respected anyone more than Kurt.”
Brian Kazan ’94 – “One of the great speed rushers in our history and an angry player who brought an edge every day on the field,” said Verbit. “Had he not gotten hurt, he would have played on Sundays. An ACL tear in those days really required two years and he came back in one and gave us everything he had as a senior (and made second-team All-Ivy). Still (had seven sacks) but wasn’t the same.”
Mike Kincaid ’73 – “We nicknamed him ‘Grit’ because he had plenty of it,” said Cronin ’74. “I remember him playing through a broken hand wearing a mitt. He wouldn’t think of missing a game. Mike would switch with Barisich sometimes going to the inside, and Carl to the outside. They were quite the combination–Barisich more emotional, Mike a quiet leader and our captain.” Kincaid had 35 unassisted tackles as a junior, when he was voted All-Ivy, and three fumble recoveries as a senior, when he was named first-team.
Tim Kirby ’04 – “We recruited him as a linebacker,” said Hughes. “Once he got used to carrying that extra weight (up to 230), Tim developed into an unbelievable player, captain and leader.” Two-time All-Ivy selection (17 tackles for a loss both years combined) and first-team choice as a senior. “Possessed all the attributes,” said Verbit. “He grew into one of the most dominating linemen in our history.”
Walt Kozumbo ’67 – Rare sophomore starter for his day on the 1964 undefeated team. Also was captain and first-team All-Ivy as a senior, when he rallied the Tigers from a mid-season crisis with an inspired talk and then made a stop on a fourth-and-two at the Princeton 22 that preserved a win over heavily-favored Harvard and got the Tigers back into the race. “Great physical strength and play-reading ability,” said Grossman.
Jake Marshall ’07 – “He played through excruciating back pain his senior year that prevented him from practicing much,” said Hughes. “And still in games he would take two guys and put them back into the quarterback. He was a great kid with a mean streak who dominated centers every week and never wanted to let his teammates down.” Had 35 tackles that season, five for a loss, and was selected All-Ivy. “He made an unbelievable stop in the backfield on a fourth-and-one at Harvard,” recalls Verbit. “Tremendous strength, work ethic, and especially that year, toughness.”
Jim Nixon ’70 – Perfect outside compliment to Hews on the championship team of 1969, when both were first-team All-Ivy. “His nickname was Mad Dog and he earned it,” said Moore. “Enthusiastic, quick and never quit. A very tough guy to block and a great team player, too.”
Darrell Oliveira ‘96 – “As good an edge pass rusher as the Ivy League ever has had,” said Verbit. First team All-Ivy two years, when he had 16 sacks combined.
Jim Petrucci ’86 – Wiry-and-wired–anchor in the middle of the line. Surrendered nothing besides the 10-15 pounds on the offensive linemen he usually was going against. “Played with an edge,” said Verbit. “Had a never-ending will to win.” Started as a sophomore and All-Ivy as a senior (when he had nine sacks), and a leader even as a freshman. “Jim was the grown up in our class from Day One; an old soul, mature and serious,” said quarterback Doug Butler ’86. “He might still be our class leader today”.
Mark Petruzziello ’85 – A high school quarterback with a build to match. Went to the weight room to barely reach 215 pounds but make himself into a first-team All-Ivy interior lineman. Missed much of his junior year with an injury, and then had seven sacks as a senior. “An overachiever,” said classmate Eric Dreiband ’86, an offensive lineman. “He did this on determination and technique, developing quite a following of persons who respected him as a leader.”
Caraun Reid ’14 – “Even with three guys blocking him sometimes and playing hurt through his senior year besides, he was as dominant a player as we have had,” said Surace. “Watching him on film, you knew he was the best defensive player in the conference, even if he never won the Bushnell.” Princeton’s only three-time first- team All-Ivy selection, now signed for a sixth season in the NFL. “Rare combination of size (6-2, 305) to stop the run and exceptional quickness which allowed him to get home versus the pass,” said Verbit.
Jim Renna ’94 – Dominant first-team All-Ivy interior presence; one of the strongest defensive linemen ever on the field of Palmer Stadium. “Nasty mentality,” said Verbit. “The only colors he liked were black and orange.” Eight sacks as a senior.
Bob Saunders ’72 – Ultra-reliable anchor who called little attention to himself, and yet still wasn’t overshadowed by Barisich, earning a first-team All-Ivy berth.
Paul Savidge ’66 -Two-time first-team All-Ivy performer who paired with Maliszewski to produce perhaps the fiercest one-two defensive combination in school history. Tigers went 17-1 during their junior and senior seasons, giving up 7.5 points per game and pitching seven shutouts. Selected to the 1981 Silver Anniversary All-Ivy team, Savidge was a savage rusher and run defender with a legendary pain threshold. He remained in the 1965 season finale–a title-showdown–against Dartmouth–for two plays after suffering a broken neck and made a tackle before spending the next four months in traction.
Ted Schiller ’77 – All-East selection, in addition to first-team All-Ivy. “Great football sense and awareness,” said Casciola. “Best tackle in the league.” Would have been almost a certain two-time selection had he not been hampered by injuries, according to Frank Vuono ’78, tight end, and former president of the Princeton Football Association. “Not a rah-rah guy,” said Vuono. “But when he spoke, teammates listened.”
Henry Schlossberg ’17 – Nose tackle that developed into one of the most feared D-linemen in the league and a lynchpin of the 2016 defense, one of the school’s all-time best. “This guy came as far in four years as anybody we’ve had,” said Surace. “By his senior season he was seeing double teams like Caraun. Henry had good length (6-4) and lateral movement. By the time he put on 35 pounds (to 280) he was dominant.”
Greg Sotereanos ’14 – “Was a nightmare for centers,” said Surace. “At a (nose) position that does not produce great numbers of tackles and defensive stars, Greg was domineering, taking up two guys.” Verbit calls Sotereanos the best technician on the D-line during his 33 years in the program. And there are records (a 495- pound bench press) in a weight room cabinet suggesting he was the strongest.
Dan Swingos ’99 – Highly recruited edge rusher with length and will to make long days for offensive tackles. “Passion to get to the quarterback and a tremendous leader,” said Verbit. First-team All-Ivy with eight tackles for a loss his senior year. “Dan had a little bit of everything – toughness, size, quickness and strength,” said Tosches. “Was a great leader, too, on and off the field.”
Rob Vanden Noven ’89 –“Always in the backfield,” said Surace. “So quick, with such good leverage that trying to block him in practice made me a better player. Tremendous against the run from the start and became a very good pass rusher.” As a senior, first-team All-Ivy selection with five sacks.
Paul Van Pelt ’81 – Smart, aggressive and resolute defensive end who used film study to make up for his lack of size (6-0, 200) and become an All-Ivy selection and captain of the 1981 team. “Smart and tough,” said guard Peter Bastone ’80. Nine sacks for his career.
Joe Weiss ’04 – In a tandem with Kirby gave Princeton perhaps the greatest bookends one of its defensive lines ever has enjoyed. Weiss led the Ivies in tackles for a loss (18) as a junior, when he made first-team All-Ivy. Repeated as a senior. “Quick first move, used his hands well, and, coming from a family of coaches, was like a coach on the field,” said Hughes. “Plus, he was one of the best public speakers I ever heard as a student and did a phenomenal job talking to recruits.”
Criteria and Methodology
A committee of 18 selectors was chosen to provide knowledge of all players dating from the beginning of the formal Ivy League era in 1956 through 2018. The members were picked primarily because of their intimate knowledge of players of their time–either playing with or coaching them–but ideally the selectors had stayed close enough to the program after leaving Princeton to be of help with comparing performers over many years.
To provide a starting point–and refresh the committee members’ memories–each was given a list of every Princeton first and second-team All-Ivy honorees. Nominations were begun without a specific number of choices at a position as a goal, hoping a fair cutoff between the average and the excellent would become clear as we added. And it did.
Quickly almost everyone on the committee became in agreement that something more inclusive than a list of already-repeatedly-honored All-Americans should be the final product. The greatest of the greats could have been chosen without a committee: the strong consensus was to make 150th anniversary celebration of the program inclusive of the best players of every period.
Hard choices were inevitable and would have been exacerbated by the task of designating first-teams, second-teams, and third-teams. That idea quickly was dropped out of concern for too many bruised feelings by people important to the program. So the lists are alphabetical, the thumbnails making it clear who were the greatest of the greats, just in case anybody doesn’t already know.
After the obvious picks were quickly completed, the committee moved on to the next group, one which composes the majority of names on our lists: Players who excelled in their time. And that’s where the committee did its best work in steadfastly excluding a third level consisting of solid performers, good teammates and lifelong friends. When subsequent challenges developed over names on or off the list, a further vetting process was begun both inside the committee and out –many of the members making extra calls to contemporaries of the players being discussed and soliciting confidential opinions.
The number of players at each position may seem arbitrary. But gradually, our early cutoffs of, for example, 30 offensive linemen became unsustainable and, in the end, counterproductive to producing the most credible lists. At any point in the process, a round number was used more as a cutoff than as a quota. And the farther the committee proceeded, the goal morphed into picking the best players, not a pre-set best 20, 30 or 40 at a position.
If upon further examination, it turned out a tight end didn’t quite measure up, there was no necessity found to replace him just to bring the number back to 10. When some obvious oversights of offensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs came to attention late in the process, the result was an unrounded, better list in our belief.
Throughout, we had to balance what was too many against too few. At first blush, 192 total honorees just since 1956 sounds like everybody is getting a trophy but that number averages just three players per year, inclusive of what was wanted—again, the best players of their times. Throughout, there were healthy cautions against getting carried away and some pressure to pare our lists further. Ultimately there were too many good players too close in abilities to make harsh cuts that would have been unfair and diminished, rather than enhanced, the quality of the lists.
Because there are as many opinions as there are persons in the world, inevitably there will be disagreement over some of the selections. But the effort was to distinguish between picks that might be debatable and ones completely unsustainable following closer scrutiny. In the committee’s opinion, that standard was held. For instance, a defensive back that was left off may been have been a greater contributor to a certain team than a linebacker we selected. But teammates had to keep in mind that we were judging players against others at their positions, not on the same squad.
We had other challenges – like weighing the more dominant position of two-way players from the one-platoon days before 1964, and changing natures of positions over time–like quarterback (a blocker in the single wing days) fullback and tight ends. In avoidance of the pressure to balance lists, we chose not to separate centers, guards and tackles or designate outside linebackers or distinguish between safeties and cornerbacks. Wanted were the best offensive linemen and secondary members period.
For players at the skill positions, their statistical places on Princeton’s all-time lists were, of course, a significant factor. But in that light, an attempt also was made to consider contexts like fewer balls thrown and fewer plays per game in the fifties and sixties. As another example, excellent running backs may have had their numbers suppressed in years Princeton had great throwing and receiving weapons. The committee tried to take all that into account, as it did team success. No disrespect was meant towards the ample excellent players on this list who were born at the wrong time to be a part of glory years. But of course, the better the team one played on, the more opportunity to make big plays. No losers on this list. But playing on winning teams necessarily carried weight.
As a player’s inclusion on an All-Ivy team only was a starting point in our evaluations, not a bottom line, there are scattered first-team selections who did not make our list. Conversely, there were a few players who only achieved honorable mention All-Ivy but with the benefit of time and perspective become almost no brainers for our selectors. Thus, the head coaches who vote for All-Ivy annually were only our grand jury. Superior Court Judge Bob Surace insisted no current player, his work unfinished, be selected, although some excellent current candidates will have appeal in 2069, when the 200thanniversary teams are honored.
The commitment of our committee to the process was even beyond expectations. The members’ willingness to work as a team was fully reflective of what they accomplished on the field and in life. These gentlemen, some who earned places on these lists, showed their love for Princeton and a deep respect for its history. Never did anyone push a good buddy over a better football player. Disagree as you likely will over some names on–or not on–this list, be assured that this was a sincere and painstaking attempt to separate the outstanding from the average. And that is a Princeton thing to do.
Coming Monday: The offensive honorees.