However You Slice It, A Good Taste Further Whets the Appetite

  • August 19, 2019

BY JAY GREENBERG

If, like most, you believe Princeton’s football team has the toughest of acts to follow in 2019, then you’re in agreement with whoever cooked the next meal for any of about 50 players after they piled into Lisa and Bob Surace’s home a couple weeks ago. Hungry guys ­– in more ways the one – who had stayed near campus this summer to work out, were rewarded with a delicious load of carbs and another cautionary tale.

A year ago the Tigers returned so many All-Ivy caliber players that they suspected their greatest enemy probably would be themselves.  To not be entrapped by the expectations of others–and in this case they were legitimate– the players adopted the catch phrase,  ‘Don’t take the cheese,” all the way through that being engraved on the inside of their undefeated Ivy League championship rings.

As soon as the underclassmen gathered for the first time on the Monday following Thanksgiving, Surace began telling the 2019 Tigers that they were 0-0. So at the Surace’s for dinner, when asked if they wanted any Parmesan to sprinkle on their pasta, they figured it had to be a trick. Coming off 10-0, the Beaufort d’Ete of seasons, more than ever this is no time to take the cheese. Got it?

That’s become much more the problem of Yale, which, loaded with more returnees than Princeton or anybody, is picked to win in this year’s preseason Ivy media poll, for whatever that is worth. Not much, really, since somehow Princeton, though clearly loaded, was not the pre-season favorite a year ago.  In the wake of their best season of the 63-year-old Ivy era, the Tigers, who were picked third behind Dartmouth, gather for camp on Friday re-setting their own bar, which is to be 1-0 after Butler on September 21 at Princeton Stadium.

“I think that if you ask people, what is one thing I am good at, it’s turning the page,” said Surace.  “It’s also engrained in most athletes and coaches that you celebrate the victories, but what’s next always is on your mind. 

“You constantly live in the moment. That’s one of the prime parts of the challenge – to maintain consistency.  And that starts with coaches and trickles down to the captains and seniors and beyond. 

“We had a lot of fun with the saying ‘Don’t take the cheese’. Be gracious when someone is complimenting you, but know there is a big picture. The reality is, when you go into a meeting or practice, you flip a switch.

“I think our seniors are doing a really good job of stepping up into (leadership) roles. [Coaches] are not allowed to see these guys (on the field) until camp begins (Friday), but Mike Tufo (the strength and conditioning coach) said they are pushing each other.  

“Maybe Tom Johnson ’19 or John Lovett ’19 was more vocal, these guys are more leading by example. But as time goes by that changes.  John Orr ’20, Jake Strain ’20, Graham Adomitis ’20, Andrew Griffin’20, Kevin Davidson, and T.J. Floyd ’20 have had good examples set for them by upperclassmen and have been tremendous role models and leaders. 

“Most of the players have heard this from me: One of my biggest regrets is that through my junior year, I recognized (senior) Jason Garrett as the leader and stayed in my lane. So I have tried to create an environment where leadership isn’t just on the seniors. T.J., Jeremiah Tyler ’21 and Collin Eaddy ’21 have been outstanding. Almost every guy we have recruited was the captain of his high school team–out of 110 guys or so, at least 90 of them. They have that in them.”

In going undefeated, more than ever, you learn what is in you. So much for the assumption that an Ivy League team with a 10-game season and no playoff incentive can’t do better than 10-0 because the 2018 Tigers did. The perfect record was a manifestation of close-to-flawless preparation and execution. The Tigers suffered not a single slow start to a game, it was expected they would win. They were as penalty and error free as any team could ever be.

Only in one game, at Harvard, where penalties killed one second-quarter drive, and a couple of blown prevent defenses necessitated recovering a second onside kick, did the Tigers provide any aggravation for the persons rooting for them.  They never let up in games that were long over by halftime. When Princeton received a classic test in Week Eight against undefeated and heretofore equally dominating Dartmouth, the Tigers responded superbly, taking control of a grinding, physical war in the second half.

The real world holds high expectations for any Princeton grad. These guys may never be called upon for the rest of their lives to perform any better than they did in that Dartmouth game. This is why for the players who still have 10 or more games remaining in their careers, there is nothing daunting about the high standard they helped set.  Withdrawals can be made from that memory bank. The returnees know now just how good that good can be.

So who is afraid of a big, bad, 10-0 standard?  Because some of the very best players in program history–John Lovett ’19, Jesper Horsted ’19 and Stephen Carlson ’19 – are in NFL camps, a logical assumption is that the Tigers are going to have to do it this time drastically different.

Running backs Collin Eaddy ’21 and Tre Grey ’22 already have shown game-breaking talent and wide receivers Michael Polk ’22 and Andrei Iosivas ’22 have it as well. Davidson ’20, the author of a 299-yard passing performance a year ago in the one game that Lovett missed, throws a beautiful ball.  On defense, Joey DeMarco ’20, Sam Wright ’21, Jeremiah Tyler ’21 and eventually Johnson’s little brother James Johnson ’21 have Bushnell Trophy-level ability as well.

Depth has taken some unexpected hits. Consecutive best-in-the-FCS-or-close-to-it recruiting classes are especially strong on both lines. For players who were wanted by FBS programs, early opportunity knocks.

Every season since the program’s 2012 turnaround, the difference between 5-5 and an Ivy title has been injuries, so developing a rotation players will prove in the end to mean almost everything. There is work to be done, sure, but the Tigers will attack it with no fear of having created a monster here.

So to those grateful to have lived to see 2018 and trying to be real about an encore from the best Ivy season Princeton has ever had, these guys are determined that you not take that kind of cheese either.

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