These Tight Ends Can Get Loose
BY JAY GREENBERG
Thanks to all the clock running the Tigers did in second halves a year ago, the good news is that only 133 catches are gone from the 2018 team. The bad news is that the cumulative total of receptions by the returning wideouts is 17, a number Jesper Horsted ’19 and Stephen Carlson ’19 could reach in one half with one hand, which it seems like they often did.
Woe to the 2019 Tigers, as they try to replace the irreplaceable, mulling options like 1) bursting into tears 2) calling it quits after just a short 149 years of football 3) returning to the single wing or more reasonable responses like 4) developing underclassmen as usual or 5) coming up with a weapon so devious that even Princeton’s record-smashing offenses of 2013, 2017 and 2018 didn’t much use it.
You may have heard of the tight end. At Princeton, he mostly gets discovered at the end of a title season when one is named All-Ivy for reasons that have little to do with touching the ball. When Graham Adomitis was selected by the Ivy coaches first team in 2018, following Scott Carpenter ’17 (Second Team, 2016) that made two in three years for the Tigers, despite a total of five touchdowns between Adomitis and Carpenter in the years they were honored.
The Tigers went 18-2 in those two seasons, which, just a sneaking suspicion, got noticed in the film rooms, so you have to hand it to the coaches. They notice these things. But for all the exemplary use by any primo tight ends of their legs and shoulders, they have hands — and feelings — too.
Adomitis, a man of great length (6-4) and professional-caliber speed–his 4.71 he ran in the 40 when last measured in the spring, is right there with the average speed for tight ends invited to the last five NFL scouting combines–went to great lengths in on-campus workouts this summer with quarterback Kevin Davidson to get his big, soft mitts on the pigskin more often in 2019.
“All great players want the ball,” said Adomitis, meaning he would like the opportunity to become one of those greats, provided, of course, it made sense for his team, which it now does.
The last Princeton tight end to catch 25 balls in a season was Harry Flaherty ’11 in 2010, who had exactly that many. Carpenter never totaled more than 24. Last year Adomitis had 10.
There was only one football to go to two of the best flankers ever to play at Princeton–Horsted arguably being the greatest–plus a quarterback who was virtually automatic running the ball into the end zone from inside the five. Of course one of the reasons John Lovett ’19 was a sure thing was because of Adomitis’s blocking. But we haven’t yet seen the handful he could be over the middle with those big hands of his. Being more than a little curious himself, Adomitis is using a medical redshirt to find out just how dynamic he can be.
“It’s been in the back of my mind since my (injured) freshman year that I might have this option,” he said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer. This might give me a chance to play at the next level. Plus I love my teammates and want to win another Ivy title.”
So do Bob Surace ’90 and newly promoted offensive coordinator Andy Aurich ’06, who, despite the graduations of Horsted and Carlson still are not bereft of weapons on the outside, even if you don’t know who they are just yet. Surace has raved about Andrew Griffin like he raved about the potential for Carlson before he exploded, seemingly out of nowhere, as a junior. In the grand tradition of mighty-mites that began with Dre Nelson ’16, Jacob Birmilen, will scat to some big plays, Dylan Classi will make a mark on his route running, body control and dependability, plus Michael Polk and Andre Iosivas have the wheels and hands to become stars.
But it’s not a stretch to suggest that stretching the field, not just the chains, will for the first time be in the domain of the tight ends; starting with Adomitis but not limited to him.
“Our big advantage was the difficulty teams had defending Steve and Jesper (one-on-one),” said Surace. “These tight ends we have can do the opposite–block inside but also give us some edges in the pass game that we haven’t had.
“We have recruited players who can add to that matchup problem. We’ll see if these young guys can take the next step.”
The marquee guys of a 2019 recruiting class judged best-in-the-FCS were some long and athletic defensive linemen, unless it was tight ends Carson Bobo, Caden Dumas and Harrison Caponiti. The athleticism of Caponiti, who blocked a punt as a freshman, has the coaches looking for various ways to get him on the field sooner rather than later. But at whatever position he winds up, the Tigers probably never have had this many tight ends to feature in an attack.
Directly behind Adomitis, Sam Johnson worked his way into two-tight end sets and in fact delivered the block with which Lovett slithered through for the winning touchdown against Dartmouth; gateway to an undefeated season. Johnson is back this fall, too.
Perhaps you never have heard of a three tight end set and frankly, neither has princetontigersfootball.com. But don’t put anything past these mad scientists who have given us two quarterbacks in the same backfield in winning three Ivy titles in six years. Bobo has the speed to play the slot. Offensive coordinators still traumatized by Horsted and Carlson may soon have a new nightmare, trying to find linebackers who can run with this Princeton army of tight ends.
If you want a clue into the possibilities of a precision passing game featuring tight ends and backs, watch the Patriots, who haven’t always needed a home run threat to go to nine Super Bowls in the Bill Belichick era.
“I’m hoping we will continue to be more versatile,” said Surace.
“Sam Johnson has done a phenomenal job (on the goalline). With Graham taking a fifth year, [Johnson] got more snaps in the spring and did very well with them. We recruited him as a player similar to Carpenter, maybe not of that ideal length for a tight end, but still a strong guy with really good hands.
“Bobo is a tremendous athlete who has worked really hard to get stronger.
Dumas is physical. From the middle of the season on, I thought he was one of our most improved players and he took another step in the spring.”
Off the field, Adomitis spent the summer doing a marketing internship for a coffee company. It wasn’t the one “good to the last drop” as drop is not a word you want to use around a receiver. But the Tigers are brewing something you don’t get out of a vending machine at a gas station.
Work, work, work preaches Mike Willis ’14, who is headed into his fourth season as tight end coach. But sure, when he talks about these guys, it’s clear Willis isn’t drinking the decaf.
“Bobo had a tremendous spring,” said the coach. “Of that (sophomore) group he demonstrated the best knowledge of the offense and was in the best shape. At base talent, Carson probably is more dynamic as a pass catcher than the others and has added strength. But he’s never played at crunch time and there’s still a lot of work to do.
“Dumas and Caponiti are bigger guys, strong at the point of attack and with good hands. Dumas has put on 35 pounds, up to 260, to become the biggest tight we have had here and is still moving well. The question is: Who is going to come along fastest in the blocking role? Blocking still is the first criteria for a tight end.”
Pay It Forward Dept:
As seniors continue to pass along into Year 10 of the Surace era a culture in the weight room, the coach says this year’s team reported in the best condition of all. “By far this is he most guys we have had lifting over 1,000 pounds (in three different categories),” he said. “It’s the strongest team we’ve had since keeping records.
“Our run test (series of sprints) is really challenging and the number who passed is even higher than last year.”