The JT Surely Doesn’t Stand for Just Typical

  • September 10, 2019

BY JAY GREENBERG

Asked what is his favorite part of playing linebacker, Jeremiah Tyler says absolutely, positively that it is stuffing the run.  “I like going against the big guys, sticking my head in there, getting my hands dirty,” he said.

Nothing beats that, unless it is playing the pass; undeniably, categorically, indisputably, what Tyler, when he comes to think about it sometimes, loves the most. “Dropping back into coverage is my most favorite,” he said ten seconds later.

 “Actually I like it all.   I have a good time out here.”

It shows every day, when the Tigers best defensive player is also among their most vocal.  Jeremiah Tyler can play back, he can attack and he can yak, which in addition to his athleticism, instincts, strength, and dedication makes him a Bushnell Cup candidate, but primarily a guy intent on being 1-0 in another 11 days.

You can see and feel every day that practice is not just a means to an end with the Tigers. It is an expression of love for the game that filters down from the top of the talent chain through the roster, and has become transferable season to season.

“I had a great time last year,” Tyler said. “It was memorable, and the most fun part was practice.

“We push ourselves a lot. The best part was that we were able to carry it over to the games like that.”

There are introverts and extraverts. As long as you play with some zip, you can keep it zipped. When your best player is also a booster, stimulator, critic, in addition to being fast, tough, and determined, it is the best of all worlds.

“First, you have to lead by example, and JT does that,” said outside linebacker coach Mike Mendenhall. “Every day he works at it with intensity, and players respect that whether he says a word or not. 

“They have to see you do the right things on and off the field. The vocal thing can then follow because they respect your work ethic. There are guys not as vocal and that’s okay because you want a balance and you want people to be themselves. The vocal part is natural for JT.

“There also are guys who have been in the program for years who do the right thing – like John Orr, T.J. Floyd, Trevor Forbes and Will Johnson. They may not be the most vocal guys, but they provide balance.”

Last year, 10-0 was a hoot and a holler, too, in part because the Tigers might have had their four most talented – and decorated – linebackers of the era.  The inside guys – Mark Fossati ’19 and Tom Johnson ’19- were first-team All-Ivy, plus the outside ones – Mike Wagner ’19 at the Rush and Tyler at the Sam – were second-team.

Tyler is the only starter returning, yet with the bonus of two years of eligibility remaining and a determination to put them to maximum use. It got long spending the 2017-18 school year at home in Detroit.

“I looked at myself in the mirror and became more serious,” he says. 

The result was a superlative 2018 season, highlighted by a fourth-and-one stop with the Tigers hanging on by nine points in the fourth quarter at Harvard, an interception that enabled Princeton to jump up 14-0 at Yale almost before the bands found their place in the stands. The five tackles for losses over the ten ultra-efficient games that Johnson, Fossati and Wagner, having graduated, now deemed unforgettable.  All the while, Tyler goes back to work against Butler on September 21.

But he will not be a lone wolf chasing the Little Red Riding Hoods of the opposition.

Orr started two seasons ago as a sophomore–after Fossati was lost in Week Three– and played nearly at an All-Ivy level.

Since Day One, John has been a high energy guy,” said Coach Bob Surace ’90 at practice last week. “He practices fast, is athletic and has really good vision.” 

“Just a moment ago he made a read on a play that was really advanced, going under a blocker on a bootleg to chase the quarterback instead of just getting locked in and blocked.

“We coach the fine points.  But he is very natural in his reactions.”

As good as Johnson was in the middle, he wasn’t the face of the franchise. We know that because there is a guy in his place this year who has much the same face. Princeton is not just recruiting, but cloning. Tom Johnson’s not-so-little brother, James, is ready to be well . . . a Johnson.

“They are cut from the same cloth, raised right and coached right (at St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia),” said Surace. “ It’s a great family and a great program that they are coming from.

“They are disciplined, work hard, love football. Everything is done right and they are fun to be around.”

Asked, for story-telling purposes, about any difference between the two siblings, Surace deadpanned, “Two years.”  Should other Ivies demand to know how a Princeton player is eligible for six, Surace can produce separate birth certificates to prove everything is above board here, as usual.

Wagner, who was leading the nation in sacks per game in 2017 until being lost at mid-season, is a tough guy to replace at the Rush, leading to the most open competition there is at any spot in this camp.

“We want to put guys in position to be successful with their strengths,” said Mendenhall.  “(Sophomore Matt) Jester brings speed, natural pass rush ability, and is kind of the starter, but (junior) Tavaris Noel, and (sophomore) Ike Hall, who are more rundown types of linebackers, bring different things with their games.

“Jester can play the run, too, but keeping him fresh means he can’t be in there every first and second down, which is where Tavaris and Ike come in. And Cole Aubrey has some speed we can use off the edge while he is learning. As a freshman, he is comparable to where Wagner was then.”

We have said it before and will again.  Ever since the 2012 turnaround, the difference between three league titles and four 5-5 seasons has been injuries or relative health. It’s all about the depth and in week three of camp, at every position you see freshmen and sophomores from consecutive touted recruiting classes already working with second units.

“(Sophomore) Daniel Beard is a dynamic athlete,” said Surace. “As the learning keeps coming, we will see how much we can put on his plate.

“I don’t want a high-level player (Beard) who is behind one of the best players in the league (in Tyler) standing next to me the whole game. We can play Daniel inside or outside.”

“(Freshman) Anthony Corbin is starting to separate himself as well. (Junior) Tyler McDonald has had by far his best camp after having had to deal with an issue that kept him from training before coming to camp last year. We saw flashes in spring and now has really come on.”

Getting the usual 20-25 snaps per game, even close contests, will be the backups, except perhaps for the one behind Tyler, who is not a presence you want to take off the field just for the sake of giving others some experience.  

“ JT is one of the most athletic persons I ever have seen in my life,” said Orr. “He is incredibly quick, very hard to block, a high intensity guy with a knack for the ball,  and he can break on balls, too.

“His awareness is not like anybody whom I ever have seen. And he wants to be as good as he can be.”

Tiger Tales

Butler, coming off a 57-10 loss to the FCS power South Dakota State, got by NAIA school Indiana Wesleyan 30-27, in overtime last weekend. The Bulldogs play another NAIA program, Taylor University, Saturday before coming to Princeton.

Bucknell (Princeton visits on September 28) lost at Sacred Heart, 30-10, to drop to 0-2.

Lafayette, the Tigers’ third non-league opponent, is also 0-2 after a 24-21 defeat by Monmouth.

Chad Kanoff ’18 has joined Jesper Horsted ’19 (Bears), Stephen Carlson ’19 (Browns) on NFL practice squads, signing with the Detroit Lions after being cut following a season with the Arizona Cardinals.  John Lovett ’19 is on the Kansas City Chiefs injured list.  Seth DeValve ’16, is active with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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