Feature Story – With One Voice

  • October 1, 2019

The phone rings, and you’re expecting one offensive lineman. Instead, you got two at once.

That seems to be how it works with those guys.

“The point of a good offensive line is to have five guys who see things through one set of eyes,” says Princeton center Alex Deters. “Five guys seeing five things would not work at all.”

If there are five guys using one set of eyes, then on this phone call there were two using one voice. Well, not exactly one voice. Deters’ voice is just slightly higher than that of his teammate and fellow senior lineman Brent Holder, who was also on the call.

Other than that slight intonation – and that Deters, whose goal is to attend Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School, punctuates his thoughts with “yes sir,” there was little way to tell them apart. Certainly not by what they had to say.

For instance …

“We play as a unit,” Deters says.

And …

“When we succeed or fail, we’re doing it as a unit,” Holder says. “It’s not about any one of us.”

That’s how it went, for about 20 minutes. One would say something; the other would say something fairly similar.

There’s a mentality that exists among offensive linemen that is a bit different than that of any other group in any other position in any other sport. It comes from doing the dirty work and almost always getting very little of the credit.

In fact, usually the only time an offensive lineman is noticed is either when there’s a breakdown leading to a loss of yards or a penalty. If anyone can relate to this, it’s Princeton’s head coach Bob Surace, who was an All-Ivy League center on Princeton’s 1989 Ivy League championship team.

“Center is the most essential position in football,” says Surace. “We have had plays without running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and even quarterbacks. But every play starts with a center.”

And his thoughts on Holder?

“That’s a really bad name for an offensive lineman.”

To his credit, Holder’s response to that is this: “I’m trying not to live up to that.”

Surace was kidding around of course.

“In all seriousness, it’s not that easy to be an offensive lineman,” he says. “It’s certainly a ‘check your ego at the door’ place to play. It can’t be about you. It’s about doing what is necessary to make the offense work, and you have to do it knowing that you’re not going to get the glory. It takes the right kind of mentality for that. ”

Deters and Holder, the right tackle, are technically the only returning starters on the offensive line from last year’s 10-0 season.

The other starter at tackle is Henry Byrd, a sophomore who played a lot last year and started one game.

Nikola Ivanisevic, like Byrd, played 25-30 snaps a game last year, so he’s not exactly a newcomer at one of the guard spots. David Hoffman, a junior guard, is the least experienced of this year’s starters.

“People say we had a perfect season,” Deters says. “I know I didn’t play perfectly. There’s no such thing. . We attacked this off season with the same intensity.”

It’s showed so far.

For quarterback and receivers, there is a gameday rhythm that grows out running routes and catching passes when nobody else is on the field. For offensive linemen, the path to success is a bit similar.

“It’s about reps,” Deters, and, for that matter, Holder said.

“We were all here this summer, and we spent a lot of time together, building camaraderie,” says Deter. “And then there were the reps in training camp. Over time, all of those reps really help us see things, as I said, from a set of one eyes.”

The results have been dramatic through two weeks.

Princeton had the highest scoring offense in Ivy history last year, averaging 47.0 points per game. Through two games this year Princeton has scored 49 and 56 points, an average of 52.5.

The most extraordinary part has been that Deters and Holder are two of Princeton’s four returning starters on offense, along with tight end and tri-captain Graham Adomitis and running back Collin Eaddy, and he shared the position a year ago with Charlie Volker.

Even more extraordinary is that the new quarterback – Kevin Davidson – and his new wide receiver corps – Andrew GriffinJacob BirmelinAndrei Iosivas and Dylan Classi – have actually put up numbers that have exceeded those of the three NFLers who graduated (John LovettJesper HorstedStephen Carlson).

In fact, Davidson smashed the Ivy League record for touchdown passes in a game last week at Bucknell with seven. Griffin caught four of those, tying the Ivy record.

Their names go in the record book. Holder’s and Deters’ and the rest of the linemen? Nope.

Does this bother them? Also nope.

“We’re just super happy for them,” Holder said. “To be honest, I didn’t even realize how many Kevin was throwing. It was sort of crazy. I saw it on ESPN later.”

Again, they have that one voice.

“I don’t think we’re worried about who’s getting the credit,” Deters says. “It feels good to know that we held a block long enough for Griff to get open or Kevin to deliver the ball. Look at Kevin. He waited behind Johnny [Lovett, 2016 and 2018 Bushnell Cup winner] and Chad [Kanoff, 2017 Bushnell Cup winner]. And Griffin has done nothing but work his tail off every single day he’s been in this program. The scout team. The weight room. Anything. We’re so excited for him. He was behind talented guys his first three years, and now he’s making the most of it.”

Deters is used to this perspective.

“I’ve been playing offensive line since I was 5,” he says. “I’ve never once carried the ball or caught a pass.”

He’s from Cincinnati, and he followed high school teammate Simeon Lane from St. Xavier to Princeton.

Holder is from Chicago, which has sent a lot of players to Princeton through the years. As a high school junior he was 185 pounds, which made him not that highly recruited.

“I was a late recruit,” he says. “Blocking was my best thing, but I couldn’t do much on the offensive line at 185. I worked hard to put on weight.”

Why didn’t he play a different position when he was 185?

“Well,” Deters said. “It’s because he’s not fast and he can’t catch.”

These days he’s 6-5 and 275, three inches taller than Deters but the same weight. They’re excited about their senior year, the opportunity to play at Yankee Stadium next month and, for this week, the coming Ivy opener Saturday against Columbia (1 pm, Powers Field at Princeton Stadium).

“Obviously it’s been a good start with two in the win column,” Holder said. “There are a lot of things we’d like to have done better though. Every day we want to improve on those things. We’re looking to improve upon those things to continue to grow.”

And as they do, they’ll do so as a unit. It’s the life of the O Line.

“It’s been fun to play in front of the guys we’ve played in front of,” Holder says. “Chad. John. Now Kevin…”

Then Deters finishes the sentence.

“Give them time, and good things will happen.”

They won’t get the credit for those good things, of course.

That’s not in their job description. And that’s just fine with them.

– by Jerry Price

Read the Full Article at: https://goprincetontigers.com/news/2019/10/1/football-feature-story-blocking-with-one-voice.aspx.