These Seniors Stuck It Out
BY BOB SURACE
Bouncing back with such a solid win over Penn following a couple of rough games was not the only reason I was sad to see this season end.
I feel that sadness on Thanksgiving week to a certain extent every season. My time with a senior class is up. When we were putting this program together in my first few years perhaps there wasn’t as much individual contact with the players, whereas more recently I’ve been getting more one-on-one meetings and spending time with them in other areas that might not even be football-related. Because of that, the bond becomes stronger.
There is something else. Every year in this piece, I tell stories about players who were injured or beaten out for playing time and stayed with us for four years regardless, thanking them for their valued service. As I go through the football class of 2020, there is an especially common theme of perseverance.
Even guys who were mainstays as seniors had to bide their time behind All-Ivy, even NFL, players. Such was the progression of an Andrew Griffin and Kevin Davidson. They made special or scout team contributions to a championship their freshman year (2016) that were every bit as valuable as those performed this season, when they became highly-productive starters on a winning team.
In a time when kids throughout college football run to the transfer portal if they don’t have immediate success, the loyalty of these graduating players makes a positive statement about the culture of our program. I understand, of course, that a Princeton degree is a hard thing to give up. Still we never recruit with any promise of immediate playing time, only the chance to compete, and these guys did.
Graham Adomitis – He was a high school quarterback who developed into a dominant blocking All-Ivy tight end, which is highly unusual and a tribute to how hard Graham worked. For ten years our program has had either All-Ivy first, second team or honorable mention tight ends and he continued that succession. Even with only 10 receptions in 2018, he was voted first team, which shows the respect the Ivy coaches had for his blocking abilities.
Graham’s pass-catching numbers (five catches) this season weren’t what we expected. Underclass wideouts and slot receivers stepped up, there was only one ball per play, plus it was almost like there was a plot against Graham every time his number was called in the huddle. Either Kevin Davidson’s read demanded he go elsewhere or an assignment breakdown took place or something. Plus missing the final two-and-a-half games made it impossible for Graham to repeat All-Ivy.
I don’t know if there was any consolation in going out with a bang-injured making a touchdown catch against Dartmouth at Yankee Stadium–but never mind the numbers, he developed into a good receiver whose blocking should get him into an NFL camp. Graham has a bright future ahead of him.
Tyler Campbell – After having played both offense and defense in high school, he started here as a DB because his athleticism would best translate there. But he was behind some guys so we moved him to WR on offense and then we became stacked there, too, including with NFL prospects.
Last year, Steve Thomas (former special teams coordinator) told us Tyler would be one of our best players on special teams, so I looked at the depth chart wondering where we could create a dual role for him, which is essential in dealing with travel roster restrictions. Tyler found a spot as a special teams guy and our third/fourth running back, having played that position in high school. He had a great showing this year at Brown, where without Collin Eaddy for the game and then Ryan Quigley for a couple series, Tyler became our lead back with a [37-yard] fourth-down run and 91 yards in a win. He got hurt against Harvard. But Tyler ended up filling a role for us, which was the intention all along.
Riley Chabot–He shot video of practices and games, usually 50 feet in the air, sometimes in the rain or freezing temperatures. Once the lift took him up there, no bathroom breaks, either. Riley performed an invaluable service not just to our program, but the league. I never take for granted, actually consider it a compliment, that students want to be a part of our program and volunteer their time, which is especially valuable at a demanding school like Princeton.
Kevin Davidson – While sitting behind two NFL players his first three seasons, an injury to John Lovett ’19 gave Kevin a chance to start against Brown and he had an incredible passing game. He then attacked the off-season to come into his senior year the way a leader should. The result was one of best years of any quarterback in Princeton football history, breaking one all-time record (throwing for seven touchdowns at Bucknell).
Kevin doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to do things out of pocket, in addition to his brilliant accuracy and arm strength. He made so few errors for a first-year starter, managing the games well in addition to making big plays. We have had scouts at nearly every practice and Kevin has been invited to the East-West Shrine Game.
Perhaps only one of the 15 quarterbacks going into the NFL this year will be a starter right away, the rest backups. I can vouch for his preparation in that role.
Joey DeMarco – Frankly, he was so skinny in high school that I wasn’t sure about offering him. Coach (Steve) Verbit P05 was in love with Joey, so I said to Verbs, ‘this guy has to show us he’s going to make the commitment to get bigger.’ When I got out there (San Diego), in his backpack were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix and all kinds of stuff; Joey must have been eating all day every day. At Princeton, he went from 240 to 275 and became one of the best defensive linemen in the league, including when he was on one leg the last couple of games.
When he was quoted before the final game about wanting to leave everything on the field, that’s how Joey was. Every day at practice was the Super Bowl to him, to the point he made it hard to practice. We couldn’t block him so the linebackers couldn’t make plays or our defensive backs were not getting passes thrown at them. We had to take Joey out just so all those guys could get reads. Senior year we moved him inside because that was the best fit for us and he was equally as disruptive there as on the edge. A really quiet and thoughtful kid, he got better at communication.
Alex Deters – Coaching the Bengals for eight years, I developed a great admiration for the best high school programs in Cincinnati, like St. Xavier, which allowed players like Alex to come in here and excel. As a former center, I especially admired his communication, work ethic, balance, quickness and technique and the other Ivy coaches recognized those things too, in making him first team All-Ivy senior year. Alex is going to be attending Officer’s Candidate School. This is the leader we want serving our country.
T.J. Floyd – We were only about three practices into T.J.’s freshman year when Jim Salgado (then co-defensive coordinator) was saying Floyd already was our best option to replace nickel back Dorian Williams, who was becoming a three-down safety. We won an Ivy title that year in part because a freshman had the poise, the calm and the talent to not allow us to skip a beat from Dorian in a critical role.
T.J. became a three-year starter, twice All-Ivy. His outstanding ball skills were evident in his last game against Penn, when he made that interception on a ball that was being tipped all over the place. In four years he never was hurt until late 2nd quarter of that game. This was a steadying presence and an outstanding football player.
Phillip Frost – With 100 guys on a team not everybody is going to play as much as they want. But you want to find a role for them. The best tackle we had all year on special teams was by Phillip (against Lafayette) and, from an example-setting standpoint, that contribution was equally important to any. If you are going to be part of a team that cares, everybody contributes. To see Phil make a play that he will carry with him was rewarding.
David Garfunkel – On his way to earning a role in our offensive line rotation, he had an injury that affected his play. Even at 80 percent his last two years, Funk never missed a practice, This year he took on a leader role with the scout team, which is mostly made up freshmen and sophomores. David never complained or missed a lift. Guys like this always make it big in life.
Andrew Griffin – The stories of Stephen Carlson ’19 and Andrew are kind of intertwined. Stephen didn’t play much his first two years and now has receptions in the NFL. Andrew sat behind Steve, Jesper Horsted ’19 and others for three years, getting on the field only during second halves when we weren’t throwing the ball much, yet happy to get on the bus in a special teams role. But long before he tied a school record with four touchdown catches at Bucknell, I always walked off the field happy this guy was on our team. Never once did he complain or feel sorry for himself, only worked his tail off.
He is the best student I ever coached here (Computer Science major, 3.9 GPA) with options in a lot of fields. Special things are coming in Andrew’s life.
Brent Holder – Brent was a tight end who moved to offensive line late in high school after a late growth spurt. Still undersized, we took him because of his athleticism and he got big and strong enough to play some as a sophomore. Junior year he started at left tackle on an undefeated team, then, when we thought Henry Byrd would be most comfortable on the left, Brent was switched to the right. A typical offensive lineman in that he doesn’t say a whole lot, he practiced and played hard, was a two year starter on teams that went 18-2 and was honorable mention All-Ivy.
Sam Johnson – After battling injuries freshman and sophomore years, as a junior he performed well in double tight-end sets. Even before Graham got hurt and Sam started the last two games he would grade really high in his 25 plus plays a game.
I am always excited when Collin or Ryan Quigley score, but of course, those are a little more expected. To see a guy like Sam, who really struggled with his receiving skills early in his career, make a diving catch for a touchdown (at Brown) was really enjoyable for the coaches and his teammates. He is a tremendous worker whose improvement was drastic.
Will Johnson – Being an undersized walk-on, Will always had that chip on his shoulder in the best of ways. Such a fighter, a great person to be around, you have to respect the hell out of him. He got on the field as a sophomore and became a top special teams guy as a junior and the leader of those units as a senior, in addition to being a backup corner. Will became as good as anybody running down the field on kicks and always did the little things to set an example for younger guys on the whole roster, not just special teams.
Zach Keller – I’m sure four years ago Zach came to Princeton with the intention of becoming a starter. But when I said last winter that I saw him as quarterback for short-yardage/goal line situations, he absolutely embraced it and was mostly outstanding in that role. You don’t have to play every down to be a leader; his unselfishness and the way he did things resonated throughout the roster. As a result, there was a little greater eruption on the sideline when Zach scored a touchdown or got a key first down.
Zach Kelly – Our quarterback room was really deep so we tried to figure out ways to get a good athlete like Zach the field. Junior year especially, he took on a big special teams role as the field goal and point-after holder, plus other things. This season he worked his way into the lineup as a wide receiver, making that (40-yard touchdown) catch against Brown that was one of the best we had all season. He was a good football player, able to turn himself into a good receiver.
Ian Lawrie – Sprint football was a magnet for guys who loved the game and, because of their size, were not going to get a chance to play varsity. When Princeton decided to end that program I felt those players’ disappointment and hoped maybe a few of them, some of whom played in high school, might want to join our team. I didn’t advertise my interest but was really happy when Ian showed up at my office, asking to play. A kid who had been playing sprint at 155 pounds knew he would miss the game so much that he wanted to stick with it.
I called Sean Morey, the sprint coach that final year, and he gave Ian a ringing endorsement. Everything Sean said proved true. Ian was a tremendous worker who helped us on special teams. To have him get varsity snaps was meaningful to all of us.
John Orr – When Kurt Holuba was lost in consecutive years and then John this one, it made three straight seasons we suffered the loss of a defensive captain and emotional leader. But as John said at our banquet, he felt sorry for himself for a very short time. The next day he was out helping and that week was all over the field on a scooter telling guys, linebackers especially, to run. Teammates, coaches and support staff rallied around him. John became this leader perhaps he wouldn’t have been to that degree had he stayed healthy
When Mark Fossati got hurt in 2017, John became a starter as a sophomore. So when Mark came back last year we were that much deeper, really having like five starters at four positions. At training camp this year John was on pace to be an All-Ivy player, but he made the most out of a sad situation.
Ryan Quigley–He is the classic back out of New England Patriots mold in that he carries the ball, catches it, blocks and in our case, was terrific on special teams, too. How many times in his career did Ryan make a key play on third down, including touchdown runs to close out games against Columbia and Penn and bulldozing for that first down we needed to finish Dartmouth in 2018.
The confidence we had in him in those situations was a result of the strength he gained in the weight room. He was a high-energy guy and a slashing style of runner, always going downhill, but able to skinny his body through at times and spin off tackles. We have had two All-Ivy backs the last four years – Charlie Volker ’19 and Eaddy. But with Ryan we lost nothing when they were not in there.
Rick Raga – He came here as a linebacker but when we had a rash of injuries was switched to defensive line. Eventually, we moved Rags to fullback to have someone in place when Cody Smith graduated. Never mind he was undersized, Rick still was either the first of second strongest guy on our team and became the lead blocker on every short yardage-goal line play we had this season.
For a guy who had always been a defensive player, he had great hands. So we had some plays in for him but never got to them, unfortunate because Rick would make phenomenal catches during practices. I just wish he would have had some of those opportunities in games because he worked so hard.
Tavish Rice – Most kickers aren’t as big and strong as Tavish, which is evident in the way the ball jumps off his foot. He was over 80 percent on touchbacks and when they could return it, the average start was at the 14.
There wasn’t a better kickoff guy in college and Tavish made clutch field goals, too, stepping right into that fire as a freshman. The last half of his sophomore season, he had to keep kicking when he shouldn’t have been out there. Tavish took some grief for some field goal misses that year, but was unselfishly fighting through it because we didn’t have anybody else.
Chris Sayan – He had the misfortune of being a long snapper who played behind guys – Pat Hall and Ryan McNeil – who were tops in the league but Chris never complained, working every bit as hard as any long snapper we ever have had. He always was as well prepared as the starter. It’s a shame that the only time the guy ahead of him had an injury, near the end of the 2017 season, Chris was hurt, too.
Jake Strain – Nobody was going to put three stars next to Jake’s name as a defensive line recruit. He was neither big nor fast enough but was a leader at St. Joe’s Prep (Philadelphia) one of those schools where if certain people you have learned to trust say ‘you are going to win with this guy’, you listen to them. We just kept watching Jake, like we did with Quigley, who did everything (at Lansdale (Pa.) Catholic). Verbit, Andy Aurich ’06, and myself fell in love, realizing this guy is going to find a way.
Some people have talent. And then you have a guy like Jake who reaches his ability level and winds up better than a lot of those guys. That’s the beauty of our league – a lot of players who become All–Ivy were not the top recruit, some even an afterthought. I meet with the captains every week. They see things that I don’t always see and communicate them very effectively. Jake, who is on the VSAC (Varsity Student Advisory Committee) led the charge with that.
Christian Sullivan – He fought through an injury early in his career and pain throughout it without missing a practice and became a leader on our special teams. Very often Sully was the guy who would get double teams and would beat them through a belief in himself that brought an attitude to our kicking and coverage units. Will Johnson effectively was the captain of those and Sully was the assistant.
Charles Tomassetti – Charlie was getting playing time on the defensive line as a sophomore and emerging as an eventual starter when he got hurt, then missed time with different ailments. Charles would come back again and again, only this year to suffer an injury in training camp and wind up having to miss his senior season. Still, he came to practice every day to encourage our guys from the sideline and help our coaches on Saturdays. Life is not always fair. He was a really good football player who other than a three-game stretch as a sophomore never got to show that on the field.
Chase Williams –He had some unfortunate soft tissue injuries, which would cost him a week or two, but would always come back quickly and play well. A valuable member of Princeton’s lacrosse, team, Chase played on all of our core four special teams and was in the rotation for our defensive backfield. When Floyd, an All-Ivy player, was banged up in the second half at Penn, Chase came in, played the whole half and nobody on the coaching staff or on the field flinched.