These Titles Help Entitle Princeton to More Winners
BY JAY GREENBERG
Seniors leaving with a championship ring for each hand have paid the program forward.
Two Ivy championships in the last four years have helped tell the incoming members of the football Class of 2021 that they should come to the highest-ranked undergraduate institution in the nation for football reasons, too.
“We recruit kids who want to be the best, for the school that is ranked the best, where the career services are the best, and the football team is the best,” said Coach Bob Surace. “Princeton can provide all those things.
“Every one of these boxes he can check is one less concern a recruit has. There are other good football and academic choices but there is a difference between being close and being No. 1. A school may be ranked No. 7 in the country but nobody walks around saying, ‘We’re No. 7!’ and it’s the same thing in football.
“By 2012 we were pretty close to getting the corner turned, so [incoming freshmen] saw the vision we could get there. That’s what we sold, because we couldn’t relate to any tangible success. Princeton hadn’t won a championship since 2006, which is an eternity for some of these kids. Now we have done it multiple times, which answers any questions about the quality of play and our development.
“Until you put a guy in the NFL, which is a goal for a lot of players, could Princeton be a means to get there? Now we have three players in the league.
“When a defensive recruit meets with [Defensive Coordinator] Steve Verbit, there are examples of Caraun Reid, Mike Catapano and now another pro prospect in Kurt Holuba. A receiver who speaks to [receivers coach] Dennis Goldman, can see Seth DeValve playing in Cleveland and, going back to Dennis’s time at Syracuse, learn that he developed Marvin Harrison, too. These are very tangible things.
“You are always adding relationships in recruiting. We have been really good as a staff getting to know guys, and not making decisions just on football film, academic transcripts and test scores. There is a different point in the relation building you want to see more of a guy and he wants to see more of us. We continue to get students we believe in and they believe in us.
“The first championship probably made the most impact on recruiting a year later. The majority of our classes make up their minds before our season ends. If anything, these kids coming in, having already committed, had a shared feeling about the [2016 championship]. I can guess this championship probably resonated with some of our winter recruits. But it will make the biggest difference next year.”
In the meantime, there are incoming freshmen advanced enough to contribute this year, the headliner probably being tight end Carter Dunaway, a pre-Jim Harbaugh commit to Michigan who pulled out after a talk with the coach. Dunaway still drew interest from multiple Big Ten schools.
Running back Collin Eaddy, from Raleigh, NC was coveted by ACC programs.
“Collin pretty much wanted the Ivy League all along,” said Surace. “Carter committed to Michigan as a junior, before our (summer) camps started but recruiting is never over, especially so for a kid with such outstanding academic credentials.
“If something happens that it goes sour somewhere else, we might be an option. Every year, or couple years, that happens with a recruit. We have 20 fishing poles out; one or two (late) bites can really add to your class.”
This one is heavy on defensive backs [eight], and light, meaning in quantity, on offensive linemen [three], as Surace and his staff judged the depth at all their positions and recruited accordingly. The 2021 class has the usual two quarterbacks, John Tracy from Walled Lake, Michigan, and Cole Smith, who starred at Christian Academy in Knoxville, TN, the same school that produced Quinn Epperly.
“We aren’t bringing [Smith] in because he’s another kid from a school where we recently found a great player,” said Surace. “We liked what we saw in Cole no matter where he came from.
“We have coming in a couple brothers (OL Niko Ivanisevic joins OL Stefan and LB James Johnson joins LB Thomas) but we’re recruiting a player, not a brother.”
Yes, but the coaches have multiple boxes to check, too, in identifying Princeton football traits. Surace isn’t about to rank this class above any of his previous ones, which brought in FBS-sought players like Holuba and Chad Kanoff. The final proof is four years away and besides, the stars can’t shine without a base around them. Those fingers that can now sport separate gleaming rings got plenty dirty over four years.
“I feel like the longer we are here, the more we know what fits us,” said Surace. “We are making sure recruits understand that in addition to our academics being at the highest levels, they will be challenged like at any of the top football schools.
“If you follow us you know we are doing things on the field and in the weight room that an Ohio State is doing.
“This is not a place you come to because (football) will be easier. None of the recruiting websites put four stars on Joe Rhattigan for instance, but we loved how he worked and competed.
“We don’t accept them if they aren’t bright enough to do ultra-demanding school work, but we take blue collar hard-working football players, figuring that once we get them into our system we will be fine. We know the talent pool, know that our competitors may judge some of our recruits a little above or below where we have them, but we know why we desired the ones who are coming.
“Some have more talent than others, sure. But we want all guys with grit.”
Coming: Separate pieces in which Surace talks about each of the offensive and defensive recruits of the Class of 2021.