Tigers Are Unusually Stocked For Spring
BY JAY GREENBERG
Between a larger than usual number of graduating seniors from the undefeated 2018 season, injuries, and players taking a gap year, Princeton in 2019 played more underclassmen than any point since the early years of the Bob Surace era. The Tigers went 8-2 and stayed in the title hunt until the final week regardless, confirming the talent from recent highly-ranked recruiting classes.
Now, the bonus: An infusion of upperclassmen returning from their year away. We would suggest the coaches begin 12 spring practices Saturday with more good players than they know what to do with, except that they know exactly what to do with them: Make them compete for playing time against the players who saved last season and then, sleep well with the comfort of an outlier level of depth and experience.
“The more reps they have, the more you can throw at guys and push them with,” said Surace.
“We have a really competitive inside linebacker group. Guys like Jimmy Johnson, Daniel Beard, and Anthony Corbin saw a lot of snaps that way, similar to when Tommy Johnson and Mark Fossati returned (in 2018) after having already played a lot of football. Last season Johnson probably played 650 snaps, Beard 500 and Corbin 300, so you can throw more at them now. It gives us the luxury of pushing more things schematically.”
“And then we will see what guys having great off-seasons – Zach Beagle, Joe Bonczek, Tyler McDonald – can handle. Their talent and work ethic are getting them into the mix for playing time.”
“That’s just one position. But it’s an easy one to talk about.”
This spring there is no position in either the offensive or defensive units that is hard to talk about, for reasons that go far deeper than the return of the two biggest playmakers on defense – Jeremiah Tyler and Sam Wright. The defensive backfield is loaded with talent and experience, plus five starters – or former starters – make this probably the deepest offensive line the Tigers ever have had.
As always, spring practice will be most critical to the rising freshmen who, after getting a taste of the commitment required to play football here, went to work in the weight room and now have new bodies and new confidence with which to put themselves in the mix for jobs. As always, there will be freshmen prodigies to push for playing time come fall; so this is the opportune time for rising sophomores to earn trust. There are no statutes of limitations on improvement however. Upperclassmen can’t afford to plateau if the Tigers are going to achieve the title contention that has now become routinely expected.
Quarterback: The least experienced position with which the Tigers enter the fall will not be the least talented. The competition between senior Cole Smith and junior Brevin White, both of whom can throw and run, will extend into the fall while the search for ways to use both likely will be ongoing. “I like our quarterback room,” says Surace, uninterested in doing any handicapping at this point.
Running Back: With Collin Eaddy returning and Tre Gray looking to step into the place of the graduating Ryan Quigley, the competition is for backup roles.
“Davis Kline has the most experience in the group but they all seemed to have made a big jump in the weight room,” said Surace. “It will be fun to see how Chiago (Anyanwu) and E.J. (Caldwell) and Lucas Warfield have come on.”
Fullback: “David Harvey is a tailback moved to fullback with a different set of skills than maybe a Cody Smith (’19), who was more like a tight end,” said Surace. “Joe Dalsey was a defensive player last year and week-in and-out one of our hardest workers so we’ll see how that translates to the other side of the ball. We’re trying to figure out how to get him on the field more because he could be one of our best special teams players as well.”
Receivers: The return of Tiger Bech, who averaged 18 yards per catch in 2018, adds depth of course to the returning core of Jacob Birmelin, Dylan Class and Andre Iosivas that stepped up grandly following the graduation losses of Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson to the NFL.
“Andre (recently the Ivy Heptathalon champion and most outstanding performer at the Heptagonal Indoor Track and Field Championships) won’t be with us in the spring because of track,” said Surace. “But we have a really deep group – Alex Cherry, Che Rogers, Luke Timm, Tamatoa Falatea – all of whom have improved physically.”
“Michael Axelrod was going a great job in training camp before suffering an injury and he came back really strong over the winter.”
Offensive Line: It is the most rare of circumstance when you can lose two starters — center Alex Deters and tackle Brent Holder – and still have five players who have played first string. The returns of tackle Reily Radosevich, first team Allp-Ivy in 2018, and guard Andre Guest will make for a spring of experimentation.
“Henry Byrd is a left tackle, David Hoffman a right guard, and Blake Feigenspan a center,” said Surace. “But Andre and Niko Ivanisevic have versatility, as do Connor Scaglione, Ryan Huth, Zack Zambrano, Ford Roberts, and Luke Aschenbrand. And Reily could be All-Ivy again at any position he plays.”
“Zambrano and Scaglione played a lot for us last year. Aschenbrand and Kurt Bernard have gotten a lot stronger. Richard Krebs had a real good winter, Ryan Huth is the strongest he ever has been, Ford Roberts is in the best shape of his life and Jonathan Boyd is crushing workouts. Go right down the board, and that’s a really competitive group.”
“We’re going to look at some different combinations and try to sort it out. Get the best five starting and the best nine or ten playing.”
Tight Ends: Carson Bobo became the H-back in a breakout sophomore year while seniors Graham Adomitis and Sam Johnson were the tight ends, opening up starting opportunities for a deep group.
“Caden Dumas was emerging in training camp until suffering an injury and missing the year,” said Surace. “Harrison Caponiti played on both sides of the ball for us and is one of our best athletes.”
“Tight end probably is the hardest position; you have to learn to play offensive line and receiver. Adomitis emerged early his red shirt freshman year but he was a rare one. Sam took a little longer. But we have a very talented group here. Eddie Duggan and Luke Gibson are talented (rising) freshmen.”
Defensive back: Safety T.J. Floyd is graduating but Princeton is getting back a 2017 starter, cornerback C.J. Wall, to compete against players who ran with opportunities a year ago.
“O-line and defensive back are really deep spots,” said Surace. “Delan Stallworth was All-Ivy and Trevor Forbes has played since he got here.”
“Christian Brown (second at the Heptathonal meet in the 60-meter hurdles) will be back and forth this spring with track but he has played a lot of snaps and has had a tremendous off-season.”
“Sultaan Shabazz had three picks last year and played really well as did Matt Winston. Daiveon Carrington played at lot as a freshman as did Jayden Wickware. Zach Bouggess and Michael Ruttlen were special teams contributors and Ken Lim is having a really good winter.”
“We want to get our six or seven best playing.”
Outside Linebacker: Ike Hall won the starting rush job after Tavaris Noel was lost in the season opener and Matt Jester came on, deepening that position in 2019 and the competition for 2020.
“Cole Aubrey played as a freshman; is a terrific pass rusher,” said Surace. “Larkin Ison and Will Perez have made strides to play behind J.T. I’m excited to see these guys get on the field. Their workouts are off the charts right now.”
Defensive Line: Two key starters, Jake Strain and Joey Demarco are graduating, but another rotation player on the 2018 team, Jay Rolader, is returning from a year’s absence.
“Rolader gives you a lot of versatility, can play multiple positions,” said Surace. “At nose, Alex Kilander and Carter Christopher both have had really good workouts and, for big nose-tackle types, look really athletic.”
“Sam Wright had a terrific year last year and is one of the strongest guys we’ve ever had in the weight room, off the charts (in measurements) along with Iosivas and Jester. James Stagg played a lot as a freshman, had an interception and three tackles for a loss.”
“And then there are guys just emerging. Tola Banjoko, Mike Azevedo and Uche Ndukwe are having really good off-seasons. Kevin Bruce is among the strongest guys on our team. Reece Hite has put on 15 pounds of muscle, looks great. Adam Buchanan could be another Sam Johnson, a guy who just took longer to develop into being a very good player.”
Kicking: Nico Ramos, who was seven-for-nine on field goals and almost flawless on PATS while Tavish Rice was limited by injury in 2018, steps back into the placekicking role as Rice is graduating. Antonio Ferrer moves into the kickoff duties at which Rice excelled. Both punters, the All-Ivy Will Powers and George Triplett, did some placement kicking in high school, adding depth.