There is a Quantity to the Quality of the Football Class of 2024
BY JAY GREENBERG
First of two parts)
We can safely assume from the math SAT and ACT scores required to get into Princeton that the quarterbacks in the football class of 2024 can count up to three. But Bob Surace says Wilson Long, Blaine McAlister and Niko Vangarelli never did during their recruitments.
“Of these three guys not one asked who else was on our depth chart,” said the coach.
“We don’t deal with that much. My experience is that elite athletes don’t look to an easy route. Where can I best develop? Where can I have the best experience? Where can I win? Quarterbacks want to know what our offense has done and what the plan is to reach their goal of the NFL. We have a performance team here to help them accomplish that.
“Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly became better players because of their ability to push each other. So did Chad Kanoff and John Lovett.”
Three quarterbacks is one more than Surace has recruited in any class since becoming head coach in 2010. It is two more than Princeton has accepted in each of the last two years, when it took Brevin White and then Joe Hutchinson.
“First, there were three we really liked this time,” said Surace. “We loved their videos and then thought they were the best guys at our camps.
“Second we looked at the programs we compete against and they have been bringing in more quarterbacks. We have the lowest number in the league by far so this was something we wanted to do.
“With an injury or two, you can get into a situation in a hurry, not just in games, but in preparing your defense in practice. The quarterback running the scout team is a developing player.
“We are bringing in two of what you would call true quarterbacks and one who is a multi-dimensional, athletic quarterback. Niko Vangarelli is in the Epperly-Lovett mold. We do creative things in our short yardage goal line package, and have a major hole with Lovett gone and now Zach Keller graduating. We haven’t had a guy who fits that role in the past couple recruiting years.
“I don’t anticipate (position changes] with any of them. Wilson Long and Blaine McAlister are true quarterbacks, both athletic, but their strength is dropping back and throwing the ball.”
They get in line with Hutchinson behind White and senior Cole Smith, who are competing for the starting job this fall, although, based on the track record of Surace and his offensive coordinators, neither is likely to waste away on the sideline. When talent is ready, it gets on the field, and it may be more prepared than ever based on the growing competition at all positions that Princeton has been collecting.
For the second time in three years 247sports is judging a Princeton recruiting class best in the FCS. Fourteen players are in the top 200 FCS recruits as selected by Hero Sports. Long gone are the days when perhaps one or two incoming freshmen a year chose Princeton over Power Five conference offers. Virtually all these kids had FBS offers or would have had they not committed early to Princeton.
Three Ivy titles in the last seven years, eight straight non-losing seasons, five alums finishing the 2019 season on NFL rosters and this tireless coaching staff have convinced highly-sought prospects that they don’t have to make football sacrifices by putting academics first.
That’s not just true in the case of Princeton of course. Harvard has 12 top 200 recruits, Yale and Penn four each and Dartmouth three. Now what was Surace saying about competition being a good thing?
The offensive members of Princeton’s football class of 2024:
Wilson Long – 6-0, 185. Regents School of Austin, Austin, TX — “Wilson is a little taller than Connor Michelsen (’14), and in that same mold as a strong-armed gunslinger,” said Surace. “At camp, he made every throw into the tightest of windows while showing the agility that our quarterbacks have had success with both in an out of the pocket.”
Blaine McAllister – 6-3, 193. The Lovett School, Atlanta, GA – “He shares a lot of the characteristics of Wilson–arm strength, accuracy, athleticism, leadership, work ethic and an ability to run it,” said Surace. “Not only is Blaine from the Lovett School, so that headline writes itself, but Tom Moak, (‘13), our former wide receiver, is a teacher and assistant coach there. As one of the hardest working and most intelligent players I have ever coached, Tom knows the intangible qualities we value in a player and his recommendation of Blaine after his junior year was exceptional.”
Niko Vangarelli – 6-2, 234. Mt. Paran Christian School, Kennesaw, GA – “Niko has great size and natural running ability from the backfield,” said Surace. “In prep school he had a much higher usage rate in runs than all the previous ‘multi-QBs’ we have had here. He’ll have to develop more as a passer, but definitely has a lot of similarities to the Epperly-Lovett skill set. And like Lovett, Niko proved at camp to be a natural at running routes and catching the ball.”
Anthony Bland–6-3, 193. Stillwater High School, Stillwater, OK. – “He is similar to Alex Cherry (’23) in that he is big, with great hands, is athletic and polished for a young guy,” said Surace. “Anthony wowed us at camp with both his ability and how hard he worked.
“Mom and Dad both work in athletics at Oklahoma State, his Mom running operations for the women’s basketball team. This is a polished young man. He was our first offensive player to verbally commit, which I’m sure killed a lot of FBS interest. We put Jesper (Horsted) and Stephen (Carlson) into the NFL so I think this kid sees we could develop him too, while getting a top degree in the country.”
Luke Colella–6-0, 166. North Allegheny High School, Wexford, Pa. – “With the big and explosive receiver type that we are getting in Bland, we also wanted a slot guy, plus one who could do both,” said Surace. “Luke has the ability to bounce back and forth. We were really high on him from his junior film and, at camp, he caught everything and proved a terrific competitor.”
Josiah “JoJo” Hawkins–5-8, 160. Anaheim, California, The Peddie School, Hightstown, NJ. — “Starting with Roman Wilson on through Tiger Bech and Jacob Bermelin, the slot position has been invaluable to us,” said Surace “JoJo is one of those agile guys with the quickness to separate in short areas.”
Simon Brackin–6-2, 243. The Bolles School, Jacksonville, FLA– “At camp, he reminded me of Cody Smith (’19) with that big, wide frame and uncanny athletic ability for that size,” said Surace. “Simon is not gong to win the 40-yard dash or be a vertical threat but he has body control and can make contested catches. The value of a guy like this can be in the backfield or with his hand on the ground or on the wing. Not many of that size are as coordinated as he is.”
Tyler Picninic–6-3, 215. New Milford High School, New Milford, NJ — “Tyler had an injury and wasn’t able to come to camp but his video was so good we continued to recruit him hard through his senior year,” said Surace. “I would say he is a receiving-first tight end with tremendous length and athleticism. But he already is a very good blocker technically whose body is going to fill out.”
Miko Maessner–6-0, 185, Kearney High School, Kearney, NB. — “His Dad, John, and Princeton men’s soccer coach Jimmy Barlow grew up in Mercer County, played together in high school and John went on to MLS,” said Surace. “Jimmy relayed an email that Miko wanted to come to camp. He turned out to be big, explosive and athletic, reminiscent of Charlie Volker in that he has track speed in a bigger body. A 100-meter dash in 10.5 is rare speed and Miko also catches the ball really well.”
Ashton Stredick–5-8, 176. Needville High School, Needville TX – “He’s taller by at least three inches than Dre Nelson (‘16) with that same dynamic short area quickness that is so hard to tackle,” said Surace. “In comparison, while Mikko Maessner has flat out raw speed, Ashton would win a game of tag with his quickness, so our two running backs complement each other incredibly well. Plus both of them could take the ball a half-million times.”
Mac Duda–6-4, 275. Thomas Jefferson High School. Jefferson Hills, Pa. – “Mac fits the role of a power interior run blocker but has the athleticism to block the athletic linemen that usually line up on the outside.,” said Surace. “We try to take a guy like this every class and, as hard as they are to find, we’ve gotten them– Erik Ramirez (‘18) George Attea (’19) and now David Hoffman.”
David Heath–6-5, 260. Pope John XXIII High School, Sparta, NJ – “Because we are a little later in the recruiting process in terms of getting kids accepted (academically), we have been very fortunate in some cases to get verbal commitments and then see these guys hit growth spurts that make them belatedly attractive to FBS schools,” said Surace. “Guys like Mitch Sweigart (‘18), Brent Holder (‘20) and now Ryan Huth and Heath made big physical jumps as high school seniors. David has emerged with the physical punch and strength that you need. As an old line coach, it’s my passion in life watching these guys grow.”
Nick Hilliard-6-2, 280. Ascension Catholic High School, Darrow, LA “Nick
Is the strongest kid out of high school we ever have brought into the program, an incredible power lifter which you can see in his tremendous lower body strength and punch,” said Surace. “He will be an interior player for us, like a Ramirez and Andre Guest. Nick never came to camp, a disadvantage because camp is a two-way street where they can see us coach, too, and build a relationship. But we loved his video so much that didn’t stop us one iota in recruiting him. Ultimately our assistant coaches did a great job of explaining to this kid what the opportunity to play here means for both football and life.”
Jalen Travis–6-6, 275. DelaSalle High School. Minneapolis, MN. –“Jalen’s background was basketball first so we are going to have to spend some time working on technique with him,” said Surace. “I could see on the basketball floor that he has length in his arms and ability to bend, like Connor Scaglione, who has a chance to be really good for us. Scouting in the NFL, length and coordinated athleticism were two valuable traits we looked for in tackles and Jalen is coming here having exceptional qualities in these areas. Jalen had an older brother at Harvard and another at Stanford.”
Arman Young–6-3, 260. St. Joseph Regional High School, Montvale, NJ – “His uncle Sam (Stumpy) Young, had no business being on the field as a 5-10 nose tackle but ended up the heart and soul of the 1995 Princeton championship team,” said Surace. “He outhustled everybody and has done that in life (as a physician) too. But there is nothing Stumpy about his nephew. Arman has more of his Dad’s body but still likely will be an interior guy for us.”
Sam Massick–5-10, 155, Columbus Academy, Gahanna. OH–“ With Tavish Rice graduating and Nico Ramos going into his senior year, we wanted guys with similar characteristics to each of them,” said Surace. “Tavish may have been the best kickoff guy in the country last year and Nico, when healthy, has been incredibly accurate.
Sam, who’s Dad Doug was the fullback on our ’92 championship team, is a soccer player who hasn’t been a football player for long, yet neither had Taylor Northrup, who holds the Princeton record for career field goals.”
Jeffrey Sexton– 6-1, 157, St. Xavier High School, Louisville, KY – “Jeffrey came to camp and put every kickoff out of the end zone, about seven yards deeper than everybody else,” said Surace. “With Tavish gone it will give Jeffrey a chance to play early on. My experience is that with bigger kickers, accuracy comes later, just because they have longer levers. It takes a while longer to get their mechanics. Our experience with Tavish, who became more consistent every year, may give us a head start figuring out how to help Jeffrey.”
William Rhys Suter–6-0, 215 Great Hope High School, Cary, NC — “With George Triplett becoming a junior and Will Powers to be a sophomore, we didn’t take a punter this year, but with Ryan McNeil headed into his senior season, we had to have our next long snapper,” said Surace. “William has been really highly regarded nationally in terms of accuracy and velocity.”
Next: The Defensive Recruits