Vol. LXI, No. 37
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
DUE BILL: Princeton University senior quarterback Bill Foran displays his passing form. Foran has big shoes to fill as he takes over the starting role in place of the graduated Jeff Terrell, who sparked Princeton to a tie for the Ivy crown and was named the league's top player.
The Princeton University football program is justifiably proud of what it has accomplished the last two seasons.
In 2005, the Tigers went 7-3, going 5-2 in Ivy League play to finish second in the league standings. Along the way, Princeton broke long losing streaks to arch-rivals Penn and Harvard.
Last fall turned into a season for the ages as Princeton produced its most memorable campaign in a generation. Sparked by several dramatic fourth quarter comebacks, the Tigers went 9-1 and tied Yale for the Ivy title with a 6-1 league mark.
The sparkling record marked the most wins in a season since the legendary 1964 team went 9-0. As icing on the cake, Princeton students got to experience the bonfire celebration of a sweep of Harvard and Yale for the first time since 1994.
As the flames shot into the air that chilly November night, the memories of riveting comeback victories over Harvard, Yale, and Penn by a combined total of seven points flashed into the minds of many onlookers on hand at Cannon Green.
For Princeton head coach Roger Hughes, the glorious success of the past two seasons is a double-edged sword as he prepares his team for the 2007 campaign and the season opener this Saturday against visiting Lehigh.
"I think that is one of the big dilemmas we face," said Hughes at the program's annual media day.
"I think it is human nature that when you have worked so hard to do this good thing, you think you've arrived. As I have said many times, success makes you slow to learn and quick to forget. You are slow to change things when you've been successful; you don't do new things that can help you win."
In order to guard against complacency, Hughes has put the onus on his group of seniors. "We've put seniors at each position in charge of all the players at their positions, making sure about assignments and accountability not only on the field but off the field," said Hughes, who has a 35-34 record as he heads into his eighth year guiding the Tigers.
"I think they have benefited from having a great senior class last year. I'm very proud of this year's seniors; they seem to be bringing the team together."
Princeton will need one senior, in particular, quarterback Bill Foran to bring things together. The speedy Foran, a top 100-meter runner for the PU track team in 2005, faces the formidable task of following Jeff Terrell, one of the top quarterbacks in program history.
Terrell punctuated his career last fall with a brilliant season which saw him pass for 2,445 yards and 17 touchdowns in earning the Asa Bushnell Cup given to the league's most valuable player.
Hughes is confident that Foran can leave his own indelible impact on the program. "I couldn't be more pleased with what Bill is doing, not only when he has the football in his hands but when he doesn't," asserted Hughes, who also serves as Princeton's quarterbacks coach.
"He's developed into a great team leader; he's an athlete who is becoming a quarterback and that's the biggest compliment I can give. He's doing the things that Jeff did very well-reading progressions and letting the ball go where it should go."
The Tigers will change their offensive approach to take advantage of the strengths Foran brings to the table.
"Bill has unique characteristics that are different from Jeff and we're going to have to adjust to those," explained Hughes. "We're going to have to change things to allow him to use his athleticism and feet. Jeff was a good thrower and a decent runner; Bill is a great runner and a decent thrower."
With a new starter at quarterback, Princeton will be looking at its young offensive line to be more dominant, "We still have a ways to go," said offensive coordinator Dave Rackovan in assessing the offensive line which should include sophomores Mark Paski, J.P. Makrai, and Andrew Hauser together with senior Brendon Swisher and junior Nick Morgan.
"We survived last year because we had a quarterback who got rid of the ball and those guys just fought. I think for us to succeed this year, they have to be a more dominant factor. We want those guys to grow up."
At running back, the Tigers will feature senior Robby Toresco and junior R.C. Lagomarsino. "The key is that we have two guys with experience," said Rackovan referring to Toresco and Lagomarsino.
"Both guys can play fullback or tailback. We need both of these guys to get better and I think they are working to do that. We moved Kenny Gunter to running back and it's a learning experience. He's a tough, physical kid with good speed."
A secret weapon for Princeton could be talented senior Jake Staser, who the coaches believe could break through like Jon Dekker did in his All-Ivy campaign in 2005.
"Jake has all the ability to do that," said Rackovan. "He's a big strong kid but he has been nagged by injuries."
At wide receiver, senior co-captain Brendan Circle is coming off an All-Ivy campaign last fall (56 catches for 835 yards and seven touchdowns) and figures to be the Tigers' go-to possession receiver. Others who should get some catches include juniors Adam Berry and Will Thanheiser.
One of the biggest question marks coming into the fall is how Princeton will fare in stopping opponents' receivers in the wake of the graduation of All-Ivy defensive backs Tim Strickland and J.J. Artis.
"They were the two best defensive backs in the league," said defensive coordinator Steve Verbit, referring to Strickland and Artis.
"When you lose players of that caliber, you have some question marks. We have a lot of youth in the secondary. We're looking at six to eight kids back there."
Verbit is depending on senior free safety Kevin Kelleher to take charge while the younger players get acclimated to things. "Kevin has done a great job in terms of leadership responsibility," asserted Verbit, who also is looking for heady play from seniors Bill Hurley and Blake Williams and sophomore Dan Koplovich.
The Tigers' front seven is loaded with experience and should be able to hold the fort nicely while the coaches figure out the defensive back rotation.
Princeton returns three battle-hardened veterans at defensive line in juniors Tom Methvin, Matt Koch, and Peter Buchignani. At linebacker, Princeton should feature senior co-captain Jon Stem, classmates Tim Boardman and Doori Song, together with junior Collin McCarthy.
"There is no doubt that we have depth up front; we have to put pressure on the quarterback," said Verbit. "We need to disrupt the ball and put quarterbacks in uncomfortable situations."
In terms of the kicking game, Princeton is in the uncomfortable situation of saying goodbye to All-American and four-time All-Ivy performer Colin McDonough. Hughes is confident that Princeton native and Lawrenceville product Ryan Coyle can do the job as he steps into the starter's role.
"Ryan stepped into two games last year when Colin got hurt and did a good job," said Hughes. "He is really showing a lot of promise."
The place-kicking situation is less settled with Matt Lichtenstein, Connor Louden, David Korn, and Ben Bologna all in the mix.
As for the clash with Lehigh, Hughes knows it will be a challenge as usual. "Their quarterback [Sedale Threatt] is back and he can make plays," said Hughes, whose team overcame a 10-0 deficit in edging Lehigh 14-10 in last season's opener.
"On both sides of the ball they do a good job of creating conflicts. They will have already played a game (a 30-20 loss to Villanova last Saturday); I don't know how we'll match up against them."
If Princeton is to prevail, it will need to bring some fire along with its admirable work ethic. "We're still trying to find the personality of this team," said Hughes. "We are a very business-like team. Frankly, we've been missing the emotion that you need to play this game."
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