(Photo by Bill Allen)
CORNERSTONE: Princeton football senior cornerback Jay McCareins prepares to spring into action at a recent practice. McCareins, a first-team All Ivy League performer last fall, will be a key figure on the Tiger defense which will have its hands full when Princeton kicks off its 2005 season this Saturday at 2-0 Lafayette.nd of caption
Princeton Football Emphasizing Team Concept As It Kicks Off Season at Undefeated Lafayette
By Bill Alden
Fans of the Princeton University football team better pay close attention to their game programs this fall.
With 16 seniors having graduated from last year's 5-5 team, question marks abound as Princeton prepares to kick off its season this Saturday at 2-0 Lafayette, the defending Patriot League champions.
Sifting through a bunch of untested players in the search to find the right answers, the Tiger lineup figures to resemble a revolving door this fall.
"The person that starts the first game may not be the person who starts the second game," said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes, who enters his sixth year at the Princeton helm with a 19-30 record.
"The person who plays in the first quarter might not be the person who plays in the second. I think there's going to be a little juggling but athletically I think we have some depth."
The instability is most evident in the offensive backfield where Princeton has lost Matt Verbit at quarterback, Jon Veach and Branden Benson at tailback and Joel Mancl at fullback.
"We don't really have any established skills players," acknowledged Hughes with a slight grimace at the team's annual media day.
"I spent a lot of time this summer with Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who took a defense that ranked 27th in 2003 to second in the league a season later. He told me that not one starter who started the first game last fall started the last game. This may end up being a similar year for us in our offensive skills positions."
Currently, junior Jeff Terrell appears to be the frontrunner at quarterback with sophomores Greg Mroz and Bill Foran looking to earn some snaps as Hughes contemplates using a rotation system.
At tailback, those who could see action include junior Cleo Kirkland and sophomores Derek Brooks and John Carroll. Sophomore Rob Toresco appears to have earned the starting job at fullback with junior Joe Kovba serving as his backup.
The wide receiving corps features elusive senior Greg Fields, the Tigers' leading returning pass catcher with 49 catches for 511 yards last year, together with senior Derek Davis and junior Brian Brigham. Senior Jon Dekker is back at tight end with sophomore Brendan Swisher backing him up.
Princeton offensive coordinator Dave Rackovan believes that the Tigers may uncover some hidden gems from their bevy of neophyte skills players.
"Inexperience brings forth opportunity for a lot of guys," asserted Rackovan. "I think we have some good skill players, there is a tremendous amount of competition among that group. I think that you'll find as the season goes on that there are some guys who will come out as playmakers."
While the backfield may be a work in progress throughout the fall, the Tigers do have the luxury of putting a seasoned offensive line on the field.
Barring injuries, Princeton should start a quartet of seniors across the line in co-captain Ben Brielmaier, Dave Szelingowksi, and Paul Lyons. Sophomores Adam Flynn and Paul Daou should also be in the mix.
Such a prospect brings a smile to Rackovan's face. "The advantage is that we have a seasoned group in front of the skills guys," said Rackovan. "Those guys have been through the wars and that will enable the inexperienced guys to come along a little quicker."
On defense, the Tigers will again feature the 3-4 scheme that the club employed last year for the first time.
"We think that scheme is the best fit for what we have from a talent standpoint," maintained defensive coordinator Steve Verbit.
"We think we have some pretty good people at linebacker. We've got a bunch of aggressive kids and the 3-4 allows guys to move around a lot."
While the scheme will look the same, Princeton will be rotating plenty of different faces through the system.
On the line, the starters should be senior James Williams and juniors Brett Barrie and Mike Meehan. Senior Joe Schoppy and junior Jake Marshall also figure to see action along the defensive front.
The linebacking corps features two of Princeton's top veterans in senior co-captain Justin Stull and classmate Abi Fadeyi.
"Stully at linebacker is a real good one," said Verbit, referring to 6'0, 230-pound tackling machine who has been an All-Ivy performer the last two seasons. "Abi on the edge really gives you what you need out there.":
Princeton will looking at seniors Nate Starrett and Rob Holuba, juniors Brig Walker and Luke Steckel together with sophomores Doori Song and Tim Boardman to fill its needs at the other linebacking spots.
At cornerback, the Tigers will utilize two of the team's blue-chip athletes in senior Jay McCareins and junior J.J. Artis.
"This the third year that Jay will be considered a starter," said Verbit of McCareins, who has earned All-Ivy recognition at cornerback and also contributed 21 receptions for 188 yards and 303 yards on returns last season. “J.J. has two years under his belt."
In addition, experienced junior Tim Strickland should see plenty of snaps in the secondary along with seniors David Ochotorena, and Rob Anderson as well as sophomores Kevin Kelleher and Blake Williams.
The kicking game should be stable with junior All-Ivy performer Colin McDonough at punter and senior Derek Javarone and freshman Connor Louden handling the placekicking duties.
With all the new faces dotting the line-up and all the juggling that will entail, Hughes has crafted a unifying theme to help bring everything together.
"The mantra this year is that it's all about the team," asserted Hughes, whose 2004 team finished in a three-way tie with Yale and Brown for fourth place in the Ivy standings.
"We've told them to forget about individual accolades. The group has really bought into that. I think this team recognizes that and fulfills that better than other teams in the past. There is a chemistry; a work ethic. The seniors have really come through leader-wise."
But it remains to be seen whether the one-for-all and all-for-one attitude will help the program produce something better than the so-so seasons it has produced in the recent past.