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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

SENIOR LEADERSHIP: Princeton University football co-captains, senior Ben Brielmaier, right, and classmate Justin Stull take a break during a recent practice session. Brielmaier, who moved to offensive tackle last fall after playing two years on the defensive line, has emerged as a steady performer and team leader for the Tigers. Stull, for his part, is a two-time All-Ivy League performer at linebacker as well as a two-time team captain. The Tigers open their 2005 season this Saturday when they play at Lafayette.
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After Smooth Conversion to Offensive Line, Brielmaier Takes Lead Role for Tiger Football

By Bill Alden

Ben Brielmaier faced a tough decision last fall as he entered his junior season with the Princeton University football team.

After having established himself as a solid performer on the Tiger defensive line in 2003 with eight starts and 11 tackles, the Princeton coaching staff asked Brielmaier to move over to the offensive line.

Despite having misgivings about making the shift and starting from square one at a new position, Brielmaier acceded to the coaches' wishes.

The change ended up increasing Brielmaier's value to the team as he emerged as a steady performer in his new role, starting all 10 games at left tackle and being chosen as one of the team's co-captains this past spring.

With Princeton having adopted the mantra "it's about the team" coming into the 2005 campaign, Brielmaier certainly knows what it means to sacrifice individual goals for the needs of the group.

"At first, I was a little hesitant," said Brielmaier, a 6'4, 310-pound mountain of a man who hails from Mankato, Minn.

"They talked to me about it in late July prior to camp. It was a borderline decision and they left it up to me. It's different techniques and a different stance. The mental game is much more complicated. The blocking scheme is much more complex that the defensive gap play."

Once Brielmaier took the plunge and went to the other side of the line, he realized that he had made the right call. "It's one of the best decisions I've ever made," asserted Brielmaier.

"Coach [Stan] Clayton is a great mentor. He works very hard with us, getting us to be more into the game physically and mentally. My classmates on the line, guys like Andrew Wilson and Dave Szelingowski, really helped me along. In that first game last year, things really started to click for me. The chemistry on the line grew as the year progressed."

The move to the offensive side of the ball is just one of the many adjustments that Brielmaier has made on and off the field since coming east from the small town life he enjoyed in Mankato.

"College football is one or two steps faster than high school football," explained Brielmaier, an electrical engineering major who had originally wanted to play football at Notre Dame.

"The mental side of the game was also a change; learning the plays and how the offense and defense work together. The academic rigor was tough. It was one of those things where you learned to manage your time; to devote yourself to your various classes in a way that allows you to balance everything."

As the Tigers enter the 2005 season looking to improve on the 5-5 mark they posted last year, Brielmaier knows that the balance of responsibility offensively will tip to the line as Princeton breaks in new starters across the backfield.

"We are definitely taking it on our shoulders in terms of making sure the offense gets where it needs to be," said Brielmaier. "When things get rough and aren't going well, we're going to be the ones that say we are going to get the job done for you guys. To make their job easy is a big focus for us; we feel we are the cornerstone of the team."

Individually, Brielmaier feels additional responsibility since assuming the job of co-captain along with star linebacker Justin Stull. "That was a great honor," said Brielmaier, reflecting on being chosen as a team captain. "It says a lot about how my teammates respect me. I'm going to do everything I can for them. I will always strive to be a leader for this team."

Brielmaier is confident that the team can earn the respect of its foes. "I feel that this is the year that we're going to really surprise some people," maintained Brielmaier, who plans to take a shot at playing in the NFL after graduation. "The work ethic on this team is phenomenal. I think that will make a huge difference this season."

In Brielmaier's view, the Tigers will bring a special feeling of unity when they hit the field this Saturday to start their season at 2-0 Lafayette.

"We're all in this together, we don't have guys on the team who are individual standouts," said Brielmaier.

"When we come together as a team we can do some special things. A team like the Patriots is truly successful but it doesn't have a lot of guys going to the Pro Bowl. They have a great team because they play together; I think that's important."

Having a team player like Brielmaier anchoring its offensive line gives Princeton a better chance to produce a successful fall.


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