Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 37
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

Advertise in Town Topics

Iris Interiors

Advertise in Town Topics

Weather Forecast

(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PILLARS OF STRENGTH: Mike Catapano, left, smiles as he poses along with fellow Princeton University football tri-captains Steven Cody, right, and Tommy Wornham at the program’s recent media day. Senior defensive lineman Catapano and the Tigers kick off their 2011 campaign when they host at Lehigh on September 17.

Catapano Grows Into Force on Defensive Line; Looking to Lead Tiger Football to Big Things

Bill Alden

Mike Catapano packed on a lot pounds during his freshman year at Princeton University but it wasn’t a matter of letting loose in college.

Instead, it was the case of an undersized former high school running back trying to grow into a college defensive lineman.

“I was really small and I was getting manhandled in practice,” said Catapano, a native of Bayville, N.Y. and star fullback in high school who weighed 220 pounds when he arrived at Princeton in 2008.

“I gained 50 pounds between freshman and sophomore year. I was eating every two hours and eating everything in sight. I really wanted to play; I didn’t want to be on the sideline.”

Catapano got on the field as a sophomore and showed he could play with the big boys, recording 22 tackles, including eight solo stops. As a junior, he made 37 tackles and two sacks to earn Honorable Mention All-Ivy League recognition.

Now, the fully grown 6’4, 280-pound Catapano has assumed a major leadership role with the Tigers, serving as one of the team’s tri-captains for the 2011 campaign along with classmates Tommy Wornham and Steve Cody.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen; I hope to live up to the great reputation of this university and program,” said Catapano, reflecting on being elected as captain.

“I am not much of a vocal guy naturally; I try to lead by my play on the field. Coach [Bob] Surace talks to me about getting more vocal and things like that and I have stepped it up in the vocal area. But my play and my intensity and my hard work, that is not going to change.”

Catapano worked hard to become an accomplished defensive lineman, soaking up everything he could in his sophomore year as he saw his first college action.

“Every game I played I got a little bit better; it was so new to me,” recalled Catapano.

“It was fun coming to collegiate level and actually playing in a game. Every chance I got, something else was going to get better and I was going to learn a little more about defense and the defensive line. I thought my best game that year was the last game against Dartmouth because every game I wanted to improve. Every game I learned something new and got more comfortable with this new thing.”

While the Tigers didn’t have a lot fun last fall as they suffered through a 1-9 campaign, Catapano continued to progress even though he was hampered by a lingering back injury.

“I had a couple of injury issues; I look at junior year as the stepping stone for this year,” said Catapano.

“I thought I did OK but I know I am capable of a lot more. I think I am going to do a lot more this year, especially since I am healthy. I learned don’t flinch even if things aren’t going well. You have to have short-term memory in this sport. I don’t care what happened last year or what our numbers were. It is all about looking forward from here.”

Catapano is looking forward to the return of lineman Caraun Reid and linebacker Cody to the Princeton defense as they have recovered from injuries which sidelined them last year.

“It is huge; those two guys are really explosive players,” said Catapano. “The defense is so much better off with them around. You’ve got to have a threat coming from every angle and I feel like we really do.”

Now that he has his weight up, Catapano is looking to hone his quickness. “I am a lot faster; I really worked on my speed in the offseason,” said Catapano. “I am sick of being close to the quarterback, I want to get to the quarterback. I am much more explosive off the ball.”

With Princeton having not produced a winning campaign since going 9-1 in 2006, Catapano and his teammates are sick of losing.

“It makes me more hungry; we haven’t had a winning season here in a long time,” said Catapano, who will be looking to help the Tigers get on the winning track when they kick off their 2011 season by hosting Lehigh on September 17.

“I think it is about coming out and winning some games and striving to get that finally. It makes us better off because we have that hunger.”

But for Catapano, the record is secondary to his hunger to play the game.

“I have cried after the last game of every season since I have been a kid,” said Catapano.

“It is always hard for me because I love the game so much. I look forward to it. It is not about what record you have or who is winning, it is about being out here with your teammates and playing the game that you love.”

And by growing into a force on the defensive line, Catapano hopes to leave Princeton’s foes in tears this fall.

Return to Previous Sports Story | Return to Top | Go to Next Sports Story

Town Topics® may be purchased on Wednesday mornings at the following locations: Princeton — McCaffrey’s, Cox’s, Kiosk (Palmer Square), Krauszer’s (State Road), Olives, Speedy Mart (State Road), Wawa (University Place); Hopewell — Village Express; Rocky Hill — Wawa (Route 518); Pennington — Pennington Market.
Copyright© Town Topics®, Inc. 2011.