Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 37
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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OPENING ACT: New Princeton University head coach Bob Surace enjoys a light moment last week at the program’s annual media day. Surace, a 1990 Princeton alum and All-Ivy League center, makes his debut at his alma mater this Saturday when Princeton opens at Lehigh (1-1).

With New Coach Surace Heralding Fresh Start, Princeton Football Primed for Opener at Lehigh

Bill Alden

Although Bob Surace is a former All-Ivy League center for Princeton University football team, he is applying an NFL blueprint as he takes the helm of his alma mater.

After spending the last nine seasons as an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals, Surace has modeled his first preseason camp at Princeton after a tried and true NFL model.

“We did our training camp schedule that was no different from the one that Marv Levy originally set up,” said Surace, a 1990 PU alum brought in to replace Roger Hughes, who was relieved from his duties as Tiger head coach last November after a decade on the job.

“Brian Billick did it with Bill Walsh at San Francisco and Marvin [Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis] worked with Brian at Baltimore. We go morning and a night on the two-a-day and afternoon on the one-a-day and they are always fresh.”

Surace’s arrival signals a fresh approach for a program that has endured three straight 4-6 seasons after going 9-1 in 2006 and tying for the Ivy crown.

“From the day I got the job, I think the key is to move forward,” said Surace, whose regular season debut as Princeton head coach takes place this Saturday when the Tigers play at Lehigh (1-1).

“You don’t harp on the past. I think for everybody, including myself, it is a fresh start. This is not my senior year in 1989; it is not those great teams that played in the 1960s. This is about the 2010 team. Some guys who probably didn’t feel that they had a great opportunity to play have embraced the changes and have put themselves in position to help us.”

If Princeton is to regain its winning ways, it will need junior Tommy Wornham to keep progressing at the crucial quarterback position.

“We are seeing the game slow down for him; the other thing about him is that there is a confidence,” said Surace of the 6’2, 210-pound native of San Diego who passed for 1,624 yards and seven touchdowns last year.

“I think that whenever he is in workouts, whenever he is out on the field, there is a leadership that he has undertaken. It helps when one of your leaders and top players is in as good a shape as anybody on your team. When the coach gives a message and your leaders follow through, everybody else follows through.”

New Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry, a former record-setting quarterback at Brown, likes what he is seeing from Wornham. “Like any young quarterback, decision-making is your No. 1 thing; you have to be a good decision-maker,” said Perry.

“I think his growth has been excellent and he will continue to get better and better each day. I think in the past, Tommy was trying to do a lot of different things instead of executing the play well. We have made great strides with that and I think as he becomes a more quiet QB in those hectic situations, his ability, which is tremendous, will really shine through.”

Perry plans to utilize an offensive approach that will make things hectic for Princeton’s foes.

“Definitely the two hallmarks are that we are going to be fast and physical,” maintained Perry, who has coached at Brown, Dartmouth, Maryland, Delaware, and Williams.

“Some of it is getting in shape and getting the guys to literally be fast physically. A big part of it is to know their job and do it with conviction. Guys who know what direction they are supposed to go and who they are supposed to block play a little faster than guys who are uncertain. It is the same way at the skill positions.”

Having senior tri-captain Jordan Culbreath back at tailback will help Princeton head in the right direction. Culbreath was the leading rusher in the Ivy League in 2008 with 1,206 yards before missing most of last season while battling aplastic anemia.

“Jordan provides tremendous leadership, there is no doubt that everybody around him is better because of him,” said Perry, who has plenty of options at running back in senior tri-captain Matt Zimmerman at fullback together with senior Meko McCray and sophomore Akil Sharp at tailback.

“It’s a miracle; we are all just astonished everyday to have him out there. He’s in tremendous physical shape.”

The Tigers are in good shape at receiver with the return of veteran stars Trey Peacock, Andrew Kerr, and Jeb Heavenrich. Peacock made a team-high 48 catches last fall for 527 yards with Kerr getting 38 receptions and Heavenrich making 11 grabs.

“We have three seniors in that corps and they all have done a great job,” asserted Perry. “They are top notch; we have an elite group of talent there for this league.”

Surace acknowledges that the offensive line group is causing some concern since it will feature a bevy of new faces due to graduation losses.

“We have a total of four starts returning,” said Surace. “The good news is that here, as opposed to other places I have been, we have smart kids. We are not getting the mental errors from that spot.”

By contrast, the defensive line is a source of comfort for the coaches, according to new defensive coordinator Jared Backus.

“We have some very good defensive linemen; Matt Boyer has done a great job as has Caraun Reid, Mike Catapano, and Dan Fitzsimmons,” maintained Backus, who said the Tigers will feature multiple schemes on defense to take advantage of their team speed.

“The whole group has really had a great training camp. They work hard and get better each day. I expect them to have a really, really good season. They are talented players against both the run and the pass.”

Senior tri-captain and All-Ivy linebacker Steven Cody figures to be Princeton’s most talented player on defense.

“We will lean on him a lot; he has had a very solid career to this point,” said Backus of the 6’1, 245-pound Cody, who led the Ivies last fall with an average of 11.6 tackles per game.

“He is a great guy on the field; he is a very good player. He is a great guy to have on the team; he is great in the locker room.”

The big question mark on defense concerns the secondary which was also hit with some heavy graduation losses.

“That group has really progressed from when we got here in the spring; you can trust those guys to execute what they are trying to do,” said Backus, who has coached at Temple and Bucknell. “Matt Wakulchik has transformed himself as far as a tackle. He is a smart player who can get you in the right defense. Mandela Schaeffer and Glenn Wakam are there too.”

For Surace, a major emphasis on defense will be causing more takeaways. “The most disappointing thing from the spring was our lack of getting turnovers,” maintained Surace.

“As a coach, you have to address areas of weakness. In the spring, I think we had eight interceptions in 12 practices; that’s not good enough. Then we get 12 in the first three practices at camp; that’s a nice thing. You see them diving on the field and making plays. We are emphasizing that; it is important for us.”

The Tigers are looking for more big plays on special teams. “Our kicker is Patrick Jacob and we put him under the fire,” said Surace, adding that the team’s punting and return game should be improved.

“The more we put him under a stressful situation, like both teams are going to run if you don’t make this, the better he kicks. He is accurate and has good range. He has gotten better at kickoffs; last year, the field position was poor.”

Princeton will face a stressful situation this Saturday at traditionally tough Lehigh.

“They have got big strong players up front on both sides of the ball,” said Surace, referring to Lehigh which topped Drake 28-14 in their opener before losing 35-0 to powerful Villanova last Saturday.

“This quarterback [Chris Lum] is an elite player; he gets rid of the football. Their receivers run good routes; it looked like NFL practice the way they were so crisp in their routes. Defensively, they play their gaps well and they are assignment sound. They do not miss tackles. They have a really physical back seven. They are also very well coached.”

While Surace is applying the coaching lessons he learned in the NFL, it is his deep ties to the Princeton program that have provided inspiration as he looks forward to his debut.

“We took the team on a beach trip last week and Keith Elias is in the area,” said Surace. “Guys like Anthony DiTommaso and Jim Renna get out to practice. When Dick Kazmaier writes the most classy note you could imagine or he calls you and says he’s going to be at the opening home game, you get chills.”

Surace is hoping to provide Tiger fans and alums with plenty of chills this fall starting with Saturday.

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