Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 37
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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TOMMY GUN: Princeton University sophomore quarterback Tommy Wornham displays his passing form. The development of new starter Wornham, who played in three games last fall and went 2-of-9 passing, will be a key to the Tigers’ success this fall. Princeton kicks off its 2009 season by hosting The Citadel on September 19.

PU Football Aiming to Rekindle Spirit of 2006 as It Kicks Off Season by Hosting The Citadel

Bill Alden

The seniors on this year’s Princeton University football team have experienced some of the greatest highlights in recent program history.

As freshmen in the fall of 2006, they went along for the ride as the Tigers posted a 9-1 record and tied for the Ivy League title with Yale. The season was a highlight reel of dramatic moments, featuring an epic comeback win at Yale and an overtime win against Penn.

The team’s senior group has also tasted bitter frustration, dealing with back-to-back 4-6 campaigns in which the Tigers have come up short in several tight contests.

With Princeton’s 2009 season starting this Saturday with a home date against The Citadel (0-1), Tiger head coach Roger Hughes believes his seniors can rekindle the upbeat mentality that permeated the program in that championship fall.

“I think they are very passionate and very committed to try to repeat the year that we had in 2006,” said Hughes as he reflected on his seniors at the program’s recent media day.

“I get the sense that this senior class is very close knit. It’s been fun to coach this team, they have done everything we have asked. I think we have put ourselves in a position to have a successful season. They have come into camp in absolute great shape. I told them that gives us a chance and now we take it to the next level.”

If Princeton is to reach the next level, it is going to need its new starting quarterback, sophomore Tommy Wornham, to do his best imitation of Jeff Terrell, the triggerman for the 2006 team and the Ivy League Player of the Year that season.

“Our success offensively is going to depend on how steep our quarterback’s learning curve is,” said Hughes of Wornham who saw action in just three games last fall, hitting on 2-of-9 passes for seven yards.

“First of all, we have to make sure that he manages the game correctly. Then we will work on execution and him winning the game for us. It’s going to be a work in progress.”

Princeton offensive coordinator Dave Rackovan is confident that Wornham can progress into something special.

“Tommy came off a good spring,” said Rackovan, noting that sophomore Harrison Daniels will be backup QB.

“Tommy has all the skills that are necessary; he just needs the reps. When we came back as a staff this summer, we decided that we are going to give him those reps.”

The coaching staff also feels that the team’s offensive veterans should help ease Wornham’s transition.

“Tommy has a great supporting cast; the key is we have to get him things he can handle,” said Hughes.

“We are trying schematically to help Tommy. One of the reasons we run the option is because it forces defenses to play assignment football. Hopefully that keeps them from doing a lot of crazy things and our passing game can be more effective.”

Princeton is confident that its running game will be more than effective with the return of senior star Jordan Culbreath, who led the Ivy League last season with 1,206 yards rushing.

“Jordan has earned the respect of his teammates through his hard work and how he performed,” said Hughes of the 5’10, 205-pound Culbreath who is one of the team’s four captains.

“We have a PhD in football in Jordan Culbreath. When they say it’s not rocket science, with him it is because he is a rocket scientist. He knows our offense and can literally help Tommy with those things.”

The Tigers should get a lot of help from its offensive line which features a core of veterans in senior co-captain Mark Paski and classmates J.P. Makrai, Andrew Hauser, and Mark Daou.

“I think our offensive line is very confident; they should be because they have played a lot of games,” said Rackovan of the group which boasts more than 100 career starts.

“They have seen everything, especially against our defense which poses so many problems from a schematic standpoint. It’s really about time that we have had a senior-dominated group. We are excited about that.”

Junior wide receiver Trey Peacock has been sparking a lot of excitement with his play in preseason camp.

“Another guy who has really shown a lot of development is Trey Peacock,” maintained Hughes of the 6’3, 210-pound Peacock who had 15 catches for 178 yards last fall.

“He worked very hard at some things in the spring, and this summer he has just been remarkable. He has gained that confidence to be the go-to guy; he is lot more focused too.”

Longtime defensive coordinator Steve Verbit is confident that the Tiger defense can make things hard on the opposition.

“I think we are pretty well balanced,” said Verbit. “We probably had 15 of the top 22 guys here this summer, working together and getting themselves ready to go. There are a lot of guys among all three units who appear to be ready to play and play pretty well this year.”

The linebacking unit boasts two of Princeton’s top guys in senior co-captain Scott Britton and junior Steven Cody, who both earned All-Ivy recognition last fall. “Cody and Britton are good players,” said Verbit, whose corps of linebackers will also include Jeff Jackson, Brad Stetler, John Callahan, and Jon Olofsson.

“They are a little bit undisciplined at times; we have got to slow them down. You like them to play hard and fast but sometimes they play a little too bit fast. They both have played a lot of snaps and they have showed they can be very, very productive.”

Princeton is looking for more productivity out of its defensive line which has depth and size.

“We kind of like that group,” said Verbit. “We are bigger there than we have been in the past. I think we are deep, we will probably have a six or seven man rotation.”

Seniors Joel Karacozoff and Mark Ethridge together junior Matt Boyer, sophomores Mike Catapano and Kevin DeMaio, and freshman Caraun Reid all figure to see a lot of snaps.

Depth is also the watchword in the secondary. “We have got a little bit of experience there, it is very competitive back there right now,” said Verbit whose group of defensive backs will feature senior co-captain Wilson Cates together with classmates Cart Kelly and Dan Kopolovich as well as juniors Glenn Wakam and Weston Palmer.

“We will play six or seven people back there to keep everybody on edge and a little uncomfortable. Productivity is the name of the game.”

In Hughes’ view, productivity on the defensive side of the ball will center on forcing turnovers.

“The major emphasis we have put on our defense is that we have got to get takeaways,” said Hughes, noting that the Tigers only forced 12 turnovers last season.

“We have got to disrupt the ball; we have to be great tacklers. So far that emphasis has been paying off in camp, we are making more plays on the ball.”

Having absorbed a 37-24 opening day loss at The Citadel last fall, Hughes is hoping that having a team chemistry resembling the spirit of the 2006 team will help this year’s squad make the winning plays.

“I think because of the closeness of this team, we are having fun,” said Hughes, who brings an overall record of 43-46 into his 10th season guiding the Tigers.

“It is not work for them, they really enjoy being around each other. When you have that as a coach and a coaching staff, you can put more demands and it doesn’t seem more demanding.”

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