Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 37
 
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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LEADERSHIP COUNCIL: Princeton University football senior offensive lineman and co-captain Mark Paski (No. 75) poses with fellow co-captains Wilson Cates (No. 17), Scott Britton (No. 43), and Jordan Culbreath (No. 21) at the program’s recent media day. Paski and his colleagues will look to lead Princeton to a win this Saturday when the Tigers open their 2009 season by hosting The Citadel.

Surviving Trial by Fire in 2006 Debut Season, Tiger Football Captain Paski Is Battle-Tested

Ed Benkin

Mark Paski didn’t get the chance to ease into things during his freshman season on the Princeton University football team.

Before Princeton’s preseason scrimmage with Yale, the offensive lineman learned that he would be in the starting lineup for the 2006 opener at Lehigh.

“Obviously that was a very nerve-wracking couple of weeks going into that first game,” recalled Paski, a native of Chester, N.J. and a standout at the Delbarton School.

“I was surrounded by some great seniors at that point who helped me calm my nerves and made sure that everything was going to be OK. You play against guys in a different colored jersey for the first time at the college level and it is 100 percent speed. The guys are bigger and stronger but it is so much faster on the college level than it is in high school.”

Paski spent the rest of the fall trying to get up to speed. “Throughout my freshman year, I was constantly on my toes,” said Paski. “I was just trying to pick up all the new techniques because as much as my high school coaches were great, there was still so much more to learn.”

The neophyte learned his lessons well as he became the first freshman in program history to start every game on the offensive line. That fall turned magical for Paski and his teammates as Princeton went 9-1 and tied Yale for the Ivy league title.

Remaining in the starting lineup the past two seasons and growing into a team stalwart, Paski will be looking to pass on some of the lessons he has learned as one of the team’s co-captains this fall.

For Paski, being voted as one of the team captains ranks as a career highlight.

“Obviously that was very thrilling for me just because it is something you put so much work and so much time into,” said Paski, whose fellow captains are a trio of classmates, defensive back Wilson Cates, running back Jordan Culbreath, and linebacker Scott Britton.

“To be voted by my teammates to that position is a huge honor, I feel very, very lucky to be in this position.”

Looking back on his freshman year, Paski has a better sense of how lucky he was to be on an Ivy championship team.

“One of the interesting things about it, going in as a freshman, you almost thought things were supposed to go our way because that was such a great season,” said Paski, who has grown to 6’5, 275 pounds.

“We were so fortunate that season, things really went our way. I didn’t realize how much I took it for granted.”

With Princeton having posted back-to-back 4-6 seasons, Paski has learned some harder lessons from that experience.

“Because the talent is so even across the league, it really comes down to character and chemistry,” maintained Paski, who now has 30 career starts at right tackle.

“If you are willing to sacrifice and play hard for the guy next to you, that’s what really makes a good team. That’s something we definitely had my freshman year.”

One of Paski’s goals as a captain is to rekindle the spirit of 2006. “It’s something we are hoping to build off this year and replicate,” said Paski.

“We have already seen a great bond between the seniors and the freshmen which is a tough gap to bridge. There is a lot of unity between the classes; there are a lot of people who have friends in all classes. There are people that are looking out for younger guys who are at their position. You don’t see any jealousy on this team. Guys really want the help each other out and make sure that we win.”

Along the offensive line, there is a big focus on helping star running back Culbreath build on his 2008 campaign which saw him rush for 1,206 yards.

“We don’t have any statistics except for holding penalties, offside, and sacks against and that’s something you get used to playing on the line,” said the affable Paski with a chuckle.

“We do take a lot of pride in what Jordan does. Obviously he is the one getting the yards. We do the best we can but Jordan also makes some phenomenal cuts.”

Paski and his teammates will be looking to do their best this Saturday when they open the 2009 season by hosting The Citadel.

“We are really excited; I think we formed a little bit of a rivalry going down there last year,” said Paski, recalling Princeton’s 37-24 loss to the Bulldogs in last year’s season opener.

“We are really looking forward to it; a lot of the guys we played against last year are returning too. I know the defensive end I played against is coming back. It will be a real great opportunity to get a shot at them. They are a tough team; they really got juiced up to play us last season. We are definitely going to have to respond to come away with the win.”

Based on the way Paski has been responding since he first hit field for Princeton in 2006, Citadel is in for a real battle this Saturday.

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