May 29, 2019

Bringing his Unique Skill Set, Competitive Fire, PU Star Lovett Aiming to Make Kansas City Chiefs

LOVE OF THE GAME: Princeton University football star John Lovett enjoys the moment last November in the season finale as Princeton defeated Penn 42-14 to put the finishing touches on a 10-0 campaign. Quarterback Lovett went on the earn his second Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. This April, he signed a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

John Lovett is trying to prove himself all over.

The Princeton University senior football star has taken the same attitude to Kansas City Chiefs preseason camp that he had when he started with the Tigers.

“When he first got here, he just wanted to get on the field,” recalled Princeton football head coach Bob Surace. “He said, ‘Coach, I can long snap.’ I don’t know if he ever long snapped before, and he had no technique, but the ball went exactly where it was supposed to go faster than anyone else we had. He’s going to find his way to make the club.”

Surace never did let Lovett long snap — for fear of losing his job if his starting quarterback with NFL potential were to be hurt — but instead watched him grow into a player that the Tigers had to get on the field. It meant that Lovett played his favorite spot, quarterback, at times, but also lined up at running back and wide receiver. He could be doing the same for Kansas City.

“The fact that I played multiple positions in college was something that I guess was intriguing,” said the 6’3, 230-pound Lovett.

“For my scenario, whatever the coaches ask of me, just like in college, whatever the coaches here ask of me, I’m going to do that 100 miles per hour. It’s not just one position. I’m learning the offense and going out there and doing whatever they ask me to do.”

Kansas City signed Lovett as an undrafted free agent on the final day of the NFL Draft on April 27. He goes to a Chiefs team that drafted Princeton’s Mike Catapano in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. Lovett and Catapano haven’t talked yet, but Lovett is already working to be the next Princeton player in the pros.

“First and foremost, I was just incredibly thankful to my family during this process for all the sacrifices they’ve put in as much as the work I’ve done,” said Lovett, who comes from Wantagh, N.Y.

“It was an awesome day to be able to celebrate with family and I had a bunch of friends and teammates from Princeton that were at my house. To be able to celebrate with friends and family, it was an amazing experience.”

Not being drafted gave Lovett free agent power to choose a team that he liked. He had interest from more than a dozen teams and had to find what fit him.

“To have the opportunity to come in and play under a future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid, and be able to learn his offense, he’s an offensive genius, so that was certainly a great opportunity,” said Lovett. “I had a good conversation with him and I felt comfortable. Most importantly, I was excited for the opportunity to come in here and compete.”

Lovett started competing when he reported to rookie training camp five days after being signed. It was an eye-opener.

“Right off the bat, putting on your own jersey with your name on it and wearing a Chiefs helmet, it was a surreal feeling,” said Lovett.

“Once you get onto the field, it’s just football. I’ve been playing this game since I was six years old. I really wanted to go out and every day is a fight so go out and play 110 percent.”

Early reports from Reid had Lovett making a good impression. He’s taken his high energy level to Kansas City.

“You’re not going to be able to cut John,” said Surace, who coached nine years in the NFL as an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals. “He’s just so relentless and he competes well. At the end of the day, those guys in my experiences, those guys make teams. If he’s not a star, and most guys aren’t stars right away — there’s very few Saquon Barkleys — those guys undrafted or late-round picks are guys that have incredible intangible qualities.”

As Lovett hit the field for the Chiefs, he looked to show some of the skills that made him a two-time Bushnell Cup Award winner as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. Lovett steered Princeton to a 22-4 record in games he played in since 2015. Princeton won the Ivy titles in 2016 and 2018, going unbeaten at 10-0 in the latter season, the program’s first perfect campaign since going 9-0 in 1964. Lovett played quarterback in his final season but was more of a hybrid in previous seasons. He is one of six finalists for Princeton’s William Winston Roper Trophy, given to the top senior male athlete of the year.

“Most scouts were questioning ‘does he throw it well enough to play quarterback at that level?’” said Surace. “The New Orleans Saints worked John out as a linebacker. It wasn’t a matter of, can this guy play in the NFL? It’s, what does he do and how quickly does he get up to speed? We saw before this year, the two prior years, what a tremendous athlete he was running the ball and catching it. Last year we got to see him throw it more and he was very successful.”

Crediting his experience at Princeton with helping him develop into a player with NFL potential, Lovett feels ready to take on any spot.

“Playing multiple positions in my past, it’s given me an advantage as far as dealing with the position change,” said Lovett, who passed for 2,509 yards, rushed for 1,589 yards, and made 26 receptions for 553 yards while scoring 44 touchdowns in his Princeton career.

“Last year, I played every snap at quarterback. Throughout college, I did consider myself a quarterback. Although it’s a position change, I do feel like I’ve had reps at this position before so it’s not totally foreign. It’s an incredible opportunity. I feel thankful and blessed.”

Lovett likened learning the Chiefs’ playbook to learning a new language. He jumps at the chance to study it every possible chance and get himself best prepared for the NFL.

“The excitement is getting to live out a childhood dream and put on a Kansas City uniform every single day,” said Lovett.

“I feel blessed to be where I am and I’m trying to take advantage of it day in and day out. As far as the position itself, it’s incredibly exciting. It’s a unique position. As the adjuster of the offense, it’s essentially falling second in line to quarterback as far as how much you know of the offense. It’s definitely a challenge, but I read my playbook every day to try to pick it up.”

So far, Lovett has split time between the running back and tight end position rooms. He’s already done some of what he was asked to do while at Princeton, but on a larger scale. His ability to absorb his new positional skills will go a long way in determining if he makes the Chiefs.

“He’s playing mostly H-back,” said Surace. “He’s not playing quarterback there. When we had Chad (Kanoff at quarterback), John ran routes and carried the ball. He’s had those skills before, but we didn’t teach him. He was a quarterback before so he knew the route was a 5-yard or a 12-yard. It’s going to be ‘can he build the habits quick enough, as a receiver, as a tight end, as a blocker, can he build those habits quick enough to do it as a professional as opposed to a guy who was the best athlete in the league?’”

Lovett is also keeping up with classmates as they try to catch on with NFL teams as Jesper Horsted is playing with the Chicago Bears while Stephen Carlson is competing for the Cleveland Browns.

“This past year, going 10-0 and being the first team at Princeton to do so in over 50 years was awesome,” said Lovett.

“To have an Ivy League record setting offense, it’s no surprise to me that guys in our offense have had opportunities going forward. I’ve been talking to them and wishing them the best, and more so going through the process with them. It’s nice to hear how they’re doing and when you have a second to talk to them, those guys have been friends and teammates for four or five years now. It’s been great.”

In pursuing his opportunity with the Chiefs, Lovett is trying to bring his best traits into the mix.

“My passion for the game and being a willing kid that wants to come in here and help the team any way I can,” said Lovett.

Surace, for his part, has no doubts that Lovett can make an NFL roster. He watched Lovett work as hard as anyone he has coached to put himself in the best position possible for a professional football career.

“He came to us with a lot of tools,” said Surace.  “He was fast. He had good size. He was strong. We’ve had a few guys like this, Catapano being the first one that went to the league, that their work ethic is better than anybody. He’s in the top 1 percent in a league full of competitors. You talk about maximizing abilities, he certainly did. Last year was first time he got to play full-time at quarterback, and he really did all the subtle things, managing the offense, making good decisions, checking in and out of plays, he was so good with that. He’s such a competitive person that whatever they ask him to do, he’s going to figure it out eventually and learn it.”