PHS Football Not Resting on Laurels; Determined to Build on 2004 Success
By Bill Alden
The best feel-good story of the 2004 local high school football scene was authored by Princeton High.
The Little Tigers started the season with a bang, going 2-0 for the first time since the mid 1990s. While PHS stumbled a bit in the mid-season, it ended up going 5-5, falling one win short of qualifying for the state playoffs.
Those five wins were two more wins than the program had compiled in the previous three seasons combined. The team's success turned heads throughout Mercer County and sparked an outpouring of goodwill around town.
As PHS prepares for the upcoming season, head coach Steve Everette is concerned that the players' heads may have gotten a little swelled in the wake of their success.
"I think the kids are a little bit too confident," said Everette. "Everybody in town was excited and telling us good job, good job into the spring. The kids need to realize that last year is done and they have to put in even more effort this year."
One PHS player putting in plenty of effort over the offseason was 5'7 junior John Mitko, who faces the formidable challenge of replacing star quarterback Vinny Giacalone, now starting his college career at Carnegie Mellon.
"What John lacks in height he makes up in athleticism," said Everette, referring to his new signal caller. "He has a good grasp of our system. He had a great offseason; he worked very hard. He was a starter on defense last year so he earned his stripes with his teammates."
Mitko's task in taking the reins of the PHS offense will be eased by the array of star skills players around him, including senior receiver Ben Guervil, junior running back Alexz Henriques, together with senior tight ends Frank Giacalone and Marc Andre.
The elusive Henriques, in particular, will be a pivotal figure with workhorse fullback Mike Vieten having graduated. "Everybody made so much over how much we passed the ball last season but we passed 240 times and rushed 255," explained Everette. "With Vieten gone, Alexz will have more responsibility."
In the trenches, Everette is looking for 6'0, 245-pound senior Huguens Jean to turn some heads. "Huguens worked very hard in the offseason," said Everette, who is also expecting senior J.P. Henrichsen and junior Adam Lawrence to help anchor the line. "He has been performing very well in scrimmages and practices."
Everette is also counting on a good performance from his defensive unit, whose aggressiveness last fall provided the foundation for PHS' progress.
"The defense will be strong like it has been in the past," asserted Everette. "Huguens will be big for us up front. One player who has opened up everyone's eyes on the line is James Broadway. Frank Giacalone will put pressure on the passer from defensive end. Ben Guervil and Sascha Hopson are very good in the secondary, they both made all-conference teams last year."
The major question mark on defense figures to be linebacker where two sophomore newcomers, Joe Cifelli and Douglas Borchert, will be teaming up with returning starter, junior Elliott Schreffler.
After getting his shares of pats on the back for the job he did in guiding the Little Tigers back to respectability, Everette knows that bettering last fall's success won't be an easy task.
"I feel pressure; we're in the hotseat," acknowledged Everette, who is entering his fourth season at the helm of the PHS program.
"We want to win the Patriot Division title. We want to improve on 5-5 and get a shot at the playoffs. We are going to need some bounces to go our way. We have a rugged early part of the season, playing teams like Steinert, Notre Dame, and Lawrence."
Everette will get a better sense of whether his team is up to the challenges ahead when it hosts Ewing this Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
"We haven't beaten Ewing since I've been here," said Everette. "They are big and athletic; they present a tough matchup for us. It's going to have some extra juice because it's a division game."
If PHS comes through, it will be a sign that the Little Tigers are going to provide some juice to the football scene for a second straight year.