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Princeton hard at work and ready to go
As usual, high schools throughout the country (and even Pop Warner), along with most college programs, for weeks now have been holding football workouts for the start of the season next month.
The Princeton University football team didn’t come out from behind the Ivy until yesterday, but second-year head coach Bob Surace didn’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
“You know the great thing about it? The young guys get more time to prepare,” he said. “Our guys get an extra three-four weeks to lift, run, train, get ready to go.”
So the question is, are they in fact ready to go?
“We did our run testing, and I thought it was great,” Surace said. “On the field for the first day, you have your ups; you have your downs, but they played hard. They’re in shape, and they’re working hard, which is good.”
The Tigers need to be if they’re going to reverse a four-year trend of non-winning football, starting as the Ivy League does every season, late, on Sept. 17.
They are coming off a 1-9 season and a winless effort in the Ivy League. Over the past four seasons, they’ve gone 13-27.
Five years ago, they went 9-1 and tied for the league championship.
If Princeton is going to restore lost pride, it is going to have to improve significantly in an area always associated with championship teams: defense.
That began to crumble in the very first game when spiritual leader Steve Cody, a linebacker, snapped his tibia and fibula in his right leg. Because Princeton does not afford redshirt seasons, he dropped out of school and returned home to Virginia.
He is back for his senior year, and seeing No. 51 on the practice fields yesterday was a welcomed sight for everyone.
“There’s a lot of guys coming back who played football last year, and to see 51 out there running around was great,” Surace said. “I teased him that at the youth store his shirt is half off and whatever. So he’s got a chip on his shoulder, and watching him today, that’s an impact.”
Last year, Princeton allowed 31.7 points per game. It allowed 443.7 yards per game.
In four of its losses, it allowed more than 40 points, including 52 to Ivy champ Penn.
“It’s exciting to have him back,” said tri-captain Mike Catapano, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive lineman. “He’s an explosive player in every way of the word. The whole team is so much better with him around — emotionally, mentally, performance-wise. We play a lot better with him on our side.”
Catapano, a preseason All-America, feels the team will do just that.
“There’s a lot of electricity in the air right now,“ he said. “Last year, I thought we were in good shape. This year, we’re also in good shape, but we also have that mental edge, and I think we’re starting to believe in this team again, and it’s been a while since we’ve been really dominant in this league.
“I think we’re starting to believe in our hearts that we have the talent and poise to do that. We have to trust in each other, trust in the coaches, and add that together, and I think we’re going to be tough to beat.”
The season opens at home against Patriot League champion Lehigh. The league opener is also home, against Columbia Oct. 1. Both games are 6 p.m.
Both games will provide a compass.
“We have a lot of guys who are tired of having that taste in their mouth; getting their butts whooped,” Cody said. “That’s one thing that’s going to help turn things around. The second thing is we have a lot of guys who got experience last year, who learned what it means to be a Division I football player.
“And three, we have a lot of great athletes on this team, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that. There’s really a lot of guys who haven’t really had their chance to shine who are capable of it, so I think we can definitely surprise people.”
Surace isn’t showing his cards — including a new defensive scheme, but he is repeating three words to his team: “Be great today.”
“Everybody’s worried about the future,” Surace said about outsiders. “‘This, that.’ But it’s all about today. Let’s see (No.) 7 throw the ball today. Let’s see 39 kick today. Let’s put a bunch of those together. When the older guys step up and when young guys see it, they think, ‘Ooh, that’s what college football is.’ And that’s a good thing.”
How good is yet to be determined, especially now that practice has finally started.
By Paul Franklin, Times of Trenton