At the end of spring practice, new Princeton football coach Bob Surace ’90 set conditioning as a high priority, and the team took it seriously, he said, working out in the summer months and returning to campus in prime shape. Surace promised to test that fitness on the final day of preseason camp, laying out a series of tasks that would serve as a grueling final exam.
“Not one guy complained,” Surace said. “I’m sure in the locker room maybe they grumbled, but they came out there and they were going to attack the test. … I called the guys in and said we have two choices: We can complete this test or we can go to the beach.”
With a collective roar, the Tigers boarded buses for the Jersey Shore.
The following morning at Princeton’s Sept. 10 media day, the atmosphere remained festive. Players jumped over the stadium railing after the team photo and jokingly oohed and aahed on the field as quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 tossed spirals for a local photographer, sporting a sheepish grin.
“It’s nice to be back and to finish all the workouts because they were pretty brutal this offseason,” Wornham said. “Morale is good right now, everyone is excited. We’re ready to hit other people.”
“We have a new attitude,” defensive lineman Matt Boyer ’11 added. “We have a real emphasis on finishing, a real emphasis on toughness.”
Boyer and Wornham will be two key contributors for the Tigers, who hope to return to Ivy League title contention after finishing 4-6 in each of the last three seasons. Below, a closer look at this year’s lineup.
9-14-10 UPDATE: Starting lineups for the season opener at Lehigh
“Fast and physical” is the mantra of new offensive coordinator James Perry, who set Ivy League passing records as a quarterback at Brown and coached at both Brown and Dartmouth. Beyond that, Perry held his plans close to the vest, offering few hints on what style of offense he’d favor or how much this year’s Tigers would run or pass.
Tommy Wornham ’12 (Office of Athletics Communications)
Princeton returns starters and significant reserves at nearly every offensive skill position. Leading that group is Wornham, who showed improvement last year, his first as a starter. In the final four weeks of the season, he completed nearly 62 percent of his passes and averaged 181 yards per game. The Tigers were 3-1 in that stretch, with the lone loss coming against Ivy-champion Penn.
Perry said that Wornham has become a “more quiet quarterback” in hectic situations. That means he can rely less on his athletic scrambling and stay in the pocket longer to let plays develop.
Princeton’s receivers, Perry said, are an “elite group” in the Ivies, with starters Trey Peacock ’11, Jeb Heavenrich ’11, and Andrew Kerr ’11 returning. Isaac Serwanga ’12 could see more time on the field this year as well, and tight-end Harry Flaherty ’11 is back as the starting tight end.
The Tigers have experience and depth at running back, with Jordan Culbreath ’10, an All-Ivy performer who missed last season battling a rare blood condition, returning alongside seniors Meko McCray ’11 and Matt Zimmerman ’11. Eric Stoyanoff ’12, Akil Sharp ’13, and Brian Mills ’14 may also play important roles in the rushing game.
Princeton’s most significant questions are on the offensive line, where nearly the entire starting unit was lost to graduation, and one promising tackle, Kevin Mill ’12, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Matt Allen ’12, Mike Muha ’12, Andrew Mills ’11, Kevin DeMaio ’12, and Taylor Pearson ’14 are among the top candidates for starting spots.
Defensive coordinator Jared Backus hopes to keep teams off balance by presenting multiple looks and formations. He also aims to minimize mental errors, avoid giving up big plays, and increase turnovers – all important goals for a traditionally strong defense that slipped to sixth in the Ivy rankings last year.
Matt Boyer ’11 (Office of Athletics Communications)
On the defensive line, Boyer is the most experienced returner, but Mike Catapano ’12 and Caraun Reid ’13 also played significant snaps last season. Keola Kaluhiokalani ’11 and Dan Fitzsimmons ’12 should contribute as well. Brad Megay ’12, who’d been in competition for a starting spot in the spring, was injured in offseason strength training and will miss the entire season.
“It’s nice this year that we have some experience on the D-line,” Boyer said. “We’ve really come together throughout camp. We’re putting in new schemes, and I feel like we’ve demonstrated that we have a grasp for all the new concepts.”
Returning starters Steven Cody ’11 and Jon Olofsson ’11 head a group of linebackers that Backus called “solid and improving.” Andrew Starks ’13, a safety in his freshman year, has joined the linebacking corps. Robert Basile ’14 had an impressive freshman camp and could compete for playing time.
In the defensive backfield, the fall competition was wide open, and Matt Wakulchik ’12 emerged as a leader at safety. Cornerback Glenn Wakam ’12 returns to the starting lineup. Mandela Sheaffer ’13 and Blake Clemons ’12 should climb the depth chart after backing up seniors last season, and Phil Bhaya ’14 could see time as an extra cornerback on passing downs.
Patrick Jacob ’12 will take over as Princeton’s placekicker, and according to Surace, he has kicked well under stressful situations in practice. At punter, Otavio Fleury ’12 and Joe Cloud ’13 have competed in a tight race for the top spot. Both punted for the Tigers last year, and Surace said it’s likely that both will play this season.
Coming Thursday: The Weekly Blog opens our football preview series with a look at Princeton’s Sept. 18 game at Lehigh.