Tag Archives: Princeton football

Epperly-to-Wilson Puts Princeton Over the Top, Again

After a storybook comeback in last year’s Harvard game, the Princeton football team seemed to have used up all its luck. As the Tigers dropped three of their next four games, Quinn Epperly ’15’s lob to the end zone, which was caught by Roman Wilson ’14 for the winning touchdown, looked more and more like a fluke. But one year later, on Oct. 26, the Tigers went to Cambridge and proved that they didn’t need luck to take down Harvard — they had the talent.

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Quinn Epperly ’15, show in action against Columbia, continued his remarkable season with a record-setting win at Harvard Oct. 26. To date, he has thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for 11. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

This year’s game ended in an almost identical fashion to last year’s. Needing to score, Epperly chucked it into the corner of the end zone and Wilson, with a Crimson player right on him, came down with it. Last year’s score put the Tigers up late in the final quarter of a game that ended 39-34. This year’s touchdown ended the third overtime period in a game that saw Princeton put up 51 points to edge Harvard’s 48.

What was striking about Saturday’s game was how different Princeton’s offense looked this time around. With quarterback Connor Michelsen ’15 sidelined by an injury, it was the first time in Epperly’s college career that he took every snap. Last season, he split time with Michelsen against Harvard, and each had his moments. As the tape of the final touchdown shows, however, Epperly’s pass could just as easily have been one of the worst moments of his season. He was under pressure and threw off the wrong foot, leaving it up to Wilson to get around the defender and make an outstanding catch.

This season, the game-winning touchdown exemplified how far Epperly, and Princeton’s offense, has come. Filled with confidence during his best passing game ever — he broke one school record with 37 completions in the game and another with six passing touchdowns — Epperly faked a quarterback dive, selling it completely, and delivered a perfect throw to his favorite target, Wilson.

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Epperly ’15, Michelsen ’15 Lead Football to 3-1 Start

It has been seven years since Princeton football fans have seen their team win at least three of the first four games of the season, and when the Tigers began the season 4-0 in 2006, it turned out to be an exciting year that included a bonfire and an Ivy League championship. 

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Quinn Epperly ’15 (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Saturday’s 42-26 win over Lafayette gave the Tigers a three-game winning streak as they begin the hardest part of their schedule. Princeton’s impressive offensive attack has been led by its quarterbacks, specifically Quinn Epperly ’15.

Sharing time at the quarterback position last season with Connor Michelsen ’15, Epperly’s most well-known pass came with 13 seconds left to play in the 2012 Harvard game to receiver Roman Wilson ’14 — a touchdown that capped Princeton’s comeback win. This season has been an extension of that success. In the Georgetown game, Epperly became the Tiger to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Keith Elias ’94. Against Columbia, he became the first Tiger to throw for four touchdowns in a game since Chad Roghair ’91. And in the win over Lafayette, he was responsible for five more touchdowns (four passing, one rushing).

“Quinn did some really good things,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said afterward. “I thought he really executed well.”

Epperly and Wilson connected six times for two of Epperly’s passing touchdowns. He also threw scoring passes to receiver Connor Kelley ’15 and tight end Des Smith ’14.

“I think the way our offense is designed a lot of guys are contributing, we’re working extremely hard all practice or all week long in practice, and that’s just how it works. One guy one week will have a breakout game … and anybody can have that type of game at anytime,” Kelley said. “That’s what makes our offense really great.”

Michelsen also has contributed significantly to the offense, leading the team in passing yards this season and driving the Tigers down the field on six of their seven scoring drives against Lafayette. Epperly, a dual running and passing threat, often comes into the game when Princeton reaches the red zone.

“I think that definitely a lot more credit should be given to [Michelsen] than probably is,” Epperly said. “A lot of those drives that I’m scoring on he’s leading down the field and I’m just kind of running it in at the end, so he definitely probably deserves more credit than he’s been given.”

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Multiple Quarterbacks Contribute in Football Opener

Coming into the Lehigh game Sept. 21, one of the major questions Princeton football fans had was who would be starting under center. Despite a full 60 minutes of play in a tumultuous 29-28 loss, that question has yet to be resolved. Quarterbacks Connor Michelsen ’15, Quinn Epperly ’15, and Kedric Bostic ’16 each played a role in the offense during the opener.

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Roman Wilson ’14 caught nine passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in Princeton’s 29-28 loss to Lehigh. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

With a 22-3 lead at halftime, the Tiger offense seemed to be clicking, and the defense able to contain Lehigh’s explosive offensive ability. The second half, on the other hand, told a different story. The Princeton defense was unable to stop the Mountain Hawks from reaching the end zone. The Tigers took back the lead on a 17-yard touchdown rush by DiAndre Atwater ’16 with 8:03 left in the game, but they were unable to convert on 2-point conversion. Lehigh would come back down the field to score once again, giving them the 29-28 lead with 2:45 left on the clock.

Princeton’s last possession ended when a Michelsen pass attempt was intercepted at the Lehigh 37 with 1:50 to go in the game. The Mountain Hawks were then able to gain a first down and run out the clock.

Michelsen, the returning starter, was not the only one taking snaps for the Tigers. Debuting a formation they call Ninja, in which they spread the tackles out to the wide-receiver positions while keeping the center, two guards, and a quarterback and running back in their normal spots, the Tigers aimed to use the abilities of several players to pass, receive, or run. At times the offense positioned Michelsen, Epperly, and Bostic as quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. (Receivers Seth DeValve ’15 and Connor Kelley ’15 also were high-school quarterbacks.)

 “I think the nature of the quarterback position is changing a little bit, and the high-school athlete is back, whether he’s a runner, passer, all those things,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “We don’t want to have those guys standing next to me the whole game, so let’s utilize them.”

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Alumni, journalists pay tribute to Kazmaier ’52

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Dick Kazmaier ’52, No. 42, eludes a Rutgers defender on the Oct. 20, 1950, cover of PAW. (Photo: PAW Archives)

News of Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier ’52’s death last week prompted tributes from several alumni and sports journalists. 

New Yorker writer and Princeton professor John McPhee ’53, a close friend and former roommate of Kazmaier, said that the former football star’s “strongest characteristic was loyalty and his greatest talent was friendship,” according to the Associated Press

The athletic communications office’s TigerBlog highlighted Kazmaier’s modest manner: “When you’re the only Heisman Trophy winner in the long history of a football program and you had the kind of [football] career that Kazmaier had, you naturally have a bit of ‘that’s him, that’s the one’ celebrity about you. Kazmaier wanted no part of that.”

Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67 spoke about Kazmaier’s wisdom and humility in a statement on GoPrincetonTigers.com:

“Notwithstanding all of the achievements in his athletic, business, and philanthropic endeavors, Dick remained one of the most self-effacing individuals I have ever met. He never sought the spotlight and always led in a thoughtful and ethical manner.

“Indeed, Dick was also the father of six daughters and he became a major force behind the scenes as he helped to implement the Title IX Legislation that was passed in 1972 in order to provide equal competitive opportunities for women in college.

“As is the case with many of his Princeton friends, Dick was a personal mentor and advisor for me in my role as Athletic Director; and I will miss him dearly as a friend.”

Update: NPR’s Frank Deford ’61 devoted his Aug. 7 commentary to Kazmaier, “a honey of a guy.”

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Heisman winner Kazmaier ’52 dies at age 82

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Dick Kazmaier ’52, right, with Bill Bradley ’65 at the No. 42 retirement celebration in 2008. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Dick Kazmaier ’52, the former star halfback and Princeton’s lone Heisman Trophy winner, died Aug. 1 in Boston. He was 82.

Kazmaier, a versatile runner and passer from Maumee, Ohio, mastered coach Charlie Caldwell ’25’s single-wing offense and led the Tigers to consecutive undefeated seasons in 1950 and ’51, winning three of college football’s top individual awards — the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Walter Camp Trophy — in his senior year.

He was drafted by the Chicago Bears but bypassed the NFL to pursue an M.B.A. at Harvard and a distinguished career in business. He later chaired the President’s Council on Physical Fitness under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In 2008, the athletics department honored Kazmaier and former basketball standout Bill Bradley ’65 by retiring the No. 42 — worn by both stars — for all Princeton teams. The University also unveiled a life-sized statue of Kazmaier in a Heisman-esque pose, now located on the plaza outside Jadwin Gymnasium.

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Former pros discuss the road ahead for NFL draftee Catapano ’13

As a high school football player in Bayville, N.Y., Mike Catapano ’13 believed he could play in the NFL someday. He kept that goal even after choosing to attend Princeton, where only one player had been drafted in the previous two decades. And on Saturday, Catapano’s dream became reality, as he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the first pick of the seventh round in the 2013 NFL Draft.

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Mike Catapano ’13, chosen in the seventh round by the Kansas City Chiefs, was Princeton’s first NFL draft pick since 2001. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Catapano became the first Princetonian taken since Dennis Norman ’01 in 2001, and as the 201st overall pick, he is the Tigers’ highest selection since Jon Schultheis ’83 was the 182nd pick 30 years ago. But for Catapano, being drafted is only the beginning — now, he’ll have to show the Chiefs’ coaching staff that he deserves to play at the highest level.

The very first practices will be crucial for Catapano, especially as a late-round pick from the Ivy League. Catapano performed well in January’s East-West Shrine Game, a showcase for some of the nation’s top draft prospects, but he still hasn’t been tested as often as some peers from major conferences. “As a seventh-round pick, he’s not guaranteed anything other than his signing bonus,” said Ross Tucker ’01, who played for five NFL teams in seven seasons as an offensive lineman and now works as a pro and college football analyst. “First impressions mean a lot — he’s going to have to show that the level of competition is not too much.”

Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90, an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2002-09, said all rookies are scrutinized carefully in their first practices, which are usually technique-oriented and conducted without pads. The most important thing a player can do to impress his new coaches, however, is to carry himself like a professional. “Mike will exceed expectations in terms of being on time, being accountable, learning the playbook and all that,” Surace said.

Catapano has already shown he has the physical skills to compete at the NFL level. At Princeton’s pro day last month, the senior bench-pressed 225 pounds 33 times and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds, both above-average marks for his position. Still, nearly all former players say the speed of the game is much faster in professional football, and it takes time to get used to that transition.

Kansas City head coach Andy Reid said he plans to use Catapano as an outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. The real change in Catapano’s role will likely be smaller than the name indicates; his primary duty will still be rushing the passer — which he did to the tune of 12.5 sacks in 10 games last season — but he may spend a little more time in pass coverage than he did in college. Still, it will be nothing compared to the positional change Catapano made after arriving at Princeton, when the high-school running back who had never played on the opposite side of the ball became a defensive lineman.

The lifestyle of a professional football player is different than that of a college athlete; with the reward of being drafted comes more practice time, more film study, and fewer off-field distractions. “You really have to approach it like a job … [but] obviously it’s a great job,” said Jon Dekker ’06, who played in three games as a Pittsburgh Steelers tight end in 2007. The transition may be even sharper for many Ivy League athletes, who face additional practice restrictions and more intense academic demands in college — but Catapano, who has spent the last two springs focusing on football and is, by all accounts, obsessed with the sport, should be in his element as a professional.

“In the NFL, you notice that while there are a lot of freak athletes, the guys that stay around the longest are the ones who are the most self-motivated and focused on improvement. Those are things that really stood out to me about Mike,” said Harry Flaherty ’11, a former teammate of Catapano’s who spent time in NFL camps as a tight end and long snapper in 2011 and ’12.

Several of Catapano’s former Ivy League foes also turned pro on Saturday. Cornell offensive lineman J.C. Tretter and Harvard tight end Kyle Juszczyk were each selected in the fourth round, giving the Ancient Eight three draftees for the first time since 2001; Penn defensive lineman Brandon Copeland, Cornell wideout Luke Tasker, and Columbia defensive end Josh Martin also signed contracts as undrafted free agents (with the latter joining Catapano in Kansas City). Those players will join an Ivy League tradition that already includes Giants guard Kevin Boothe (Cornell) and recently retired Ravens center Matt Birk (Harvard), who were starters for the last two Super Bowl champions.

“There are enough Ivy League guys that are making rosters, getting starting positions, playing at a high level and signing decent free-agent contracts, that I think more guys should be getting opportunities,” said Tucker, who was the color commentator for most Ivy League football games on NBC Sports Network last season. “It’s really cool to show that you can get an elite education … and still have an opportunity to pursue pro football.”

Update: More good news for Princeton football’s Class of 2013 — free-agent linebacker Andrew Starks signed with the Chicago Bears April 29.

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