September 27, 2006: Sports
Sports Scores Updated weekly
For three seasons, linebacker Luke Steckel ’07 has been part of Princeton football’s supporting cast, practicing, lifting weights, and watching game films with relatively little to show for the work — six tackles in eight games played. His highlight last season came on special teams when he recovered a blocked extra point against Penn. But even in that moment, the spotlight shifted away as he pitched the ball to Jay McCareins ’06, who raced to the opposite end zone for two points.
While Princeton’s defense led the Ivy League, allowing just over 16 points per game, Steckel’s opportunities to contribute on Saturdays were limited. “I’m a competitor,” Steckel said. “I always want to play, so it was frustrating at times. But the opportunity to learn from linebacker classes like the ones from the last two years was such a valuable experience. ... I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything because they really showed me what it means to be a linebacker at Princeton.”
This year, as Steckel moves into the starting lineup, he will have to be more than just a linebacker. His peers elected him co-captain, designating him to lead a defense with five other new starters. “We all feel like we have something to prove,” Steckel said.
The Tigers, as a team, have something to prove as well. Despite tying for second place in the Ivy standings last year with a 7–3 record, Princeton was listed in the second tier of this season’s media poll, ranked sixth, ahead of also-rans Dartmouth and Columbia.
“I’ve talked to our team about earning respect,” head coach Roger Hughes said at the team’s media day Sept. 1, “and the way you do that is by going out and making the plays to earn respect. We need to make sure that we do the same things we did last year.”
If preseason forecasts hold true, this Ivy season could be defined by parity. Four teams — Harvard, Penn, Brown, and Yale — received first-place votes in the media poll. Harvard, with running back Clifton Dawson eyeing his fourth 1,000-yard season, has emerged as the Ivy favorite. Penn and Yale each return significant numbers of starters, and Brown, despite losing running back Nick Hartigan, has enough talent to remain promising. Cornell, which won its last three games to finish 6–4 last year, could be a contender as well. The Big Red is led by a veteran offensive line — typically a harbinger of success in the league — with an all-Ivy tailback, Luke Siwula, to run behind it.
Hughes agreed that the Ivy title chase is wide open and said that the Tigers plan to be part of it. Princeton has some strengths of its own, beginning with the offense’s co-captain, Jeff Terrell ’07, a resourceful, mobile, and durable quarterback who threw for 172 yards per game last year and completed nearly 55 percent of his passes. Behind Terrell, the Tigers’ backfield returns a solid duo in running backs Rob Toresco ’08 and Cleo Kirkland ’07. Neither has breakaway speed, but the two runners combined for more than 1,000 yards on the ground last year. Toresco, the fullback, carried a tailback’s share of the load, gaining 611 yards and catching 28 passes as well.
At wide receiver, Brendan Circle ’06 should be a top target, along with Brian Brigham ’07 and Brian Shields ’07. Sophomore receivers Will Thanheiser and Adam Berry also figure to play a role in the offense, particularly on deep routes.
Hughes wants the offense to control the ball and avoid turnovers that would put added pressure on an inexperienced defense. To achieve those goals, the Tigers will need fast improvement from an offensive line that has five new starters, including a former tight end at tackle (Brendan Swisher ’08) and a former defensive lineman at center (Brett Barrie ’07). Hughes spent the preseason adding rollout and play-action pass plays to take some pressure off the linemen, at least in the season’s early games.
On defense, returning starters include nose tackle Jake Marshall ’07, cornerback J.J. Artis ’07, and strong safety Tim Strickland ’07, who has started every game in his college career. Strickland emerged as a star late last season when he intercepted four passes in the final four games.
At least six players are likely to see time at linebacker — Steckel, Brig Walker ’07, Jon Stem ’08, Doori Song ’08, Tim Boardman ’08, and Scott Britton ’10. In addition to rotating linebackers, defensive coordinator Steve Verbit plans to use more substitutes in the defensive backfield, adjusting personnel to respond to game situations and keep players fresh. “You’ll see guys running on and off the field this year,” Verbit joked. “It’s going to look like a track meet, [with] guys handing off batons to one another.”
The relay should be reaching full stride by the time the Tigers open their Ivy season at Columbia Sept. 30, and Steckel is excited to be part of it. “We know that there’s a lot of work to be done before we can compete for an Ivy League championship,” the co-captain said, “but that’s the goal. That’s what we’re working toward. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we’re in the thick of things.”
Sept. 30 at Columbia 1:30 p.m.
Last season’s Lions were overmatched in the Ivy League, posting an 0–7 record and losing by an average of more than 32 points.
Oct. 13 BROWN 7 p.m.
Against the defending Ivy champs, Princeton will turn on the stadium lights for the first Friday night game in league history, televised on ESPNU.
Oct. 21 HARVARD noon
Crimson tailback Clifton Dawson entered the season 1,008 yards shy of the Ivy record for career rushing yards, set by Cornell’s Ed Marinaro in 1971.
Oct. 28 at Cornell 1 p.m.
Coach Jim Knowles wants to balance the Big Red’s formidable running attack with more drop-back pass plays this year.
Nov. 4 PENN 1 p.m.
After snapping a nine-year losing streak against Penn in 2005, the Tigers will try for their first win over the Quakers at Princeton Stadium.
Nov. 11 at Yale 12:30 p.m.
Princeton’s seniors are 0–3 against Yale; the Bulldogs’ comeback win last year crippled the Tigers’ Ivy championship hopes.
Nov. 18 DARTMOUTH 1 p.m.
After a surprising opening-day win over Colgate last year, the Big Green lost four games in a row and finished the season 2–8.
Backup quarterbacks BILL FORAN ’08 and KENNY GUNTER ’10 could play valuable roles on special teams, according to head coach Roger Hughes. Gunter blocked a punt in the Tigers’ preseason scrimmage against Yale, and Foran was effective as a kick returner and a defender on kickoffs. Foran, a Princeton track standout who has run the 100-yard dash in 10.67 seconds, is the football team’s fastest player.
All-Ivy punter COLIN McDONOUGH ’07 will return to his starting role, and CONNER LOUDEN ’09 likely will be the Tigers’ placekicker. Louden has the range to split the uprights from 45 yards out, but he will be hard-pressed to match the accuracy of his predecessor, Derek Javarone ’06, who converted 16 field goals on 18 attempts in 2005.
Strong safety TIM STRICKLAND ’07 said that the Princeton defense has plenty of athleticism, but to match last season’s success, players will need to communicate and concentrate on being in position on every play. “Your athleticism can make up for being in the wrong place sometimes,” Strickland said, “but if you’re in the right place, that will make [the defense] more consistent.”
With few experienced upperclassmen on the offensive line, freshmen MARK PASKI and J.P. MAKRAI could challenge for starting positions, according to offensive coordinator Dave Rackovan.
Quarterback JEFF TERRELL ’07 said he would be looking for redemption when the Tigers travel to New Haven Nov. 11. After throwing two touchdowns to put Princeton on top against Yale last year, Terrell tossed five interceptions, allowing the Bulldogs to start the comeback that led to a 21–14 victory. According to Hughes, the Yale game has been on the minds of many returning players. “They’re still upset about it,” he said. “And hopefully, that’s been a driving force in how they worked this summer and what they’re going to do this season.”
Former MEN’S BASKETBALL standout Mason Rocca ’00, center, scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Italy in the round of 16 at the FIBA World Championships in Saitama, Japan, Aug. 26. The Italians lost to Lithuania, 71–68. Rocca, who stars for Carpisa Napoli in Italy’s top professional league, averaged six points and five rebounds in six tournament games.
Two teammates from the WOMEN’S CREW national champion varsity eight faced off as opponents at the 2006 World Rowing Championships in Eton, England, Aug. 27. Caroline Lind ’06 won gold with the U.S. women’s eight, while Adrienne Morin ’06 and the Canadian crew placed fifth. MEN’S CREW alumnus Steve Coppola ’06 earned a bronze medal with the U.S. men’s eight. Two other alumni reached their event finals: Lia Pernell ’03 of the U.S. women’s four (sixth place), and Jesse Karmazin ’07 of the U.S. adaptive four with coxswain (fifth place).
MEN’S LACROSSE alumni Ryan Boyle ’04, Christian Cook ’98, Matt Striebel ’01, and Trevor Tierney ’01 helped the U.S. national team to a 5–0 record in round-robin play at the 2006 World Lacrosse Championships in London, Ontario, but the Americans fell to host Canada in the tournament final July 22.
MEN’S GOLF alumnus Jason Gerken ’06 shot rounds of 81 and 73 at the U.S. Amateur in Chaska, Minn., Aug. 21 and 22, but did not qualify for the match-play draw.
Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Dennis Norman ’01 was the lone Princeton FOOTBALL alumnus to earn an NFL roster spot at the start of the season. Zak Keasey ’05 joined the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad, and Jon Dekker ’06 will be a practice player for the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.