Web Exclusives: Sports Extra

Princeton Football 2004: A closer look
Facts and Figures, Players, Coaches, Opponents, Preseason Rankings

Compiled by Brett Tomlinson


The Tigers return 16 starters and add 36 freshmen to the roster as they chase their ninth Ivy League championship. Princeton’s last Ivy title came in 1995. The 2004 schedule includes the Tigers’ first game in California (Sept. 25 at San Diego) and its 127th meeting with Yale (Nov. 13 at New Haven). Four of Princeton’s five home games will be against Ivy opponents.



Quarterback Matt Verbit ’05 will be a big part of the offense, but coach Roger Hughes preaches balance. “You can be a pass-first team, but you have to run the ball efficiently,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that you have to run the ball on every snap, but you have to average four and a half yards.” Jon Veach ’05 and Branden Benson ’05 averaged 4.6 and 4.5 yards per carry last season. Joel Mancl ’05 will start at fullback, and speedy reserve Greg Fields ’06 should see more action this year.

The running backs will also be used in the passing game, taking some pressure off the inexperienced receiver corps. Clinton Wu ’05, Eric Walz ’07, and Derek Davis ’06 are competing for the two starting receiver slots. They combined to catch 15 passes last season. Tight end Jon Dekker ’06 has added 15 pounds to an already imposing frame and should provide a big third-down target for Verbit.

On the offensive line, Princeton expected to have four of its five interior lineman back, but the Tigers lost Paul Lyons for the season with a shoulder injury. A Heptagonal champion in the shot put, Lyons will be sorely missed, Hughes says, because “he has a nastiness to him” that the line has lacked. Center Jeremy Moore ’05, left guard Andrew Wilson ’06, and right tackle Dave Szelingowski ’06 return, and Andrew Aurich ’06 and Trey Greene ’05 are frontrunners to join them on the starting unit.


Last year, Princeton’s young defensive unit finished a respectable third in total defense in the Ivy League. But something was missing: turnovers. In 10 games, the Tigers only forced 13, including six interceptions. Brandon Mueller ’05 and Jay McCareins ’06 hope to change that when they return to the defensive secondary. Both were ineligible last year, along with linebacker Zak Keasey ’05. Nick Brown ’05 is back at strong safety, and Tim Strickland ’07 and J.J. Artis ’07, both starters last year, will compete for time at cornerback.

The linebackers, led by Keasey and Justin Stull ’06, may be the best in the Ivy. Stull earned the rare honor of captaining the defense as a junior, becoming the first non-senior Princeton captain since World War II. Keasey was All-Ivy at middle linebacker two years ago. The Tigers also have depth: Alan Borelli ’06, Abi Fadeyi ’06, Rob Holuba ’06, and Luke Steckel ’07 will each see snaps at linebacker.

On the defensive line, the Tigers return Peter Kelly ’05 and Ben Brielmaier ’06, both significant contributors last year. But the graduation of Tim Kirby ’04 and Joe Weiss ’04 left gaping holes where the two All-Ivy ends once roamed. Chris Browne ’05, James Williams ’06, Jake Marshall ’07, Chris Lebeis ’05, Okezie Aguwa ’07, and Michael Meehan ’07 are vying to fill those spots. Hughes says a rotation of linemen is likely, but he also wants to “find the core guys we can count on.”

Special Teams

On special teams, Fields and McCareins will handle punt and kick returns, and Colin McDonough ’07 will look to build on an All-Ivy season as a punter. Hughes hopes placekicker Derek Javarone ’06 can continue with to kick with the accuracy he showed against Dartmouth last November, when he converted 5-of-5 field goal tries to tie an Ivy League record.



Entering his fifth season as head coach, Hughes has an overall record of 14-25 with one winning season to his credit. Hughes’ coaching staff will look pretty much the same as it did last year. Offensive coordinator Dave Rackovan and defensive coordinator Steve Verbit have been in their posts since Hughes arrived at Princeton. New additions include defensive line coach Matt Borich and director of football operations Nolan Jones.



Sept. 18 Lafayette 7 p.m.

The Leopards struggled for consistency last year after beating Princeton 28-13 in their third game. While they lost four-year starting quarterback Marco Glavic to graduation, they return powerful tailback Joe McCourt, who has rumbled for more than 100 yards in each of his two games against Princeton.

Sept. 25 at San Diego 4 p.m.

A year after Princeton decided to add San Diego its schedule, the Toreros look like a different team. They went from 5-5 in 2002 to 8-2 in 2003, added an impressive crop of transfers, and hired former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh as their new coach. San Diego’s Sept. 18 meeting with Penn will give the Tigers a better idea of what they’re up against.

Oct. 2 at Columbia 1:30 p.m.

Last year, a prayer of a pass on the final play gave Columbia its first win at Princeton since 1945. Quarterback Jeff Otis and company also beat Harvard and Cornell, inching up to sixth place in the Ivy League. This year, the Lions’ success will hinge on whether Otis can keep throwing touchdowns but stop tossing interceptions. He tied for a league-worst 13 picks last year.

Oct. 9 at Colgate 1 p.m.

Colgate won 15 games in a row en route to the Division I-AA championship last year, and those extra weeks of playoff practice should make the Raiders even tougher to beat this year. Preseason polls have them ranked as high as fifth in the nation. Princeton fared well against Colgate in 2002, winning 14-10.

Oct. 16 Brown 1 p.m.

One of Princeton’s two wins last year came on the road at Brown, where the Tigers played their best fourth quarter of the season. The Bears recovered and won four of their last five games, thanks in large part to tailback Nick Hartigan, who led the Ivy with 1,498 rushing yards. Opponents will have to contain Hartigan if to beat Brown this year.

Oct. 23 Harvard 1 p.m.

On paper, Hughes says the Crimson have the most offensive talent in the league. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is the most important cog in the machine: Harvard was 5-1 with him and 2-2 without him last year. The Tigers came close to a win in Cambridge last year, losing in double-overtime. Fitzpatrick was sidelined with an injury.

Oct. 30 at Cornell noon

A new coach and a new attitude should help the Big Red this season; they have nowhere to go but up. Last season, Cornell finished 1-9 overall, 0-7 in the Ivy, and ranked last in the league in total offense, trailing seventh-place Dartmouth by 40 yards per game.

Nov. 6 Penn 1 p.m.

With five fumbles in the first half, Princeton never had a chance to find out what it could do against the Quakers last year. Penn led 30-0 at halftime. This year, the Quakers look strong again, ranking at the top of the preseason Ivy poll, and their defense is stacked with five returning All-Ivy selections.

Nov. 13 at Yale noon

Last year’s overtime thriller added yet another gripping chapter to the Princeton-Yale story. The two teams have split their last 10 meetings, 5-5, and five of the last six were decided by less than a touchdown. Bulldogs quarterback Alvin Cowan led the Ivy in passing yards last season.

Nov. 20 Dartmouth 1 p.m.

Experienced teams succeed in the Ivy League, Hughes says, and the Big Green certainly qualify as experienced on the defensive side of the ball, where they could start as many as eight seniors. On offense, Dartmouth will have to improve after finishing seventh in the league in both passing and rushing yards last year.



Princeton ranked sixth in the Ivy League’s preseason media poll, behind Penn, Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth. Columbia and Cornell placed seventh and eighth, respectively. The top three teams split the first place votes, with Penn and Yale each receiving six and Harvard receiving four. Harvard edged the Elis on points, 107 to 105, to earn the second position.

In the national preseason polls, Penn was ranked 19th by Don Hansen’s Football Gazette and 26th by ESPN/USA Today’s panel of Division I-AA coaches. Harvard and Yale also received votes in the ESPN/USA Today poll.



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