Tommy Wornham ’12 is one of eight starting quarterbacks returning this Ivy League football season. In 2010, his Princeton team did not beat any of the other seven.
Wornham is aware of the wealth of returning signal-callers, but he hasn’t thought much about the competition. “Like Coach [Bob] Surace [’90] told us in December,” Wornham said, “the biggest opponent we have is ourselves.”
With ill-timed penalties, turnovers, and missed tackles last season, Princeton lost terribly to Princeton — in addition to Penn, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Colgate by embarrassing scores. Wornham, who spent half of the year watching from the sideline with a broken collarbone, said that he “can’t even begin to describe how bad it was.”
Injuries played a role. By the end of the 35–22 season-opening loss at Lehigh, five players were lost for all or most the year: Steve Cody ’12, an all-Ivy linebacker; Caraun Reid ’13, the team’s best interior defensive lineman; and three more starters, safety Matt Wakulchik ’12, offensive tackle Kevin Mill ’12, and center Mike Muha ’12. That start partly explains how Surace’s initial season ended with a 1–9 record.
The Tigers lost eight more players the following week against Lafayette, the game that Princeton won. And eventually Wornham and tailback Jordan Culbreath ’11, the leading rusher in the Ivies two years earlier, were down and out for the season, too.
“Caraun was on pace to be an All-American, and we end up replacing him with a freshman [Greg Sotereanos ’14] who had played linebacker in high school,” Surace said. “The drop-off was that significant. We have to build depth.”
That also means depth of character, and Wornham, a starter since his sophomore year, appointed himself in charge of attitude adjustment, running summer workouts on campus.
Surace said center Joe Goss ’14 and linebacker Tim Kingsbury ’13 top the list of promising underclassmen who received valuable playing time as a result of injuries. But for the Tigers to keep moving forward, they need healthy, productive seasons from Wornham, Cody, Reid, and defensive end Mike Catapano ’12, a preseason Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) All-American who was hampered by injuries last year.
The offensive line should be more mature. For the Tigers to surprise with a title run, though, Wornham will need help from wide receiver Isaac Serwanga ’13 and the tailback tandem of Akil Sharp ’13 and Brian Mills ’14.
“Conditioning-wise, Akil struggled to run three plays in a row last year,” Surace said, but by the time Princeton opened its preseason practices, Sharp had undergone a physical transformation, thanks to rigorous weight training. Surace added that Serwanga “showed flashes last year” and with more consistent play could become one of the league’s elite receivers.
Blake Clemons ’12, the team’s top defender last season, is back at one cornerback spot. Competition at the other is wide open. Surace believes the growing pains of Mandela Sheaffer ’13 and Jaiye Falusi ’12 will pay off at safety, where Wakulchik’s knee issues have ended his football career.
If history is a guide, the fast and physical Cody will draw attention from blockers and free up space for the players around him. One who could benefit from Cody’s return is fellow linebacker Andrew Starks ’13, who has the skills to make big plays.
Patrick Jacob ’12 converted 14 of 18 field-goal attempts in 2010, and two excellent punters, Otavio Fleury ’12 and Joe Cloud ’13, return. But if the kicking is the best part of the team again, it’s going to be another long year.
“We ended up playing 16 freshmen last year — too many to win with — but it gets us closer to the point where the better teams are,” Surace said. “Penn and Harvard have a few top-end guys like we do, but have phenomenal depth that goes all the way down to the guys who cover kicks.”
8 at Hampton
15 at Brown
22 at Harvard
5 at Penn
19 at Dartmouth