What doesn’t kill you supposedly makes you stronger. Still, hard as it was for Steve Cody ’12 to see his tibia sticking through his skin as he lay on the field during the opener at Lehigh last September, it did not prepare him for the sight of his Princeton Tigers going 1-9 without him.
“Nobody wants to see that,” he said.
But after Cody left classes for a year to save a final one of football eligibility, he was reminded during a marketing internship at Rosetta in New York City that when life feeds you lemons, you have to sell lemonade. Now that the team’s best player on either side of the ball is back – and has the back of Tigers who struggled terribly without him – Cody was asked Wednesday just how much better than 1-9 are his expectations for 2011.
“I think we have the potential to win the league,” the linebacker replied. “There is always parity in the Ivy League, I don’t see any reason why we can’t.”
Sold, say the Tigers, who bought anything Cody was selling even before his marketing internship. A second team All-Ivy pick in 2009, he is the steak that also can provide some sizzle, making even teammates coming off a winless Ivy League season believe they are hot stuff.
Some actually are hot stuff. All will improve just by knowing Cody will be where he is supposed to be – plus some other, even better, places – when games are on the line.
“His commitment and knowledge show up in the film room, the locker room and without question it shows up on the field,” said linebacker Andrew Starks ’13. “He is always around the ball.
“I watch myself and than I watch him and I don’t understand how he makes some of the plays he does. It’s truly incredible.”
That’s not the only thing that makes Cody so credible.
“He’s the first guy in line for everything,” said coach Bob Surace ’90. “He runs to the drill and guys naturally follow him. He is a vocal leader, very aggressive, and has been that way for a couple of years.
“Scott Britton [’10] was that way, an ‘alpha male.’ That just wasn’t the personality of Jon Olofsson [’11], who had a really good year last year in Steve’s place. Jon had had never been put in that position. I’m seeing [linebacker] Tim Kingsbury starting to do that now.”
Kingsbury, a junior who started nine games after Olofsson was moved into Cody’s place, was one of the foremost beneficiaries last season of the plague that took away the team’s best interior defensive lineman, Caraun Reid, ’13, limited its best pass rusher, Mike Catapano ‘12, and ended the career of safety Matt Wakulchik ’12.
Reid and Catapano are back, as are the team’s best corner, Blake Clemons ’12, and safety Mandela Sheaffer ’13, who won Surace’s trust in Wakulchik’s absence.
Those three can play with practically anybody in the Ivies. Now the Tigers just need an opposite corner from Clemons, another starting safety, and depth everywhere. They also could use Starks, who was the leading tackler on the team last year only because somebody had to do it, emerging as a game-changer.
“He has 230 pounds and runs well, had all the characteristics of a guy who could play closer to the line of scrimmage so we moved him from defensive back,” said Surace.
“He is such a super human being, very thoughtful, that his first instinct isn’t always to go, but to think things through. If he makes 80 tackles and they are five yards deep, that’s not good enough.”
Starks agrees he needs to be more instinctive. Last season, a lot of 8-yard runs turned into 50-yard runs because of weak grasps and bad angles. “When everything doesn’t go your way you have to learn how to battle through it,” Starks said. “We faced that a lot last year so we probably are more prepared for adversity than a lot of teams.”
The Tigers had enough angst and injury in 2010 for eight teams and they don’t think it can happen again. “Everybody in this program’s expectations are incredibly high,” said Cody.
Indeed, said Reid: “I’m going in thinking 10-0 – why shouldn’t I?”
When Cody talks, the Tigers listen.