Atwater ’16, son of an NFL star, aims to lead a Tiger resurgence this fall

Coach Bob Surace ’90 said that when Di Andre Atwater ’16, center, has been healthy, he’s been one of the best players in the Ivy League.
Coach Bob Surace ’90 said that when Di Andre Atwater ’16, center, has been healthy, he’s been one of the best players in the Ivy League.
Beverly Schaefer

Last season, Di Andre Atwater ’16 embodied Princeton football’s fluctuations between immense promise and injury-plagued disappointment. The junior running back was brilliant at times, breaking away for three runs of more than 50 yards and averaging 7.4 yards per carry. But he missed a key midseason stretch because of injury and was sidelined again after the Yale game, a loss that ended Princeton’s hopes for a second straight Ivy League title.

“Whenever people ask about how our season went last year, I say that my experience was a microcosm of the way it really was for the whole team — which was unfortunate, but it was a motivating factor for us in the offseason,” Atwater said.

Atwater underwent knee surgery in December and was on track to be at full strength for Princeton’s Sept. 19 opener at Lafayette. He should be a key contributor on a team that will feature a new quarterback (Chad Kanoff ’17 or Kedric Bostic ’16) and at least seven other new starters.

Atwater, a son of former Denver Broncos all-pro safety Steve Atwater, got an early start in football as an undersized but speedy 6-year-old on the Duluth (Ga.) Wildcats. By then, his dad already had played his final NFL game. He became a valued mentor to Di Andre and his older brother, Stephen, who played at Georgetown.

“He coached some when we were coming up, but he wasn’t a coach at the start,” Di Andre Atwater said. “[His role] was just giving football advice, and obviously he has an extremely large bank of knowledge. It was great.”

Atwater’s introduction to Ivy football came during the year when his brother was being recruited, and by the time he was making his own college choice, Princeton had risen to the top of his list.

In three seasons, Atwater has missed 10 games because of injuries. His sophomore year was his most consistent, with nine games played and 457 rushing yards. He was named second-team All-Ivy as the Tigers won their first league championship since 2006.

“It’s been kind of a roller coaster,” Atwater said, “but the highs have been significantly higher than the lows.”