Princeton football coach Bob Surace ’90 has some tough hurdles to overcome. His team has finished with 1–9 records in the last two seasons, and this fall it faces the absence of last season’s breakout star, running back Chuck Dibilio ’15, who suffered a stroke last January, and Patrick Jacob ’12, the deadly accurate field-goal kicker. Nevertheless, Surace is optimistic about this season.
“Chuck will be missed, of course, but we are building depth,” Surace said. “Last year we had a lot of guys step up and we were very competitive, and now we have to turn that into winning.”
Dibilio, who rushed for 1,068 yards and was named the 2011 Ivy League Football Rookie of the Year, has not returned for the fall semester, but he hopes to re-enroll in the spring and be back on the field in 2013, said his mother, Bonnie Ronco.
Meanwhile, Surace believes another workhorse can emerge to fill the running-back position. He has three quarterbacks who he says have star potential — Quinn Epperly ’15, whose strength is speed; Connor Michelsen ’15, a skilled passer; and Kedric Bostic ’16, who is talented in both areas. The Tigers likely will use two quarterbacks until one emerges as the stronger player.
The defensive backfield proved an Achilles heel last season for a team that otherwise showed flashes of improvement, as the Tigers’ defense intercepted just three passes. The conversion from running back to cornerback by Brian Mills ’14, and another year’s experience for Khamal Brown ’15, Mandela Sheaffer ’13, and Jimmy von Thron ’15, may help.
There were some positive signs in the team’s 2011 performance. In five of their nine losses, the Tigers were within seven points in the fourth quarter.
“We were in the red zone [inside the opposition 20] 42 times,” but scored only 14 touchdowns, “not winning numbers,” Surace said. Opponents scored on 24 out of 35 red-zone opportunities.
Fifteen freshmen had significant playing time in last season’s final game, a 24–17 loss at Dartmouth, and Surace believes the incoming class is stronger. Competition from the other Ivies may be weaker, as five accomplished starting quarterbacks have graduated.
“We have every tool,” said defensive linemen Mike Catapano ’13 after spring drills. “This could be the turning point.”