Tigers Look Deep At Offensive Skill, Looking For Breakout Stars
This is part three of a seven-part preview series on the 2012 Princeton football season. Thanks to Andrew Pearson for the video clips, as well as Dan Loney (the voice of Princeton football) and Jay Greenberg (PrincetonFootballTigers.com) for their insights.
One year after freshman Chuck Dibilio rewrote the Ivy League record books and rushed for more than 1,000 yards, he figured to be the focal point of the Princeton offense in 2012. By the end of January, though, those thoughts changed dramatically.
Dibilio suffered a stroke in late January. While he is doing well and helping coach his high school football team this fall, he isn't planning on returning to Princeton until the spring semester, and his football future remains unclear.
What is clear is that Princeton plays 10 football games this fall, and it will need offensive skill players to move the ball and score far more touchdowns than the Tigers got last season. Head coach Bob Surace likes the depth at both the running back and wide receiver positions, but finding a go-to player at either spot late in games will be crucial.
Senior Akil Sharp has the most experience of the returning backs, and Surace has raved about his work in the fall camp. He finished a distant second on the team in total rushing yards last season, but his average per carry (5.2) was more than respectable. Sharp could be primed for his biggest season at Princeton, and it would come when the team needs him most.
Sophomores Will Powers and Jonathan Esposito both showed flashes late last season, and both figure to be in the rotation early in the season. The same holds true for freshmen DiAndre Atwater and Dré Nelson; Atwater, son of Denver All-Pro safety Steve Atwater, is a bruising back that could remind Tiger fans of Dibilio, while Nelson is an explosive back that could be as dangerous as anybody on the roster in the open field.
Both Shane Wilkinson and Matt Costello return at the wideout position; the two combined for 67 catches and more than 700 yards last season. Wilkinson enters his senior season and has proven to be a tough receiver in traffic. Costello shined in his freshman season, and could develop into one of the top possession receivers in the league.
Sophomores Seth DeValve and Connor Kelley could also factor here. DeValve was a breakout star during the Spring Game, and Surace has praised his work this fall. Kelley figured to be a starter last season, but a torn ACL kept him out the year. Both are big, tough receivers who will handle the tough catches in the middle of the field.
Freshman Anthony Gaffney is somebody else to watch here. The coaches have looked at him at both receiver and defensive back, but it's possible he could eventually develop into the kind of deep threat that led Trey Peacock to All-Ivy honors in 2010.