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Game Preview: Princeton at Lehigh, 9/15/2012

(Photo Credit: Princeton Athletics)

Remember Week 1?

There is no better feeling as a football fan, coach, or player.  After a long, long offseason for the players and coaches, there is finally the opportunity to show the world of what stuff you're made.  And for the fans, the thirst for football can finally be quenched after nine months without drink.

For Lehigh, that time has come.  Week 1 came with a victory over Monmouth, and the Mountain Hawk offense and defense has been unveiled.

For Princeton, their unveiling is this Saturday - and it's that energy, and that unpredictability, that makes them "scary", as head coach Andy Coen put it, this week at Murray Goodman Stadium.

As Princeton's opening-day opposition, Lehigh always gets the healthiest Princeton team on the year, not to mention having to play through the strange situation of the Tigers having two extra weeks of film of preparation for the Mountain Hawks, giving the Princeton more time to focus on their gameplans.

But more important than that, there's also that matter of first-game optimism, and the belief that, with a 0-0 record, anything is possible.

“I told them you start with a clean slate," head coach Bob Surace told his team this preseason.  "It is great to see the work the guys have put in. They have an understanding of the responsibility of being a college football player.  I love the way this group is together.”

“I definitely feel this program is ready to turn a corner,” senior LB Andrew Starks told the Princeton Town Talk. “I think we showed moments last year; we just didn’t show it for 60 minutes. That is what we need to do this year. Once we can do that, we will have a great season. I am looking forward to getting started against Lehigh this coming week.

“We had a lot of young guys playing last year that are fortunately coming back this year.  We have a lot of experience with everyone having another year under their belt and another year of offseason conditioning and lifting, another spring ball, and another summer camp. I think we are in pretty good shape. I think people are starting to feel comfortable and we should see the results.”

It could simply be the confident talk of any team, whether they finish 0-10 or league champions, before the season begins.

But from what is coming across the Delaware river it seems clear that coach Surace, in his third year at Princeton, has a bit more of a spring in his step with his incoming class - and, like his players, he is starting to feel comfortable with what he has with his Tigers.

That's something that coach Coen is keenly aware of when Princeton comes to town.

"The biggest challenge with Princeton is they haven't played a game yet," he said today in the media day before the game.  "You have to think they've made some changes, though I expect them to be a wide-open, fast-paced, Oregon style of offense.  Defensively, they were one style in 2010 and a completly different style last year.  But the biggest thing is how we will adjust to things."

Another is finding more consistency with his team overall, emphasizing that this team has, in Coen's words, "a long way to go before we're at the level we want to be at."

He knows from whence he speaks.  Coach Coen is 3-3 against the Tigers as head coach of Lehigh.  In the three losses, the Mountain Hawk offense struggled, scoring 10, 7, and 14 points respectively, while scoring more than 20 points in all three of the wins.

"We know they're going to have a great defense, a lot of great guys there," senior OL Mike Vuono said, "so we know we're going to have our hands full up front.  We have to stay focused out there."

No Coen-coached Lehigh team has given up more than 22 points to the Tigers, but it seems like this Lehigh team knows what needs to happen out there - intensity.

"They're going to be intense, because it's the first game, another jersey they can hit," junior FS Rickie Hill said. "They're going to try to fight with us, but we'll be ready."

For Lehigh fans, the hope is that the steady improvement over the first two weeks continues into Week 3 - and that the improvement, and execution, of this Mountain Hawk teams overcomes the pure adrenaline to go with the unquestionable talent that Princeton will bring to Murray Goodman.

Game Notes
Probably the best news from Lehigh's game notes this week was that the Mountain Hawks didn't appear to suffer in the way of injuries after seeing five Lehigh players go down in the 95-degree heat vs. Monmouth.  In fact, we see one name return, as senior LB Jerard Gordon reappears, on the linebacking depth chart, providing critical depth at that position.

Senior TE Jamal Haggins is still "doubtful", according to coach Coen, who told Michael LoRe this week that  "I think he's a long shot."  That means sophomore TE Tyler Coyle, who had a fine debut against Central Connecticut State with 2 tough catches and 16 yards, will start for the second straight week.

Weather Report
Community day at Murray Goodman stadium promises to be picture-perfect this Saturday, with partly cloudy skies, a high of 75, and a 0% chance of rain.  A perfect day to take in some football

A Word on Princeton
The Tiger football family has had to deal with some incredibly bad fortune these past four years.

In 2009, RB Jordan Culbreath was diagnosed with a rare disease, aplastic anemia, that nearly robbed him of his football career.  He came back in 2010, played, and retired from football healthy after his senior year.

In 2010, preseason all-Ivy League LB Stephen Cody broke his leg against Lehigh in the first game of the year, and he didn't play the rest of the year.

Those two tragedies in and of themselves would be enough for any program to last a decade.  But last year, too, something totally unexpected - and tragic - happened to another Princeton running back, rocking Princeton's football team yet again.

It was finals time for Princeton last January, and the kids in the same study group as freshman RB Chuck Dibilio knew something wasn't right with him.

"What I heard was that his arm went numb and then he started slurring his speech and then it happened," a former teammate told Jim Deegan of the Express-Times, shocking everyone who had known the Tiger freshman who had rushed for 1,068 yards his freshman year.

After being whisked away to the doctor, the diagnosis seemed impossible to believe.  A stroke?  In a kid so young?  In the shape of his life?

It was true.

In a statement Princeton released, Dibilio's father, Chuck Dibilio Sr., says his son is recovering, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

"They removed a clot in the main artery of his brain this morning," he says. "He is currently recovering. They are trying to find out what caused it, so they can prevent it in the future. As far as a long-term prognosis, we are a long way from knowing, but we appreciate all of the support Chuck has received."

At that point, the questions didn't pertain to his football capabilities, but his ability to recover from a stroke that could have killed him.  He would have to regain his ability to speak, for starters, and it was unclear whether he could recover enough to return to classes, let alone return to the football field.

Worse yet, the doctors were unable to pinpoint exactly how or why the stroke happened - only a theory.

 "At (Thomas) Jefferson University Hospital (in Philadelphia), they ran a test to see if there was a hole in my heart but didn't see anything and he (Leifer) thinks it's a smaller hole," Dibilio said. "That's the main theory right now.

 "That would be really great if that's the answer. If that's the cause, it's a really easy surgery. I'm not sure how the recovery is, but LB Teddy Bruschi [who also suffered a stroke as a pro] went back to football the next year. It's not a risky surgery, so I hope everything is as good as new after that."

DiBilio's progress in returning from that stroke has been remarkable.

His speech now returned, he's also finished up his coursework he missed after his stroke, and he's been working out, too, "hitting really good benchmarks", his head coach said.

"With Chuck, as exceptional as he was on the field as a rookie last year," Surace said in the Ivy League preseason teleconference today, "he's even more remarkable as a person.  To make the progress he has made, it's truly a credit to him as a person."

All through the offseason DiBilio was trying to get healthy enough to play football.  But a few days before preseason camp, doctors said that Chuck would continue to rehabilitate and go to classes like a normal Princeton student and work to get back for next year.

Which is remarkable, and miraculous, in itself.

LFN's Drink of the Week
So what do I do this week?  Do I play on tradition, choosing the same "Drink of the Week" that worked successfully in previous Princeton football wins?  Or do I go some other direction with them, trying to out-do last week's refreshing, yet hilarious, beverage?

In doing some "research" on this conundrum, I happily stumbled on the perfect choice for a Saturday morning.  Not a Harvey Wallbanger, and not a Bloody Mary, but the perfect Princeton-themed shooter before the 12:30 kickoff.

It's the appropriately-named "Bengal Tiger", with just the right about of orange of Princeton (2 parts orange juice), the amount of stiff-upper-lipness of the Ivy folks from across the river (2 parts gin), and the amount of punch that could be offered by the Tiger football team (a splash of Tabasco).  Layer the gin and orange juice in the shot glass, and top with the dash of Tabasco.

Sensible drinking can be a part of a pleasant tailgating experience, but only if you drink responsibly and for God's sakes don't get behind the wheel of a car when having consumed too much alcohol.

The Five Songs On My Mixtape for Princeton
So what Princeton-themed "Five Songs On My Mixtape" will we have this week?  Well, it will include a song I heard on the way to work this morning.  Talk about research.

1. Michael Jackson Mash-Up (Steve 'Silk' Hurley)
2. Last Friday Night (Katy Perry/Liam Keegan Remix)
3. Seven Nation Army (White Stripes)
4. Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)
5. Sutphin Boulevard (Blood Orange)


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