PRINCETON — There’s been a lot thrown at the Princeton Tigers football team this season. They have a new head coach with a whole new approach in all phases of the game, from offense, defense, blocking schemes and special teams. You name it, it’s all new.
And yet if they feel overwhelmed at times, it’s all just a matter of what they like to say around the Tiger Camp, “Hoka Hey.” It’s been the new mantra of the Tiger program under new coach Ryan Pearson.
“It’s really about preaching unselfishness. and doing what’s best for the team,” Pearson said. “I feel it’s really created a bond between our team. When you get a group of high school kids that are believing in each other and playing for one another, that’s pretty powerful.”
“To me it means like family. It’s a war cry; it means it’s a good day to die. It’s for family, this is my family,” senior captain Eric Hoffeditz said.
Pearson said his new team has adjusted well to all the changes he is bringing with him.
“There’s always changes when a new regime comes in. There’s really nothing about this program from a year ago that’s the same,” Pearson said. “It’s really a testament to our kids. They’re working hard every day, they’re listening and I think they’ve done a great job grasping the new concepts that we’ve brought. If they weren’t as eager to come in to learn, we wouldn’t be as far ahead as we are.”
The new Tiger coach inherits a team that is young with just six seniors, but has a solid nucleus of a junior class and underclassmen to build around. He sees a lot of comparison to when he took over the Canton Little Giants program, his last stop before coming to Tiger Town.
“When I came to Canton, they hadn’t been to the playoffs in over a decade. And Princeton has only been in the playoffs once in the last 13-14 years. They hadn’t had a lot of winning tradition and that’s something I’m really trying to change, because this is a job I saw myself taking for the long haul,” Pearson said.
“I’ve brought my family over here. I think this is a great school and community for my kids to be a part of. I’m going to do everything I can to make this a sustained program over a period of time.”
To get there, Pearson said he has been pushing the Tigers hard, just as hard as he did at Canton playing in the Mid-Illini Conference, which is one of the best, if not the best 4A conference in the state.
“We’ve throw some pretty tough things at these kids, because I wanted to see how well they would respond to some adversity,” Pearson said. “I really feel like they’re doing a great job responding. I’ve been extremely impressed with how hard our kids have worked, because our summer condition program, I’ll be honest, it’s a bear. Our weight room attendance was phenomenal. I can’t say enough how much the kids have bought into it. They believe in what we’re doing.”
The Tigers have been tabbed by the BCR’s poll of league coaches as the team to beat in the Three Rivers Mississippi this year. Pearson doesn’t see why the Tigers can’t win it.
“I have pretty lofty expectations for this year’s team,” Pearson said. “I think our No. 1 goal is to compete for that TRAC championship and I really think if our kids keep progressing every day, I think we’re just as good as anybody.”
Senior Eric Hoffeditz returns at tackle to anchor the offensive line. Other line candidates are senior Jacob Peterson (C), juniors Judd Wright (T/G), Hayden Welte (T), Chase Tatum (T), Scott Hoffman (C/T) and Mason Orr (G) and sophomore Matt Cihocki (G).
Junior Beck Robbins returns at quarterback, having taken over early in his sophomore season. Sophomores Ethan Wright and Daniel Crowe are contending for time as blocking backs with Dallas Hill to join the mix when ready. Junior Jacob Ebner and freshman Ronde Worrells will be in a rotation at tailback with Conner Dickens running at wingback.
Senior Garrett Allen will play at receiver with classmate Alex Janssen at tight end.
Defensively, the Tigers will line up with Hoffeditz and Wright at tackles and Welte and Orr at defensive end. There are five linebackers in the mix for three spots with junior Chase Tatum, Cihocki, Brody Spencer, Hill and Worrells. In the secondary, Trevor Tate and Dickens will play corner with Ebner, Robbins and Allen at the safety positions.
“I know we‘re young. Our senior class is smaller than what I would anticipate. But our numbers are good. We’re sitting around 52-53 kids in the program and the major is freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” Pearson said. “Definitely, we’re expecting some pretty big things from that junior class. We’re expecting them to kind of take a leadership role with the senior class being as small as it is. At the same time, I know it bodes well for the future.”
Offensively, Pearson said the Tigers are going to hang their hat on a physical downhill run game, a vertical passing game as well as incorporate a ton of misdirection, which he says is a “great talent equalizer.”
Defensively, the Tigers’ main emphasis will be stopping the run and “making sure we rally to the ball as a unit.”
Pearson puts a huge emphasis on special teams, because he believes in being very aggressive and taking calculated risks in trying to steal possessions from the other team.
They will put it all together at home Friday against Port Byron Riverdale.
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