After a 2011 season that saw the Tigers go 1-9, tragedy struck the program when freshman sensation Chuck Dibilio suffered a stroke earlier this year.
The young running back, whose condition and story was well-publicized both locally and nationally, had run for over 1,000 yards in 2011, averaging over 100 yards a game. Now, what appeared to be the prime piece for the Tigers to build around is questionable to ever return to the gridiron.
Dibilio is staying close to football by working as a volunteer assistant coach with a high school program in Pennsylvania. While doing rehabilitation through the spring and summer, Dibilio is targeting a return to the field in 2013. An optimistic Dibilio states that he is "99 percent" sure that he'll make it back next season (as reported by Tom Hinkel of The Express-Times on lehighvalleylive.com)
”With Chuck, it’s been an on-going thing,” head coach Bob Surace said (as reported by Justin Feil of The Princeton Packet on CentralJersey.com). “As a 19-year-old and to have a stroke and to make the progress he’s made, it’s truly a credit to him as a person.”
But until next season, the anemic Tigers offense must find some way to pump adrenaline into an attack that was outscored by nearly a two-to-one margin last year.
”Against talented teams, we were very competitive," offered Surace of his team's 2011 performance. "We have to take it one step further and turn the competitive aspect into winning these games.”
The rushing attack may be sorely lacking with senior Akil Sharp (246 yards last season) taking much of the early workload while Surace looks for a breakout performer. That will put a greater demand upon the passing game.
Leading receiver Shane Wilkinson returns for his senior season (38 receptions for 384 yards), along with Matt Costello (29 receptions) and tight end Mark Hayes (11 receptions).
The quarterback position remains an open question, however, as Surace has not yet named a starter. While freshman Kedrick Bostic has looked promising in camp, the true battle is between sophomores Quinn Epperly and Connor Michelsen.
The Tigers open the season at Lehigh—the Patriot League Champions—who won their opening contest against Monmouth University 27-17 on September 1. Lehigh then faces Central Connecticut State on September 8 before returning home the following week to host Princeton.
Senior quarterback Michael Colvin (17-of-32) had a big game in Lehigh's opener, passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Nine of his passes went to fellow senior Ryan Spadola who had 111 yards in the game. Colvin was also the second-leading rusher in the game with 56 yards and a touchdown, behind running back Zach Barket (14 carries for 61 yards).
In order for the Tigers to turn "competitive" into "winning," it will fall to the defense to pressure Colvin and contain him when he runs.
"The strength of our team is the front seven on defense." said Surace.
If Colvin has time to throw, however, it could be a long afternoon for the Tigers, as the passing defense is somewhat suspect.
“Two years ago it was the run defense that was the big problem,” admitted Princeton senior linebacker Tim Kingsbury (as reported by Jay Greenberg on princetontigersfootball.com) “We worked on that and got much better last year. Now we’re working on the pass defense.”
Game Time: 12:30pm (EDT). Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, PA.