PRINCETON: Epperly named Ivy’s top offensive player

Junior is third quarterback in program history to win Cup

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Quinn Epperly never imagined that Monday afternoon he would be hoisting the Asa. S. Bushnell Cup for the 2013 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year in New York City.
   The junior is the third quarterback in Princeton University history to earn the award, following Jason Garrett in 1998 and Jeff Terrell in 2006. But unlike his predecessors who were tabbed top-flight quarterbacks going into their Bushnell Cup seasons, there were doubts about how much Epperly would play this year.
   ”I always thought that something like this could happen if given the opportunity or chance,” Epperly said. “Going into the year I wouldn’t have foreseen the season I had. Coming into the year, I wasn’t the starter. I mainly played the goal line role or a couple series for the first half of the year. If you told me I would win the Ivy League Player of the Year after not starting the first four games, I wouldn’t have believed you, but it worked out well.”
   Epperly stormed into the starting role for Connor Michelson, last year’s starter who continued to see playing time but not as much with Epperly playing at a record-setting rate and leading the Tigers to the Ivy League championship. Along the way to their first title since 2006, he tied Princeton’s single-season touchdown passing record of 25 set by Doug Butler in 1983.
   He was almost as impressive on the ground with 18 touchdowns rushing, one off the Princeton single-season mark of Keith Elias in 1994. He posted an NCAA record 29 straight completions against Cornell, and against Harvard set Tiger single-game records with 37 completions and six touchdowns.
   He led the country in point responsible per game, 26.6. He is the first Ivy player to share in more than 40 touchdowns in a season. With those achievements, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone by the end of the campaign that he was named the Offensive Player of the Year.
   ”He won the Player of the Week six of our seven games,” said Tigers head coach Bob Surace. “I kind of figured to do that that consistently and have some of those exceptional performances, be nationally ranked and break a bunch of Ivy and Princeton records, he certainly had a terrific year.”
   Epperly was joined at the award ceremony by Caraun Reid, the Princeton defensive lineman who was nominated for Defensive Player of the Year. Zach Hodges of Harvard won that honor, but Reid was the rare interior defensive linemen that everyone noticed.
   ”For Caraun to have such a great year and the constant presence he was and the guys that he went up against, he and Zach Hodges, you have to game plan against them,” Surace said. “I know we would go in saying, how do we stop Zach Hodges from disrupting our game? And teams had to do that with Caraun. It’s a respect you have for those two guys. Caraun did such a good job in so many areas, and everyone involved with Princeton is disappointed he didn’t win, but it’s a credit to him to be up there and part of the selection.”
   Epperly and Brown tailback John Spooney were finalists on the offensive side. Epperly was thrilled to be named from a league that had plenty of quality options.
   ”I’d say it’s probably second to winning the Ivy League championship,” Epperly said. “It’s probably one of the biggest honors I’ve received. I’m truly blessed to receive the honor. I don’t know if it’s sunk in. With some time, when I look back, it’ll be something special. It was pretty special to go up there.”
   Epperly’s family was on hand to celebrate the honor for the Knoxville, Tenn. product. He has shown steady progress through his career. On the field, he proved he was something special this season after serving more as a change of pace last year to Michelsen.
   ”I thought I was progressing all right,” Epperly said. “Connor Michelson was the other quarterback that started in front of me last year and the first part of this year. We were both progressing. I just think for a certain part of the season, my efficiency rating and the offense was pretty successful when I was in.”
   With each game that he played more, Epperly earned more playing time and he rode his success to a memorable year.
   ”I definitely think that there was a higher confidence level week to week,” Epperly said. “Being in an offense where we were scoring 45 points a game, every week as an offense we were getting more confident in what we could do and that our offense was going to work and we could score a lot of points if we played well.”
   Surace was impressed by the play of his third-year quarterback. Epperly showed his experience and ability in big moments as he helped Princeton to an 8-2 season, 6-1 in the Ivy League.
   ”His decision making was great all year long,” Surace said. “We require the quarterback in both the run and pass game, we put a lot on their plate. We require split second decisions. He rarely made a bad decision. The few interceptions he threw, one was on a fourth down and one was at the end of the Dartmouth game.
   ”He threw the ball so accurately all year long. The game seemed to slow down. The decisions came so much more quickly, but they weren’t rushed. That’s probably the hardest thing with a young quarterback, deciding whether to keep it or hand off. He was terrific with that.”
   Epperly felt he took the biggest strides in passing the ball. His accuracy was only two-tenths of a percentage off the Princeton all-time record set by Garrett, and he credits his success to his improvements in accuracy.
   ”I think I was able to throw the ball better,” Epperly said. “Being in that offense another year helps. An understanding of our offense and what other defenses are doing helped. I was getting some more playing time and that led to some success.”
   The Tigers knew they could rely on Epperly for a little of everything. He caught three passes early in the season, and what stands out to Surace is Epperly’s willingness to do whatever he could to help the team win.
   ”We expected him to make tremendous strides and grow,” Surace said. “Bu how unselfish he is, I think about the block on Roman (Wilson’s) run against Harvard. He continually does whatever is asked of him in so many ways. When the quarterback does that, it shows so many other guys on the team. It’s hard for anyone else to have any selfish traits.”
   It’s part of being a leader, and there will be more leadership responsibilities next year beyond the natural ones of a quarterback. Epperly wants to come back stronger and better for the Tigers.
   ”Probably the biggest thing like with Caraun this year is taking the next step as a leader,” Surace said. “Going into senior years as a leader. When you’re that strong statistically, that’s the first guy everyone looks to. In the weight room, on sprints, that’s the guy people watch. Quinn and a couple other guys are going to be asked to carry the team. He has to get bigger, stronger, faster, more accurate and keep pushing to be better in all aspects.”
   Epperly has no plans to rest on one successful season. The Tigers lost their final game of the season to Dartmouth, and with it, the chance at winning the Ivy title outright. One month later, Epperly still hasn’t forgotten it, and his desire to improve on what was a terrific season says a lot about how he got this far in a year.
   ”I’m extremely motivated,” Epperly said. ‘To not win the last game left me with a lot of fire and motivation to get better. I’ve always been a competitive person who wants to be the best and maximize my capabilities. I want to get better and really maximize the talents I’ve been given. I think I haven’t really come used to reaching my ceiling. I’ve motivated to become a better player and be as good as I can be I can.”