The Princeton Panthers unofficially opened the 2022 season with the annual spring game last Friday, May 20.
The team has the daunting task of replacing 30 seniors from their varsity roster. Second-year head coach Ervin Chandler believes the players are putting in the work to be successful and have the talent to make an impact next season.
“The young kids did really well out there,” Chandler said. “We split the upper-level students up and then I told them the atmosphere would be a little bit different. We had a great crowd, the band and they went out and responded so well and competed.”
One area the younger players stood out was in the running back position. Junior Ombati led the team with 1,185 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing last season, and he’ll have to be replaced by a committee. Bryce Dade and Presley Self showed some tough running on the maroon team, while freshman Je’Keylen Montgomery-Perkins showed a lot of speed and versatility on the white team.
“It’s going to be hard to replace Junior Ombati, who was a great kid,” Chandler said. “He was a good back for us and the younger guys got some big shoes to fill. Bryce had a great spring and is looking great. He’s going to be tough to tackle. Presley Self also had a great spring and they complement each other very well. Je’Keylen did some nice things as a rising sophomore and all three should contribute.”
Overall, coach Chandler said he liked the team’s work this spring but was happy to see the Panthers on the field and hitting each other this season.
“The energy was just awesome,” Chandler said. “The kids went out there and brought the juice and worked hard every day. It’s most important to have energy and have fun out there.”
Princeton’s offense is also replacing its starting quarterback this season, with Braedon Ratliff and Vyron Hambric competing for the starting job. While no starter was named yet, coach Chandler likes his group with four young players that have been taking in what the coaches are teaching them this spring.
“We’ve got a good group that’s been doing a lot of good things this spring to get better,” Chandler said. “Braedon has really worked hard and put in the effort this spring, working with his coaches and he’s developed a lot in just a few short weeks.”
Defensively, Princeton is replacing plenty of faces, but outside linebacker Billy Sanchez stuck out as a returning starter. After leading the team with seven tackles for loss and two sacks last season, the team will be relying on his leadership this upcoming season.
“He’s the heart and soul of the defense,” Chandler said. “He goes out and competes so hard and we have high expectations of him. Most importantly, he has high expectations of himself and we expect him to lead this defense.”
Princeton now gears up for the summer before their first regular season game on Aug. 26 at home against Lebanon Trail.
For more stories such as these, subscribe to The Princeton Herald.