Tigers trio lead Princeton to gridiron success

2021 Spring co-BCR Football Players of Year

Three conference championships.

Two playoff runs with another one in the making.

One perfect season.

Three players.

Grant Foes, Taylor Gibson and Ronde Worrels were the three mainstays of the Princeton Tiger feats on the gridiron this spring and the past three years.

Together they led Princeton to the best three-year stretch in school history.

On their watch, the TIgers had one state semifinal berth, a state quarterfinal appearance and a highly probable third deep playoff runs this year, and an overall 24-6 record, culminating with the school’s first undefeated season (6-0) this spring.

They are the 2021 Spring co-BCR Football Players of the Year.

“These three young men have been tremendous ambassadors for our program over the last four years,” PHS coach Ryan Pearson said. “All three of them possess the entire package. Not only were they great football players, they were even better young men of character. If I had to send one young man to represent me and our program, I would send all three of these young men without hesitation.”

The last dance

The Tigers, like every other player in the state, never thought they’d get to suit up again this year. When word broke late that there would be a spring season, the PHS seniors were estactic to suit up on more time in Tiger blue.

“More of unfinished business, because we kind of came up short last year. More of like closure. Wanted to get another chance to prove ourselves and get another year in,” Gibson said.

Gibson was mindful the season “could go away in a second,” due to COVID-19.

“It meant the world to me to get the chance to play and play with my guys that I love,” Foes said.

Worrels was pleased to get the season in, but couldn’t help but want a little more.

“Definitely going 6-0, I wanted that out of it. But not being able to have the state playoffs, that was pretty tough,” he said.

What may have been

The Tigers were ranked No. 2 in Class 3A in the Associated Press, receiving a steady No. 1 vote or two throughout the season.

They beat the No. 1 ranked team in 1A, Lena-Winslow, 35-14 in the season opener.

They rallied to knock off defending 2A state champ and state-ranked Sterling Newman 28-14 in Week 5. It was the first time the PHS seniors had ever beat the Comets in four years at any level.

Perhaps, they saved their most exciting finish for last, rallying to defeat No. 2 1A ranked Fulton, 49-38, in the season finale, scoring 21 minutes in the final 10 minutes.

“I think we all wished we got playoffs. But I think the last game was a pretty good way to end it,” Gibson said.

How far could they have gone had there been playoffs? They will always have a case of the what-ifs.

“I’d like to say to the state championship, but well never know,” Gibson said.

“In a normal year, I’m confident we could have gone to the state championship,” Foes said. “There will always be what-ifs, especially playing six games and being 6-0 and beating teams we beat this year. But I’m just thankful it happened.”

“I’d say we definitely could have gone to the state championship,” Worrels said. “We have a pretty high-caliber team. We just worked really hard. That showed.”

Best memories

Each Tiger takes away special memories suiting up for Tiger football.

“Being with this team has just meant a lot and just to have my name in there, and hopefully somebody looks back, ‘Hey, I remember that team,’” Gibson said.

“Best thing, the fans and playing at Bryant Field. There’s just no other atmosphere to play at,” Foes said.

“It means a whole lot to me. Coming in a freshman with coach Pearson, I’ve definitely learned a whole lot, not just as a football player, more about being a man in general,” Worrels said. “The pillars he’s brought to me and these younger kids I’ve been around has just been awesome.”

For Worrels, it was the 2018 3A semifinal with Byron, a game the Tigers lost 7-3, which stands out the most.

“That was my favorite game ever,” he said. “Walking out and seeing how many fans were here. Just crazy.”

Ronde the record-breaker

Every opponent knew who No. 28 was for Princeton, always referring to him by name, rather than number, with a shout of “Ronde’s over there,” or “Watch out for Ronde.”

He was an unanimous all-conference pick at running back, rushing for 620 yards (6.2 ypc) and 11 touchdowns this year. He finished his career as Bureau County’s all-time leading rusher (4,387 yards) and all-time TD leader (74). He also holds the PHS single season TD record (33) and is second in single season rushing yards.

Worrels was also first team all-conference at linebacker, leading the Tigers defense with 67 tackles, including three for loss.

“Ronde embodied the blue collar, hard-work mentality of our program,” Pearson said. “Ronde has a lot of God given ability, but what set him apart from the rest was his tireless work ethic and his internal desire to be the very best at everything he does.

“Ronde had a motor that never stopped. He only knew one speed and that was full go all of the time. Ronde has been a tremendous leader as a RB and LB as well as our program over the last four years. Northern Illinois is getting a true dawg.”

Dual threat QB

If Worrels wasn’t running it in the end zone, Gibson was either passing it in or running it in himself. “Gibby” passed for 979 yards and 11 TDs this spring and ran for five more scores and 240 yards.

Gibson is the PHS all-time single season passing leader (1,956 yards, junior year) and finished as third all-time passing yards in his career, second all-time in passing TDs and has five of the eight top single-game passing performances in PHS history.

Gibson also excelled at punting, an unanimous all-conference punter averaging 40.3 per kick with a long punt of 54 yards.

Pearson said Gibson fits the true definition of a student of the game and was a coach on the field.

“Gibby had all of the physical tools to be an exceptional quarterback/punter, but what set him apart was his attention to detail, his intelligence and his knowledge of the opposing defenses,” Pearson said. “He knew exactly who we wanted to attack, how we wanted to attack them and what their reactions would be to certain route combinations.

“Gibby just saw the field extremely well and was a tremendous extension of me on the field.”

Putting it on the line

Foes put it on the line for the Tigers on offense and defense. The unanimous all-conference tackle helped pave the way for the Tigers’ ground game which racked up 1,557 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.

He also was a first-team all-conference selection in the Three Rivers Mississippi as defensive lineman. He made 34 tackles.

“If I had to use one describing word Grant, it would be ‘Grit,’” Pearson said. “He embodied Tiger Grit and what it meant to persevere in tough adverse situations. No matter how much adversity he would face, Grant would always get back up and respond with ferociousness.

“He has been a tremendous leader on our offensive and defensive lines as well as our program over the last four years. Indiana Wesleyan is getting a true warrior.”

College football

While Gibson has thrown his last touchdown pass, enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Foes and Worrels will continue their football careers at the next level.

Foes will fulfill his longtime goal to play for Indiana Wesleyan, a NAIA program in Marion, Ind.

“Going to be very different, with a lot of learning and adapting to, but I’m excited,” Foes said. “Been a dream to play college football since I was a little kid and I’m blessed to have that opportunity to fulfill that dream.”

Worrels will take his talents to Northern Illinois to play linebacker for the Huskies.

“I’ve been working hard toward that goal. I’m in track now trying to build my speed up. I’m excited for that,” Worrels said.

“I used to be 185 pounds. Coach Pearson just told me if I worked and worked I’d get better, and I did. I feel like that work even brought more younger kids with me.”

Kevin Hieronymus

Kevin has been sports editor of the BCR since 1986 and previously was sports editor of the St. Louis Daily News, Tazewell News and ISU Daily Vidette. He is a 2021 inductee into the IBCA Hall of Fame as a media member and was awarded as 2021 IPA Best Sports Section and Best Sports Column