Illinois High School Football News

Princeton Tigers reloading for another deep playoff run

Tigers come back strong off 3A quarterfinal berth

Princeton senior quarterback Teegan Davis makes a pitch during Wednesday evening's session of the Tiger Team Camp at Little Siberia Field. Camp continues through Friday morning.

Ryan Pearson hesitates to use the word, but acknowledges his Princeton Tigers will not be rebuilding this year, but rather reloading.

The Tigers are coming off a fourth straight Three Rivers Conference East (Mississippi) Division championship and a deep run in the playoffs, reaching the Class 3A quarterfinals.

They are indeed reloading for similar success.

“I guess that’s our mantra. Our program is in a place right now that we expect to be successful,” Pearson said. “That doesn’t just start for us on Aug. 8. That’s something that we work extremely hard on year round as far as our weight training is concerned. The offseason stuff that we do with Hudl and things like that, our kids are building toward this for quite a few months before the season even gets here.

“The amount of work our kids put in and the expectations of our program, they firmly believe they can be one of the top contenders in 3A. They expect to do well. The goal for us is just not to be satisfied going to the playoffs.

“We want to do some damage once we get there.”

Pearson said the Tigers, who will open the season Friday, Aug. 26 at Rockridge, have had an outstanding summer session and were ready to hit the ground running when the first practices of the fall season start Monday, Aug. 8.

“We’re talking as coaches, we’re so far ahead after camp [comapred to] where we’ve been in previous years. I know COVID had do with some of that,” he said. “We’ve thrown a lot at kids in camp this week. To their credit, they picked it up. That’s just one of the expectations we have. It seems whatever expectations we have for our kids, they rise up to them. It’s a credit to our kids and our families we have in this community.”

While the Tigers are loaded with offensive talent — including the likes of an all-state quarterback in Teegan Davis and a deep backfield — Pearson is most excited by his defense, which returns eight starters.

“I’m a firm believer that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. And we’ve got a great core nucleus of kids coming back,” he said.

On the D-line, the Tigers will line up with senior Payne Miller, junior Bennett Williams and sophomore Cade Odell, all of whom started last year. Other returning starters will be seniors Danny Cihocki, Augie Christiansen and Carson Etheridge at linebacker, with Davis and sophomore Noah LaPorte in the secondary.

While the Tigers will have to replace Drew Harp at linebacker, sophomore Ian Morris steps in full time after filling in two games as a freshman when Harp was hurt.

Other newcomers on defense will be senior Brady Byers in the secondary and junior Ace Christiansen, who will join his brother at linebacker.

The Tigers offense is no doubt in good hands with Davis back for his second year behind center. The Tigers quarterback is as good as they get. Last year, Davis rushed for nearly 1,100 yards with 16 touchdowns and threw for 1,838 yards and 19 TDs.

“He’s just a fantastic athlete. Whatever we ask Teegan to do, he can do,” Pearson said. “He can hurt you with his arm. He throws a great football. Everybody knows he can hurt you with his legs. He’s a state champion high jumper. He’s running about a 4.4 40[-yard dash] right now. So we’re expecting him to really carry the load this year for us.”

Pearson said Davis is not only a special talent, but a quick learner.

“This is now the second year in the system for him, so a lot of things that were brand new to him last year are old hat,” he said. “Everything we’ve thrown at him, he’s picked up pretty quick.”

Pearson anticipates utilizing a seven- or eight-back rotation, led by seniors Augie Christiansen and C.J. Hickey. Christiansen led the running backs with 954 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Hickey debuted with a 114-yard game in the season opener against Rockridge only to hurt his knee and not make it back.

“That’s a good problem to have,” Pearson said of his depth in the backfield. “That’s going to help with any possible injuries that may occur during the year. But it’s going to keep kids fresh. We’re going to be able to rotate during a game., whereas a lot of teams we play are going to have to leave their kids on the field where they don’t come off.”

While the backfield brings back a lot of experience, the Tigers receiving corps will be in need of a makeover. The Tigers must replace graduated receivers Bennett Sierens, Matt Lucas and Ian Compton, who combined for 81 receptions, 1,340 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

Cihocki returns off a big junior campaign with a team-high seven TD catches along with 15 receptions and 271 yards. LaPorte, Andrew Peacock, Byers, Ace Christiansen and newcomer Carlos Benavidez will be taking on expanded roles.

It will all start up front for the Tigers on the line with senior Brady Piacenti at center, sophomores Odell and Morris at guard, and senior Miller and juniors Williams and Jack May back at tackle, with Cihocki and sophomore Daniel Sousa at tight end.

“I know we’re going to be young in certain spots, but at the same time a lot of those kids who are going to be playing for us as sophomores and juniors had a lot of experience,” Pearson said.

Pearson said the Tigers possess superior team speed, which is going to be one of their biggest strengths.

“Our overall team speed is unlike anything we’ve had before. We’ve got multiple kids who are under 4.5 40, and I’ve never had that before,” he said. “To their credit, they work on it all year round. They’re track kids. Coach [Dan] Foes does a great job in the track season, and we’re hoping that translates in the fall.”