Football: New coach also classmate
Now, after a series of injuries that ended his college career nine games short, you can find Methvin in the one place you were least likely to find him last season: on the sidelines.
Out of necessity more than choice, Methvin has traded his pads for a clipboard and headset and, though his coaches and teammates needed little reminder, has further reinforced his reputation as a true team player.
“Throughout my playing career at Princeton, I have had a series of mild concussions,” Methvin said. “At times they have been diagnosed, other times they went undiagnosed … This year I had a concussion early on in preseason, and another one in the game against Citadel.”
Methvin’s concussion against The Citadel was different from the rest; the symptoms were worse, and they lingered longer than normal. So he went through Impact Testing, a seven-hour exam that compares cognitive levels before the injury — every Princeton player takes a baseline exam before he ever suits up — to cognitive levels following the impact.
In an effort to further protect its players, Princeton runs an extended version of the testing through a doctor at Penn State. Following his exam, Methvin received the news that every football players dreads: The cognitive results were significantly different from his baseline. He could either stop playing now, as the doctors recommended, or risk serious long-term damage.
The decision to hang up the pads was difficult and continues to haunt the former defensive end. Rather than lose the team and the game that he loved, Methvin resolved to remain involved with the Tigers in whatever capacity possible.
“I did not want to be one of those players that gets hurt and says, ‘Ok, football’s over,’ ” Methvin said. “I wanted to stick it out to the end, so I told my coaches, ‘Whatever you need me to do, however I can help the team, let me do it.’ ”
Defensive coordinator Steve Verbit and defensive line coach Matt Borich were both open to the idea of having Methvin help out, as was head coach Roger Hughes.
“It is not unusual for a player to take on a coaching role,” Hughes said, though the Princeton coach added that Methvin has carved out his own niche. “Tom’s role is unique; he has been more on the field, helping the younger kids.”
As a coaching assistant, Methvin has a number of responsibilities. During games, he does charting, a tedious but necessary method of tracking opponents’ offensive formations, the plays they run and the success of those plays. Aside from charting, however, Methvin’s biggest contribution is as an emotional leader.
“In the midst of the game, there are so many emotions that you encounter,” Methvin explained. “Sometime it takes a neutral figure to help get you though and talk to you about what’s going on. Having played the last three years, I like to think that I have been through most of what they go through in a given game,” he added. “My goal is to turn that into support for them.”
Methvin is also on the practice field every day, lending his experience and wide breadth of football knowledge to his teammates.
“I am a different voice than the coaches, who are always yelling and screaming in your face,” Methvin said. “I’m there telling guys, ‘Look I’ve been here before, and this is my experience. I’ve walked the same path that you are walking, so let me translate what coach is saying.’ ”
Though in many ways the daily grind has dramatically changed for Methvin, his commitment to the football team has in no way diminished. He still goes to every practice — “What is Fall Break?” is Methvin’s joking reply when asked about the fourth-straight season that he will be on campus at the end of October — and attends every game, dedicating himself entirely to Princeton football’s success.
“Tom is a very giving person, someone who thinks of himself last,” Hughes said. “He was like that as a player, and he is doing the same in his new role … We all knew how important the game was to him. He loves his teammates, and he explains things in a way that the players can relate [to] and comprehend.”
Methvin’s concussion is not the only serious injury that the Princeton defense has suffered this season. Junior linebacker John Callahan, a staple in the middle of Princeton’s 3-4 defense, is out for the season with a torn ACL. Though Callahan has also remained close to the Tigers, his situation is a different because of his age and the nature of his injury.
“John has to rehab his knee, while Tom’s injury needed no rehab,” Hughes explained. “While Tom is on the field teaching, John is working on getting his knee in a position where he can be an effective player next season.”
Though he wouldn’t trade his ability to play for his current role on the sidelines, Methvin noted that his new responsibilities have changed his perspective on the sport of football.
“I’ve learned how to be the best teammate I can be,” Methvin said of this season. “A lot of times when you are playing, you are focusing so much on yourself. [Now] I’ve learned the importance of encouraging guys verbally and mentoring the young guys … I wish when I was playing I would have been able to do that more.”
The injury is hardest for Methvin to handle on Saturdays, when he said he occasionally slips into a player’s game-day mentality.
“I still get fired up emotionally,” Methvin said. “And from there it is just a matter of translating that fire into encouragement for others … It is still hard for me to feel like I make the same contribution, but I am learning that a team is really a number of different guys filling different roles, and while I may have had one role before, I can still help by doing other things.”
If that is not the definition of “team player,” what is? Tom Methvin’s time on the field with the Tigers may be over, but the senior player-turned-coach has proved that he will forever be their teammate.
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