Senior Nikhil Chervu is a wide receiver and safety on the sprint football team. Recently, the ‘Prince’ sat down with Chervu over lunch to discuss the Dirty South, Indians playing football and George Michael.
Q: What is sprint football?
A: Sprint football is just like normal football. The only thing is we have a weight limit of 172 [pounds]. It’s actually one of the oldest sports at Princeton. It’s more like a precursor to JV football. We actually had our 75th year here at Princeton, I want to say, a couple years before my freshman year ... It actually started out at 150 [pounds], and then it got moved up based on the average weight of the American male coming out of high school.
Q: How would you say it differs from flag football, tackle football or two-hand touch, in terms of style of play?
A: It’s just like normal football — it’s full tackle, full pads. It’s different in the sense that everybody is pretty much around the weight limit. I think a lot of people have this misconception that if the weight limit is 172, only the big guys are 172 and everybody’s small. But most of our players are 190 in the offseason, and about a week or two before [the season begins] you get the texts and emails saying, “Man, I can’t eat today. I’ve got to go run four miles in, like, three sweatsuits.” It is a quicker game because the linemen are about the same size as the receivers, and it’s funny because of the height difference. The tall guys end up being receivers; the short, squat guys end up being linemen.
Q: What’s your role on the team?
A: I play safety, receiver and special teams.
Q: So are you one of the taller guys on the team?
A: I am actually a little above average.
A: We have tall guys who are taller than me, but I would say across all the teams, we have a taller team in general than most other schools. In general, when I’m on the field, I’m not so short, which is amazing because I’m [5 feet 9 inches, 5 feet 10 inches].
Q: Did you play football in high school?
A: I didn’t. I ran track and played tennis.
Q: So how was the transition into playing football?
A: So, I’m from Georgia, so football is a big deal. I always wanted to play football, but my parents were always sort of against me playing football, thinking that concussions would prevent me from getting into Princeton. But I was a little too angry for tennis and track. I was kicked off those teams for anger-related issues, so going into football was exactly what I needed. I had the adjustment period, going from playing backyard football — maybe two-hand stuff, wrap-up, tackle — into full pads. You get your head wrong a few times, but I love it, and it’s the only reason I can make it through a day at Princeton.
Q: Where in Georgia are you from?
A: I’m from the border of Marietta and Kennesaw. It’s about 23 miles northwest of Atlanta.
Q: Is Atlanta, as Ludacris says, truly the “Dirty South”?
A: It is dirty. It’s dirty, D-U-R-R-T-T-Y-Y.
Q: If you didn’t play sprint football, what sport would you play?
Q: If you didn’t play football, what sport would you play?
A: Probably tennis. I played a lot of tennis in high school, and, you know, I like tennis.
Q: What’s the best thing about being an athlete at Princeton?
A: I’ve got to say the best thing is the other athletes. I think we’re a real close-knit community. We call the regular football team “the heavies.” So the heavies come out to our games, and we go out to their games. It’s a lot of camaraderie. They see us practice. We see them practice. They see the work we put in. We see the work they put in. Both of us haven’t had the greatest seasons recently, even though historically we’re both really good teams. But, you know, we stand by each other, and that’s the case with pretty much all the varsity athletes.
Q: What’s the worst thing about being an athlete at Princeton?
A: Definitely the time commitment. It’s sort of obvious. I mean, I love every second of being on the football field. It’s great at the end of the day if you get a bad quiz, bad test back, and you get to go hit people for like, two-and-a-half hours. It’s the greatest. But, you know, it’s definitely tiring, between morning lifts at 6:30 a.m. and then practice right up until when dinner closes and you have to sprint back up after you’re tired to get to dinner. It’s definitely tiring, but it’s worth it.
Q: Do you have any superstitions or pregame rituals?
A: I like to get to the locker room before a lot of other people. If we have to be on the field for pregame stretches at 5:30 [p.m.], I’ll be in the locker room at 4 [p.m.] I like to dress slowly. I also generally have OCD and strange tics. I can’t stand crooked pictures and stuff. And if I eat Starburst, I have to eat the same colors at the same time. That only gets amplified the night before games. If I’m eating a piece of chicken, I have to chew it three times on the left side of my mouth and three times on the right side. I always have to put on my right cleat first. I always strap seven hooks on my right side and six on my left before games. There are all these weird little things, and I think everyone has those.
Q: Who is your quirkiest teammate?
A: [Senior lineman] Benjamin Foulan. Ben Foulon — I love Ben Foulon. He’s one of my best friends; he’s sort of like your little brother. He’s a little strange. He speaks with a lot of inhaling. He inhales after every word, and he doesn’t know how to say his own last name. He moans like, “AAAAAHHHHHHH.” He’s our Foulon. As soon as anybody messes with our Foulon, we’re just like, “You can’t mess with Foulon. That’s our Foulon.”
Q: What was your welcome-to-Princeton moment?
A: Definitely the day after I joined the team. My first day I just went out and saw practice. I couldn’t really get pads, just get physicals and whatever. I was really small when I came to college, because I ran track and played tennis. I was 120 pounds — I was skinny. When I first got on the field, everybody was like, “This kid is going to try and play?” Since then I’ve gained 40 pounds. At first, I was like, “These kids are probably going to be weird toward me because I’m a small Indian kid at 120 pounds.” I had a Southern accent until that got beaten out of me. But the next day, they were like, “Hey, Nikhil, we were going to go out to Chili’s as a team just for fun. You want to come with us?” And then I was just hanging out in their room until [3 or 4 a.m.] Ever since then, those have been my go-to guys on campus. They’d do anything for me, and I’d do anything for them.
Q: Are there a lot of Indian kids on the football team?
A: There are actually three-and-a-half Indians on the sprint football team.
Q: And that’s a lot?
A: For a football team, yeah [chuckles]. We have [lineman] Arun Nanduri, a senior that does powerlifting. He squats like no other. We have [senior] Jason Zachariah, who is our quarterback. And then we have [senior] Richard Youngblood. He’s half Indian, half black, and he’s our starting corner.
Q: What is the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
A: Oh, that’s a hard question. I have a lot of embarrassing songs.
Q: You can have multiple.
A: One of them might be “Sometimes” by Britney Spears. That’s only compounded by the fact that I listen to it 25 percent of the time I take a shower because, you know, sometimes I run, sometimes I hide, sometimes I’m scared of you, but all I really want is to hold you tight ... and treat you right.
Q: And this is in the shower?
A: Oh, yeah, this is in the shower. And I don’t even pretend to sing it in a man’s voice. Other embarrassing songs are all the Christina Aguilera I have, you know, like “Genie in a Bottle” is one of my favorites. Or, my huge deal, my huge guilty pleasure is George Michael. So “Faith” — that’s my song.
Q: George Michael did kill it at the Olympic closing ceremony.
A: I thought so. I was bummed he didn’t play “Faith” though.
Q: I was really bummed that Pink Floyd didn’t do the whole scat singing part of “Wish You Were Here.”
A: Oh, yeah. That would have been awesome. I actually played the whole [The] Dark Side of the Moon on saxophone in high school. It’s funny, because in high school I was actually a big saxophonist. I wanted to go to conservatory and music school. But my parents were like, [in an Indian accent] “That is not right for an Indian guy.” But it’s funny because when I go back home, everyone remembers me as a saxophonist, but when I’m here, they’re all like, “Oh, yeah! You play sprint football.” It’s very weird because when I go home I say I play football in college, and people are like, “Yeah, right.” And when I tell people here I’m a saxophonist, they’re all, “Yeah, right.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/26/31251/