Football: Catapano named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year
After having one of the best seasons by a Princeton player in recent years, senior defensive lineman Mike Catapano became the seventh Tiger ever to receive the Bushnell Cup, receiving the award of Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year on Monday afternoon.
The honor goes to the athlete whom the league judges to have exhibited the best season both in the statbook and in all-around performance and impact on his team. According to head coach Bob Surace ’90, Catapano is much more than his physical talent on the field.
“It’s what Mike does 365 days a year that affects every person in the program,” Surace said Monday afternoon at the awards banquet, which was streamed on footballfoundation.org. “He is the hardest worker ... He’s a leader by example — his intensity, his passion, his love for the game — and this year he really turned a corner in terms of being out in front of the guys.”
Not for the first time, Surace compared Catapano’s work ethic and the way he approaches practice and the weight room to the likes of former All-Pro and Cininnati Bengals defensive end Justin Smith, saying that both helped turn the corner in their respective programs and “did things the right way.”
Catapano — who hopes to take his own path to the NFL after graduation — was especially excited by the pride that this football season has brought back to Tiger fans and the Princeton community at large. He credited the team, the coaches, the community and the administration of Princeton for his personal success and the opportunities that have been presented to him as a Tiger.
“This individual award is truly a testament to how we work as a team, as a defense and as a defensive front, and this definitely would not be possible without the brothers I line up next to every weekend,” Catapano said in his acceptance speech.
To win the honor, Catapano beat out senior Brown cornerback and return specialist A.J. Cruz, who intercepted four passes on the season, second-best in the Ivy League. Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple was named the Offensive Player of the Year.
Catapano led the league with 12 sacks and ranked second with 15.5 tackles for loss. He also helped lead the Tigers to a 5-5 record, their first .500 season since Princeton won the 2006 Ivy League championship. This team improvement is what Catapano said he focused on the most, despite his recent personal success.
“I’m so proud to be part of this unforgettable football league that’s known for pride, history and excellence,” Catapano added.
His teammates also commended Catapano’s performance both on and off the field.
“I’m proud of him. He really worked hard this year and in the off-season, and he deserves the recognition as much as anyone,” senior receiver Shane Wilkinson said. “The whole team supports him and stands behind him as he tries to take it to the next level.”
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