Five months after helping lead Princeton football to its first undefeated season since 1964, John Lovett and Stephen Carlson took the next step in their football careers by signing NFL free agent contracts.
Shortly after the NFL draft concluded on Sunday, Lovett signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Carlson signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns.
“With a lot of athletes when they’re nine years old, their dream is being a professional athlete,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90. “To see these guys have an opportunity is really fulfilling as a coach.”
While playing quarterback at Princeton, Lovett was a two-time Bushnell Cup winner as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, earning the award in 2016 and 2018. After missing the 2017 season with a shoulder injury, Lovett returned as a fifth-year senior in 2018 and led a Tiger offense which broke the Ivy League scoring offense with 47 points per game.
Lovett’s combination of size and athleticism made him an attractive prospect — at his pro day, he weighed in at 234 pounds and ran a 4.56 forty-yard dash. He will likely transition from quarterback towards some combination of H-back, tight end, fullback, and special teams for Kansas City coach Andy Reid’s offense.
“[Kansas City] seemed to be the right fit,” said Surace. Their coaching staff is creative, [and] your brain just moves because of John because he can do anything. It’ll really allow them to be creative.”
He’ll also be teammates with Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs starting quarterback and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player. And, according to Surace, Lovett had the opportunity to network with his future colleague at the 2018 Maxwell Awards, where the two met and bonded over suffering the same non-throwing hand injury in college.
Carlson, who mainly played wide receiver for Princeton, will also switch positions and play tight end in the NFL. After catching 51 passes for 683 yards his senior year, he added weight in the offseason to convince NFL teams he could compete in the trenches against bigger players.
“It helped that in my senior season at Princeton that I played a little bit of tight end,” Carlson said about the transition. “Just talking with coaches and scouts, I knew if I wanted to play on the next level I’d have to put on probably 15 pounds and still run decently fast times at the pro day.”
Carlson will have the chance to play with another Princeton wide receiver turned NFL tight end, Seth DeValve ’16. DeValve was drafted by the Browns in the fourth round in 2016 and is still with the team.
Many expected that senior wide receiver Jesper Horsted, who holds Princeton’s all-time records for career receptions and touchdowns, would be drafted or at least immediately sign as a free agent. Horsted has received tryout invitations but has yet to sign a contract, likely due to a hamstring injury sustained during his pro day workout.
“Jesper’s never done it the easy way,” said Surace. “I have great confidence the teams will value the things he’ll bring to the table.”
Even for the players signed immediately after the draft, a spot on a final NFL roster come September is far from guaranteed.
“I’m definitely excited, but it know I’ve still got half the process,” Carlson said. “I got signed, but most of the guys don’t make the team.”
But several recent alumni have carved out careers in the league. Mike Catapano ’13 played five years in the NFL. Caraun Reid ’14 has played five seasons in the league as well, most recently last year for the Dallas Cowboys. DeValve is entering his fourth year in the NFL, and Chad Kanoff ’18 made the Arizona Cardinals roster last year after signing as an undrafted free agent.
Starting as early as rookie minicamps this weekend, the most recent crop of Princeton players will begin working to join them.