Associate head coach Steve Verbit has been around Princeton football for 27 years, so when he says that Mike Catapano has had as good a season on the Tiger defense as any he's seen, it is far more than hyperbole. Catapano, a two-year co-captain, just completed a dominant season on the Princeton defensive line, and he is one of two finalists for the 2012 Asa S. Bushnell Cup for Defensive Player of the Year.
"It is such a tremendous honor to even be considered amongst the best in this extremely talented league," said Catapano, a senior psychology major from Bayville, N.Y. "This individual honor, and everything this program has achieved this year, is all a testament to how hard we as a team worked together in making this season special, and I would not have had a chance to be considered without the tremendous effort and support from my teammates and coaches. I am proud to have a chance to represent this University and its football program in this very special way."
The 2012 presentation of the Asa S. Bushnell Cup is Monday, Dec. 3, the day before the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) Annual Awards Dinner, at a special reception and press conference beginning at Noon in the Vanderbilt Room of the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The presentation will begin at 12:30 p.m. and will be streamed live on FootballFoundation.org with access on IvyLeagueSports.com.
Catapano led the Ivy League with 12 sacks, and his 1.2 sacks per game ranked second nationally in FCS football. He ranked second in the Ivy League in tackles for loss with 15.5, which was only .5 tackle off the league lead, and he ranked ninth nationally in that category. He ended the year with 41 tackles, and he had five games with at least two tackles for loss, as well as five games with at least five tackles.
His 12 sacks were the most for a single season at Princeton since David Ferrara '00 recorded 12.5 during the 1998 season.
"Mike had an exceptional season for us, and I'm thrilled to see him as a finalist for this honor," said Bob Surace, the Charles W. Caldwell '25 Head Coach of Football. "He was the leader of our defense, and he was a consistent force week in and week out. He came up with game-changing plays when we needed them, and he helped change the culture of our defense."
He joins Brown defensive back A.J. Cruz, who finished second in the Ivy League in interceptions (four) and 11th in total tackles (71).
"The biggest thing was his leadership," defensive
coordinator Jared Backus said. "That came on top of his play, which was
dominant and speaks for itself. What people didn't see was his leadership that
he displayed at practice, in the locker room, before games, etc. For me, he brought
that leadership every day, and he brought everybody's level of play up around
him. That was the x-factor that he brought this year. I know there were good
players around the league, but I don't know if there was a player in the league who
did that as well as Mike Catapano."
Catapano was at his best in Ivy League competition, when he led Princeton to its biggest turnaround in more than two decades. He had multiple sacks in four of the seven Ivy games, and he had at least half a sack in six games. He added five pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles during the season. After having the worst scoring defense in the Ivy League in 2011, Catapano helped Princeton to the third-best scoring defense in 2012. Princeton produced its first winning season in Ivy League play since 2006, and it remained in the championship hunt until the final day.
Harvard senior Colton Chapple and Cornell junior Jeff Mathews are the finalists for the Offensive Player of the Year honor. This is the second season that the league will honor both an offensive and defensive player with the Bushnell Cup; last year, Mathews earned the offensive honor, while Harvard lineman Josue Ortiz took the defensive award.