PRINCETON – Princeton has been on the doorstep of reaching North Carolina High School football’s grandest stage for the last two years.
With some significant roster turnover and new faces in key roles, the Bulldogs know they have plenty of work left to do before reaching the ultimate goal of playing for a state championship. Princeton was on the practice field early Wednesday morning preparing for the 2023 season.
The Bulldogs have compiled a 25-3 record over the last two seasons. Princeton reached the 2-A East Finals in 2021, and fell in the fourth round of the 2-A state playoffs a year ago.
Head coach Travis Gaster and his staff are tasked with conveying to their current group of Bulldogs the importance of taking pride in the program’s past success, while understanding the expectations that come with being a Bulldog.
“I think the key is focusing on what got us to where we feel like we were at the end of last year, versus where we were at the end of our first year here” Gaster said. “It’s about just reminding them that we didn’t just inherit a ton of talent, and rode that talent wave to be good. Those kids developed just like these kids are from JV, to varsity, and then living in the weight room. For our program to be successful, they’ve got to love the weight room just as much as they love Friday night football.”
Princeton faces the challenge of replacing Christian Perris who rushed for 3,303 yards and 47 touchdowns in 2022. Perris averaged 10.7 yards per carry last season, and 235.9 yards per game a year ago. He rushed for over 100 yards 14 times last season.
Perris rushed for 5,881 yards and 90 touchdowns for his career.
Also lost to graduation is Peyton Mitchell who rushed for 606 yards with 10 touchdowns a year ago. Mitchell also threw for 292 yards and five touchdowns.
Juniors Kayden Haire, Ethan Teasley and LaDanian Strayhorn have gotten the majority of the carries thus far in practice.
“This year it will be more production by committee than we’ve had kind of a one or two-man show,” Gaster said. “We’ve got to rotate a bunch of guys in, see who fits, and who is willing to run the ball 30 times a game. Everybody can’t do that, but can we find three people that will run the ball 10 times a game?”
The Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule includes five opponents that combined to go 34-26 last season. Princeton visits a Clinton team that was 11-2 in 2022, and also hosts bitter rival Rosewood. The Eagles were 10-5 last season, and lost at Tarboro in the 1-A East Finals.
“You learn in pressure situations who can handle and continue to do what you’re coaching them to do,” Gaster said. “A lot of people can do it with no pressure, but I want to put our guys early in pressure situations where they have to execute at their highest potential at that point in time. If we’re not successful, we can show to our team, this is why. That’s easier to expose playing better teams than it is not. I want those exposures to happen before we start conference play.”