By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Jay Palmer weighed 165 pounds when the season began in 2012. One year later and Palmer is listed at 185 pounds, and has even grown a couple of inches.
That wasn’t by accident.
“I have actually gained 25 pounds since last season,” said Palmer, the 6-foot junior returning for his second year as quarterback at Princeton.
He gained the pounds, and even gained in speed, thanks partly to assistant coach Sam Arrington, who has been working with Palmer since last season’s 2-8 season came to an end.
“I dropped a couple tenths of a second off my 40 (time),” Palmer said. “Most of that credit goes to my coach, Coach Arrington, for the hard work he put us through this offseason.”
It wasn’t just Palmer. A quick look at the Tigers, and it’s not hard to see that the mandatory offseason program that Princeton head coach Randy Peek started on Dec. 4 has paid off as a new season approaches.
“People who haven’t seen them for a while, they talk about the transformation,” Peek said. “We looked at the old pictures from last year and it is unbelievable how some of these kids look now.”
The 2012 season was difficult on the Tigers, as evidenced by that 2-8 record. That was all Palmer needed to motivate him to prepare for 2013.
“We lost so many games last year that it made us determined and dedicated to the game and to us to do better as a team this season,” Palmer said.
His formula for his transformation?
“A lot of working out and a lot of eating,” he said, with a smile. “(I worked on my) legs, make sure they are strong. In football they are probably the most important muscles you have.”
Princeton started behind in 2012 when Peek replaced Ted Spadaro just days before fall practice began. There will be no such excuses this season.
“We are much more prepared than we were last year,” Palmer said. “He came in a couple of days before two-a-days started last year and it was really hard to get ready and get prepared for games.
“This year we have a lot more preparation and a lot more time to get things ready to go so I think we are ready to go.”
Palmer probably wasn’t ready to play quarterback at the varsity level at this time last season, but the junior didn’t back away from the challenge.
“It was a transition from a younger level of play to playing with 18-year-olds so I had to be ready for the competition and I did OK, but now I am definitely ready to go,” said Palmer, who, according to Peek, attended a football camp in Oklahoma this summer that aided in his development.
He learned on the run in 2012, and did just fine, accumulating more than 1,700 combined yards with his arm and feet.
“He came in as a sophomore last year, wasn’t expected to start, new coach and he, by far, in our backfield was our most solid kid,” Peek said. “He threw for over 900 yards and ran for over 800 yards and did not miss a snap and he took a beating last year. He is a man now.”
Being a man at such a young age is why Palmer plays football.
“Definitely, it makes you a man,” Palmer said. “To play this sport you have got to be a man. You can’t be half and half, you have got to be all in, that is what I like about it, it makes you a man.”
Palmer will lead an offense that will include speedy senior backs Tahj-Sho Johnson and Devin Allen, along with an senior-laden offensive line, including 315-pound guard Corey Harsanyi, 265-pound center Christian Marshall and Nick Wood.
“They’re great, it’s great to know you have got that much of support behind me, but it makes you feel even better when you have a line like we have,” Palmer said. “Most of our guys are back this year, they are stronger, faster and smarter so I am looking forward to this season.
“The main thing that helped them a lot is they have gotten stronger, but their footwork is a whole lot better. When you are a lineman you can’t just stand, you have got to be able to move.”
While Princeton will seek to establish the run first, Palmer won’t be afraid to throw the ball, no matter who is available to make plays.
“With the offense we are running we will probably do the same amount (of running) but when we do throw it will be very successful,” Palmer said. “I don’t really have favorites, I just try to make sure I get everybody the ball and do what I can.”
The other transformation that Peek has seen from Palmer is leadership.
“He has become a leader and more of a vocal leader,” Peek said. “He is just a junior, but he has stepped up and when things aren’t going right he responds and he lets the other people know too.
“He has been working hard and he has been making mistakes, but we are going to improve on that.”
One year ago, Palmer was still grasping everything he was being told to do, but is now more willing to says what needs to be said.
“I had to take a new leadership role this year and it is different because last year I wasn’t really used to that, there was a lot on my shoulders,” Palmer said. “I still handled it pretty well, but this year I am definitely ready for it and I am ready to take the responsibility that this is my team.”
Princeton faces its usual gauntlet of games, including a four-week period against Mountain State Athletic Conference foes ranked in the top 10 in the early polls. Palmer isn’t complaining, but acknowledges the difficulties that can arise from being one of the few Class AAA schools in the southern part of West Virginia.
“I like our schedule because it gives us competition and shows us where we really are and how much we need to work on,” Palmer said. “Most teams are either near Charleston or past Charleston or somewhere in that area.
“There are times it can get to you, but I just hope that we keep our minds ready, keep them on the game and just be ready to go when it is time to go.”
One of those games Palmer is excited about is the annual Mercer County rivalry with Bluefield.
“A lot has been going around saying stuff,” said Palmer, with a smile. “I don’t really like to talk, I like to talk on the field so I will just have to wait for those games.”
Princeton lost to the Beavers 52-44 last season, but rallied from a 35-14 deficit, refusing to concede until the final seconds.
“They had the ball a couple of times before we did and it was hard to get going. After that I couldn’t give up on my team, I couldn’t quit, I just told them ‘We can’t quit, I don’t care how much we are losing by,’” Palmer said. “At the end of the game we came back, we only lost by eight, and I don’t know how much of a deficit it was.
“I think this year if we just start the game off right and keep our minds right and keep motivated and keep believing then we will be all right.”
Of course the Beavers can wait. Princeton has a pair of scrimmages, including Saturday at Nicholas County, and the MSAC jamboree the following week with Nitro. That will be followed by the season-opener on Aug. 30 with Shady Spring at Hunnicutt Stadium.
“We have got to take it week by week,” Palmer said. “This week we have got a scrimmage in Nicholas County, we will see how we do there, learn things from the little mistakes we make and just try to get better every week.”
If that was to occur, perhaps the Tigers can achieve what Palmer wants most.
“Deep playoffs, it has been a very long time since Princeton has been that far so that is our goal and I really hope that we achieve it,” Palmer said. “I really don’t want to say too much before, but that is our ultimate goal definitely.”
—Contact Brian Woodson