Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 22, 2013

No time to slack for Saunders, Tigers, as season approaches

PRINCETON — With 11 coaches roaming the turf at Hunnicutt Stadium, the Princeton football team had better be focused on the task at hand.

Aaron Saunders is.

“Definitely, there is no chance to slack,” said Saunders, a senior slotback and safety for the Tigers. “We always have an eyeball on us so it is really good to have all them around. We have got a lot of coaches.”

Princeton second year head coach Randy Peek likes it that way.

“We may not out-coach them, but we will out-number them,” said Peek, with a laugh. “That is the whole thing about it, these kids are getting coached up.

“A lot of these guys are not getting paid. They are volunteer coaches and they are approved by the board, but they want to be around the kids and I will welcome that, a lot of them are alumni.”

That combination of knowledgeable coaches and athletes willing to listen and improve has Peek excited about the upcoming season.

“Everybody is bigger, faster, stronger and the coaching staff that I have right now, they are doing a great job and I am real proud of them, and the kids have responded to them,” Peek said. “There is a lot of experience on my staff.”

Saunders and the Tigers are hoping to bring a smile to the success-starved Princeton fan base and those coaches, one year after going 2-8 in a season that began with Peek replacing Ted Spadaro as head coach during the first week of practice.

“It was a tough adjustment, but it was good,” Saunders said. “We are finally catching up this year with everything.”

That started with mandatory offseason workouts that began last December. As many as 85 kids took part at times, with the end result being to get the Tigers in Peek condition for the rigors of high school football.

“We have been killing ourselves this year,” said Saunders, whose Tigers struggled mightily with injuries last fall. “Coach has worked really hard with us and we are just trying to stay in shape.

“Our offseason is really going to help us there (with the injuries) with the weight-lifting, hopefully they won’t hurt us as bad this year.”

Saunders, who has been on varsity at Princeton for four seasons, has been one of those walking wounded in recent seasons, but Peek has been pleased with what he has seen early in preparations.

“Every year he has been injury prone, but we are hoping to keep him healthy,” said Peek, who has coached most of the Tigers in the past at Princeton Middle School. “Here is another kid that got in the weight room and put on about 20 pounds. He is benching like 270 and he has got good speed and he seems like he wants to hit this year so we are looking forward to him.”

Peek has been able to make use of some of the better facilities in the recent at Hunnicutt Stadium.

“The facility is unbelievable,” Saunders said. “I am so thankful I get to play here, I am very thankful.”

The  5-foot-11, 185-pound senior will be even more thankful if he can stay on the field, and away from the sidelines or the trainer.

“Definitely, I think we are all in much better shape,” he said. “We are all bigger and faster, it is just going to help out a lot.”

Princeton will open its season by hosting Shady Spring on Aug. 30. While Saunders has enjoyed his four years with the Tigers, it hasn’t been full of wins.

He hopes to help change that in 2013.

“It has been a good time, obviously winning is everything so it is always tough, but we are looking to change things this year so we are all really excited,” Saunders said. “We have to come out here every day working 100 percent, go our hardest and not be flat.”

The Tigers, which outscored Nicholas County in a scrimmage last weekend, with take part in an MSAC jamboree at Nitro on Saturday in Charleston.

All that work in the offseason, all those weights and all those sprints began to pay off when the Tigers could finally get back to playing against another team.

“Just to get back in the groove of playing football,” said Saunders, of the anticipation of getting back on the field. “Obviously we had a long offseason and we worked really hard and it will be good to be back out there playing football.”

Princeton last played in the postseason in 2009, but that is the goal for these Tigers, but it won’t be easy. Not with a schedule that includes four teams ranked in the preseason Top 10 in succession, a stretch that begins after a game with Mercer County rival Bluefield.

“It is always really tough,” Saunders said. “It helps us keep it one game at a time, that is really tough.”

The Tigers lost to the Beavers in a 52-44 shootout last season, but that game can wait.

“I am excited for that one, but obviously we are looking at Nicholas County this year and then Nitro and then Shady and then we will look at Bluefield,” said Saunders, prior to Princeton’s scrimmage at Nicholas County.

Ten games await the Tigers, with no promise of an 11th. Saunders thinks Princeton could achieve that promise on the field.

“Obviously the main goal is make it to the playoffs and from there we are shooting for the stars,” Saunders said. “We will see.”

——Contact Brian Woodson ꆱ

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