Without scoring an offensive touchdown until the third week in the season, it seemed all was lost for this year's Princeton football team. While things seemed grim, the Tigers remained confident, and behind the consistent play of senior wide receiver Phil Wendler rebounded to win three out of their last five games. Wendler, who has already surpassed his numbers of 30 receptions for 503 yards from last season, currently ranks second in the Ivies with 52 receptions and third with 555 yards. In each of Princeton's seven games this season, Wendler has caught at least six passes. While Princeton has the fortune of having Wendler on the receiving end, the Tigers have had a tough time getting him the ball. Of the returning quarterbacks, only one -- junior Jon Blevins -- had ever attempted a pass in college prior to this season. After weeks of tinkering, Princeton coach Steve Tosches decided to go with sophomore Tommy Crenshaw. With Wendler's support, Crenshaw has improved his game faster than expected. After combining for three points in its first two games, Princeton -- boasting a rejuvenated passing attack -- has averaged 26 points in its last five games. "Phil showed confidence in me," Crenshaw said. "The biggest thing for me to learn to overcome as a sophomore was to have confidence in myself. He would stay with me after practice and run routes and talk to me and say, 'We trust you.'" Currently the Tigers' main target, Wendler, a native of Kent, Wash., never imagined playing football at the collegiate level, especially on the East Coast, but is thankful he had his chance. "It just kind of worked out for me somehow," Wendler said. "I was not a big time recruit. The coaches took a chance on me." Ironically, the quarterback of Wendler's high school team, Stephen Campbell, is now the Ivy League's leading receiver, having caught 60 passes from Brown's James Perry for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. Campbell also leads Division I-AA with 8.71 receptions per game. When the two played on the same field for the last time four weeks ago in Princeton's 53-30 loss to Brown, Wendler had his biggest game of the season, catching 11 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown. "We had a lot of family out for that game," Campbell said. "He played great. They threw to him when they were down and started to move the ball. He made big plays happen." Last season as a junior, Wendler became the first Tiger to rack up three 100-yard receiving games in a season in five years. Against Lehigh, Wendler's 161 receiving yards earned him Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors and became the first Princeton receiver this decade to record 10 catches in one game. With the Tigers changing from a running offense to a West Coast style offense this season, the 6'3" senior has finally been able to make a name for himself. "They throw the ball 40 to 50 times a game," Campbell said. "The more opportunities he has, the more plays he can make. He is reaping a lot of the benefits from the change." With the opposition honed in on Wendler, several of his teammates have benefited from the lopsided coverage. "Teams have been focusing on Phil," Crenshaw said. "Teams try to stop him and don't pay quite as much attention to the other receivers. It has helped us become more well-rounded as an offense." Besides opening up the field for his teammates, Wendler has shown remarkable leadership this season. "When Phil drops a pass in practice, he gets down immediately and does 20 push-ups," Crenshaw said. "When his teammates see one of the top receivers in the Ivy League doing push-ups when he drops a pass, it rubs off on them. They see what it takes." As a receiver, Wendler knows he cannot single-handedly control the result of a game, but his teammates rely on him to make every play that comes his way. "It's a tough situation, because you have to depend on the other 10 guys doing the job to get you the ball," Wendler said. "You have limited opportunities, and you have to take advantage of every one you get." An unpolished receiver out of high school, Wendler credits most of his achievement to Princeton wide receivers coach Kirk Ciarrocca. "He's done a lot for me," Wendler said. "He is a big student of the game. He has put a lot of confidence in me. When I was younger, he had the feeling that I could be a player." While Wendler's football career will come to a close at the end of the season, he will never forget his time in a Princeton uniform. After graduation, Wendler hopes to work for a consulting company and travel around the globe. "I have taken a lot of pride being a Princeton football player," Wendler said. "It has been a big influence on my life and helped me with my work ethic."Comments powered by Disqus
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