QB John Lovett’s role as “Slash Plus” paying off for Princeton

Princeton quarterback John Lovett (Courtesy Beverly Schaefer)

John Lovett’s position is listed as “QB” on the Princeton roster — quarterback, of course.

In reality, his role is not nearly so abbreviated.

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There are times, yes, when he lines up under center, but also times when he plays running back or wide receiver.

And at all times he is a threat.

Some 20 years after a Pittsburgh Steeler named Kordell Stewart was dubbed “Slash” because he played multiple skill positions (i.e., quarterback-slash-running back-slash-wideout), Lovett, a sophomore, has become the latest all-purpose weapon deployed by James Perry, the Tigers’ mad scientist of an offensive coordinator.

“It’s kind of like Slash-plus,” said Perry, who does not hesitate to put Lovett on the field with starting quarterback Chad Kanoff, and at times even has a third quarterback, Kedric Bostic, in the game.

It is nothing new for Perry, who has been at Princeton since 2010. Most recently he used quarterbacks Quinn Epperley and Connor Michelsen simultaneously; Epperley was, in fact, named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year in 2013, a season that saw the Tigers set league records for points (43.7 per game) and yardage (511.6).

“Coach Perry’s philosophy is that the best 11 players will play,” Lovett said. “If that happens to be multiple quarterbacks, then there will be personnel packages where multiple quarterbacks will be on the field. If that happens to be multiple running backs, receivers, tight ends — whatever the case may be — he will adjust his personnel packages to the way people are performing at a given time.”

Which is interesting. Also enjoyable, for a player of Lovett’s ability.

“It’s a blast to go out there and be asked to do multiple things, and to be having success at it currently,” he said. “Anything I can do to help the team win is always fun.”

Lovett leads the Ivy League with eight touchdowns, and leads the Tigers with 17 catches, a total that is ninth-best in the league. He is also the Tigers’ third-leading rusher with 184 yards (5.8 a pop) and seven scores, and has completed 10 of 14 passes for 92 yards and two TDs.

Princeton (1-1 Ivy, 4-1 overall) is averaging 35.4 points and 447.6 yards a game — third and fourth, respectively, in the league — heading into Saturday’s showdown at first-place Harvard (2-0, 5-0). The Tigers lead the way in third-down conversions (52.9%) and red-zone offense (20-for-23 passing, 16 touchdowns).

Those numbers further validate Perry’s unique approach, as well as Lovett’s talents.

“We’ve had some experience, playing two quarterbacks at the same time,” Perry said. “We just evolved, and John in his own way has taken it to even a different level, with some of his skill.”

Perry said he is always on the lookout for athletic QBs on the recruiting trail, and the 6-3, 225-pound Lovett certainly fit the bill. He had played no position other than quarterback during his years at DeMatha High School, in suburban Washington, D.C., as well as his freshman year at Princeton, when he worked with the junior varsity.

But with the graduations of Epperley and Michelsen last spring, Lovett had an inkling that he might be asked to play different spots. And once it was determined that Kanoff would be the starting signal-caller, that was indeed the case.

“At that point we had enough information on John to recognize him as one of our best offensive players,” Perry said. “You’ve got to put a guy like that on the field.”

The transition proved to be a smooth one, because not only is Lovett a quick study — quick to pick up things from the playbook and in the meeting room, Perry said, and quick to recognize things during games — but also a better receiver than anyone might have imagined.

“Some guys, especially if they’re throwing the ball for you and your backup quarterback, if you run them on a dig (route), they just don’t catch it real naturally in the heat of all the stuff that happens in a college football game,” Perry said. “John does.”

Lovett, for his part, has only been too happy to help.

“I always have a lot of confidence in myself at anything the coaches will ask me to do,” he said. “I’m a competitor and I know I can make plays, wherever the coaches put me.”

Which, as it turns out, is everywhere.

 Above: Princeton quarterback John Lovett is a master at offense, playing Princeton’s “Slash Plus” role. (Courtesy Beverly Schaefer)

Gordie Jones

Gordie Jones is a freelance writer based in Lititz, Pa.