Princeton football fans appreciate Will Powers. They root for Will Powers. They just don’t want to see Will Powers play as often.
Don’t worry, he understands.
Powers is a two-time All-Ivy League player for the undefeated and nationally ranked Princeton Tigers. He’s averaging four plays per game this season, or about one play in a few hours of practice each week. What it does with those few options, however, is what makes it special.
He knows how valuable a strong player can be to a football team. He knows how valuable a strong player can be to THIS football team.
She works in the family.
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When Powers breaks ground this Saturday in a home game against Dartmouth, he will do so at Powers Field. This is not a coincidence. His father, William (Bill) Powers ’79, was an All-Ivy League punter who made a generous gift of $10.5 million to Princeton to fund the FieldTurf playing surface at Princeton Stadium.
Bill Powers played a role in getting his son to Princeton, but it might not be the role you’d expect. The youngest of five siblings, Will said his father never pressured him to choose an alma mater. He provided all the fatherly guidance and advice Will sought during the process, but the decision always belonged to the son.
The father’s more direct impact came years earlier when his son realized that the power of his kick as a football linebacker could translate well to the football field.
“When I started hitting and kicking in elementary school, he’d bring me out and we’d work on my drop for hours, just trying to perfect it,” he said. “He’s set a lot of records and it’s a good competitive relationship. He pushed me because of what he was able to achieve as a footballer. It’s really special that he’s giving me advice based on what he’s done.”
Will earned Adidas All American honors as a punter at Choate Rosemary Hall and spent several weekends playing his own game, then traveled with his father to Saturday’s game at Princeton. Those trips created his own connection with both the program and the current players, and it was that connection that led him to choose Princeton.
Bonding with teammates was critical for Powers. He spent one high school year fully invested in tennis, even traveling to Barcelona to train and compete. By his sophomore year, he was back on the gridiron.
“The individual nature of the sport wasn’t appealing to me,” Powers said. “Your wins and losses are only independent and to be honest it got a bit lonely. The team aspect of football has always stuck with me and I think that’s what brought me back to it.”
And that eventually led him to a Princeton team that has its sights set on the ultimate goal in 2022.
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Most of us have kicked a ball and thought nothing of it. However, the margins of a punter’s success are razor thin and require both dedication and skill. There are three things that Powers focuses on to achieve success in his craft.
“The biggest one is being quick,” he said. “We have guys rushing us as fast as they can, especially from the rim, so you have a maximum of 2.2 seconds to get the shot off. Second, the fall is so important. If it’s a millimeter off, I can get away with it. Two to three millimeters, you’re playing with fire. That drop has to be the same every time to have that high spiral kick. The third would be ranking. You don’t want that ball in the middle of the field.”
2.2 seconds. 2-3 millimeters. Placement on a specific side of the field. Your defenders rush. Limited opportunities to do your job and if you make a mistake, the blame falls squarely on you.
It’s not that simple, is it?
Still, Powers has been brilliant since winning the job as a freshman. He averaged 40.9 yards per punt throughout his career, which would be the second-best career mark in Princeton history. Of his 93 career tackles, 28 have pinned teams inside the 20 and 28 have been fair catches. Seventeen are over 50 yards.
The numbers are impressive, but the impact on the team is what matters to him.
“You only get a few opportunities per game, so you really have to come in as a specialist on every single play,” Powers said. “I have 119 other guys around me. Although this is a highly independent position, my team supports me. I look at my position as trying to help my team instead of trying to hit a long shot. I consider myself part of a defense. I try to pin them back as much as possible to help the defense.”
Its impact is felt and noticed.
“Will plays a position that may not get a lot of recognition, but his impact every week is huge,” the head coach Bob Souras said. “Not only did he consistently reverse field position when we were backed up, but he did an outstanding job of pinning opponents deep in their territory.”
Powers knows Suarez believes in him, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to send him down every fourth down. This is an interesting dynamic for a bettor in an aggressive and successful attack. For all the preparation you put into your role, you know that the better your team is, the more limited your chance to play will be.
Like, if it’s 4th-and-1, well, Powers will be ready … but he won’t exactly run onto the field expecting to get Souras’ approval.
“4th-and-4 is probably a pretty good marker of the gray area of whether he’s going to hit it or not,” Powers said. “In between Ryan Butler and our offensive line, I have a lot of confidence that we can get those yards. I want my team to do well, but I also put so many hours into my craft that I want to go out there and pursue what I love to do. I never hope my team doesn’t go down first.”
“But maybe with a really big lead I don’t mind another shot,” he added with a smile.
Powers, a public and international affairs major with an interest in entrepreneurship after his football career ended, has seen plenty of big leads. He also has 7-0 records in each of his three seasons as a starter. It’s the feeling of going 8-0 that has eluded him, and he’d love nothing more than to get that experience this weekend.
“We’re focusing on taking it one game at a time,” Powers said. “The biggest thing is to stay humble but confident in why we’re here.”