Wenzel returns to sideline



A small fullback should be able to block anybody on the football field, even a skilled pass rusher, Eric Wenzel ’04 said.

“The aiming point for a block is the outside shoulder,” Wenzel said. “That way, even if the defender is better than you are, you can still execute the block.”

During his years as a football player, Wenzel envisioned himself coaching football in the future. But because of an unfortunate automobile accident last winter, that future abruptly became the present.

“There’s no other way I’d rather fill up that part of my day than being out there helping with football,” Wenzel said.

Wenzel was severely injured in the Jan. 17 automobile accident on Interstate-95 when a car carrying Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members from New York City back to campus struck a jackknifed tractor-trailer, killing driver Sean Fenton ’04 and passengers Kyle Burnat ’05, Andrew Dwyer ’05 and Nicholas Grass ’05. Brett Smith ’06 also was seriously injured. Cameron Fine ’06, Zachery Bradley ’05 and Christopher Gary ’06 were less seriously hurt in the crash and were released from hospitals in the days following the accident.

Severe nerve and muscle damage in Wenzel’s left arm paralyzed the limb, ending Wenzel’s four-year varsity football and All-American lacrosse careers prematurely. Wenzel played fullback in the fall and goalie in the spring. Even a two-month coma could not shake the Yale playbook from his memory.

Wenzel said he retains mobility of his hand but must keep his left arm in a sling.

While recovering in the hospital, head football coach Jack Siedlecki and assistant football coach Larry Ciotti visited Wenzel and asked him to help the team in the coming season. Wenzel knew his football career was over before the accident, having exhausted his four years of collegiate eligibility, but still found it hard to adjust to his new role.

“You’re out there for practice, and it’s the first time you’re not in pads,” the former fullback said. “But I love Yale football, and getting involved was perfect.”

Wenzel coaches with the same ferocity and attention to detail with which he played, and he fills the role of tactician, motivator and friend on the practice field.

Siedlecki said Wenzel provides an “immediate lift for everyone.” Wenzel has been an especially positive influence on the team’s younger running backs, transferring knowledge gleaned from the Saturday gridiron and making sure the underclassmen do the little things right.

For example, Wenzel focuses on hand position and footwork for blocking fullbacks. His attention to detail has helped rookie fullbacks develop quickly.

“He played my position and knows exactly what I’m thinking,” fullback Taylor Craig ’07 said. “Every rep matters to him, and he wants everything to be perfect.”

In addition to being an endless source of advice, Wenzel has become a friend of the newer backs. Craig said he speaks to Wenzel more as a peer than as a coach. But Wenzel is not soft on his players, either.

“He can get on you and yell just as much as any of the other coaches,” Craig said.

Wenzel will graduate this spring, and he plans to pursue a career in finance. But he has not excluded coaching from the equation and said coaching high school football as a second career would be an “ideal job.”

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