Eli football nabs some top talents

With 18 members of its two-deep graduating in May, recruiting is especially crucial for the Yale football team this year. With all of these positions open to new talent, the Bulldogs already have some successes to show.

NCAA rules prohibit head coach Jack Siedlecki from discussing the details of the recruiting class of 2009, but Siedlecki said this year’s excellent class of recruits addresses the Elis’ specific needs. While all football players entering college had to commit to a school by Feb. 1, only those who were admitted to Yale under Early Action are ‘officially’ attending Yale and playing football. This leaves out the half of the recruiting class that will be admitted regular decision, Siedlecki said. Even so, the team already has four future Elis who particularly stand out: quarterback Ryan Fodor, running back Mike McLeod, left offensive tackle Landon Hairgrove and defensive end Kyle Hawari.

In order to recruit these four players — potentially in line to succeed team leaders like captain Rory Hennessey ’05 and running back Rob Carr ’05 — Yale turned to two states from which Siedlecki frequently culls talent: Connecticut and Texas.

“We have maintained a presence in Texas and … got the two top players in the state of Connecticut,” Siedlecki said.

Assistant coach Larry Ciotti, a former area high school coach, handles Connecticut recruiting, while assistant coach Matt Dence focuses on the Lone Star state. Both areas have produced great players for Yale, including Texan linebacker Ben Breunig ’05 and Fairfield native and center Ed McCarthy ’07, and this year is no different.

Hawari, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound native of Plano West, Texas, was rated a two-star, or mid-major, prospect by the recruiting Web site rivals.com. Hawari and Hairgrove were selected to play in Texas’ Coca-Cola High School All-Star Football Game, and were the only two Texas All-Stars who committed to a Div. I-AA football program rather than a Div. I-A school.

Wide receiver Chandler Henley ’06 said this year’s recruiting class was great and that Hawari could be useful to the team from the beginning of the fall.

“Hopefully we can have a few defensive linemen step in and play a little bit as freshmen because we could always use big bodies,” Henley said.

Hairgrove is another important big body for the Elis. Standing a formidable 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 280 pounds, the left tackle from Grapevine High School said he thinks of himself as a technical player.

“I study very in depth as far as what kind of defense I might see and what I need to do on each play, but I also try to be very aggressive out there,” Hairgrove said.

Hairgrove found high school success not only on the field but also in the classroom. Hairgrove’s father, Marvin Hairgrove, said Landon scored a 1430 on the SAT and ranks in the top five of his class. Because of his academic skills and his power on the field, Hairgrove was heavily recruited by many Ivies, including the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell. Hairgrove said he was able to decide to become a Bulldog because of the time he spent at Yale during last summer’s football camp, which is organized by the football program.

“I really enjoyed the coaching staff and the environment and seeing the school a little bit,” Hairgrove said. “After my official visit during the week of the Princeton game, it pretty much sealed the deal. I knew it fit.”

McLeod, another recruit who had been eyeing Yale for a while, was also admitted under Early Action. The New Britain High School star running back rushed for 2,829 yards and 63 touchdowns during his high school career. McLeod’s rushing helped lead New Britain to back-to-back Class LL championships in 2003 and 2004. McLeod also tied the Connecticut state record for most touchdowns scored in a game with eight. Because of his accomplishments, the Hartford Courant named McLeod the Offensive State Player of the Year.

Brandon Etheridge ’07, a defensive end, said the team has heard of McLeod and is excited about him. Etheridge said McLeod is a “real big time” running back.

McLeod may look to fellow Connecticut player Fodor for his hand-offs. Fodor was selected by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association as the Coca-Cola High School Football Player of the Year in Connecticut and was also named the most valuable player in the Class M championship game. The Daniel Hand High School signal-caller threw for 1,865 yards and 21 touchdowns this year on the road to being recognized as the best quarterback in Connecticut.

Fodor, who was recruited by schools like Penn and Lehigh, also said attending the team’s football camp helped give him a connection to the team. He also said the way Ciotti and Yale recruited him made him feel the most comfortable.

“Coach Ciotti called me every Sunday night and he seemed the most committed to me,” Fodor said. “They seem happy to have me there, and I’m certainly happy to be there. I want to get on the field as soon as possible.”

Fodor, who prefers to stay in the pocket and throw all over the field, said that while he thinks the academics will be challenging, adapting to college football may be even harder.

All of the future Bulldogs will have to adapt to both Yale schoolwork and Yale football practices. Whether they get a chance to play on varsity or play with junior varsity, they will come up against some challenges from the other members of the Ancient Eight. Princeton may have the strongest Class of 2009 right now, with two two-star tight ends and a two-star quarterback coming.

Despite the work they have cut out for them, Hairgrove said his class is excited about working hard as Elis to help the team return to the top of the Ivies.

“My only thing is I hope that as a class we can work together to change that as soon as possible,” he said. “All the seniors I met seem great, and they are really talented football players, but I want to take the same level of talent and make it a winning tradition.”

Yale head football coach Jack Siedlecki addresses the team after The Game Nov. 20. Following a disappointing 5-5 campaign this season, Siedlecki and his coaching staff focused on Texas and Connecticut in recruiting the best possible players for next season.
Smita Gopisetty
Yale head football coach Jack Siedlecki addresses the team after The Game Nov. 20. Following a disappointing 5-5 campaign this season, Siedlecki and his coaching staff focused on Texas and Connecticut in recruiting the best possible players for next season.

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