A week before most of their classmates returned to campus, Yale’s football team arrived in New Haven looking to bounce back from an up-and-down season that ended in disappointment last fall.
The Bulldogs reported to Vanderbilt Hall Aug. 18 to begin the process of getting ready to hit the gridiron. From meetings with position coaches and the entire team to scrimmages to lifting, the Elis have had a packed schedule. But with the Princeton scrimmage on the horizon for a team that is missing 13 of last year’s starters, the hard work under the August sun is necessary.
On top of that, the Bulldogs remember what it feels like to have a lot of talent and yet end up looking in on the champions’ celebrations from the outside. Despite ten All-Ivy players on last year’s squad, the Elis finished 5-5, tied for third in the Ivy League, and lost to Harvard 35-3 in The Game.
According to captain and quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06, practices have been going well.
“The kids came back in shape, strong and fast,” Mroz said. “For us, it has been hot and we’ve had long practices, so it would be easy to have mental lapses, but so far this camp it has been very sharp and crisp and the intensity and enthusiasm has been great.”
IAfter dealing with NCAA compliance and speed and strength testing, the Elis settled into their daily routine. The average day for a Bulldog during pre-season starts with team practice from 8:30 to 11:30 to avoid the late August heat that has been known to seriously harm football players. It had been hot from the get go, but Mroz said the first day of full pads last Sunday was particularly challenging.
“It was pretty intense,” Mroz said. “The coaches and the trainers are aware of the situation and they are taking care of us.”
After lunch, the normal day continues with weight lifting at 3 p.m. and meetings at 4 p.m. with position coaches. Then the Bulldogs have more meetings at 7:30 with the entire team before breaking into groups once more.
This schedule will remain largely the same until class starts and give the team a chance to focus on football before the semester begins in earnest. The schedule is designed to iron out the kinks in the offense, defense, and special teams while teaching the Yale system to 35 rookies.
On offense, the Bulldogs have focused on trying to sync up with Mroz and running back David Knox ’06, both of whom played in 2003 but were not at Yale last fall. Knox has paced the team with a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash tests and Mroz has connected with receivers well in practice.
“Jeff has had a great summer and early practices,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “He is in great shape at 225 pounds. He’s throwing the ball well and the upperclass receivers are off to a good start.”
One of the keys to the Bulldogs’ passing game is wide receiver Chandler Henley ’06, who had 49 catches for 716 receiving yards last year. Unfortunately, Henley broke his collarbone yesterday and will be sidelined for a few weeks.
Hard practices during a rainy spring and a hot summer have hopefully put the defense on a sure footing as well.
“We had a really good spring on defense and we came together,” starting safety Matt Handlon ’06 said. “We made some drastic improvements and we are ready to go. We are on the right path.”
The final part of pre-season will come Sept. 3 at the Yale Bowl when the Bulldogs match up with Princeton. With the Elis and the Tigers ranked fourth and sixth respectively in the pre-season media poll, both teams will be trying to showcase their talents as well as pinpointing areas that need a little shoring up. Because of this, Handlon said the team is looking forward to the scrimmage.
“It’s nice to play against an opponent and not yourself,” Handlon said.
In the pre-season poll, the University of Pennsylvania edged Harvard to earn the top spot. The two favorites — who have won the last five league titles — were followed by Brown, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth and Columbia.