The Yale football team has had a hard enough job replacing offensive powerhouses like wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 and running back Rob Carr ’05, but the devastating losses of wideout Chandler Henley ’06 and tailback David Knox ’06 to injuries this week may spell disaster for the team.
In practice on Monday, Knox sustained an injury to the head that left him dizzy and in pain. He was admitted to Yale-New Haven Hospital for testing and observation and was released yesterday. Henley, who ranks fourth on the list of returning receivers in the Ivy League in terms of reception yardage, broke his collarbone in practice last Friday after catching a routine pass and falling on his shoulder. Knox’s and Henley’s conditions and prognoses are not precisely known, but both are expected to be sidelined for extended periods of time. On top of those two injuries, the defense has had to deal with the loss of defensive back Kevin Littleton ’07, who severely dislocated his ankle.
Knox, who was sidelined all of last fall due to a leg injury, is one of the team’s strongest and fastest players. His 40-yard dash time of 4.43 was the team best during testing at the beginning of preseason practice. When Knox played in 2003, he racked up 453 yards on only 84 carries for a team best 5.1 average yards per rush. He was also second on the team in kick return average yards (18.9).
“Obviously he is an unbelievable player and the starting tailback,” captain and quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06 said. “The last time he played he was an explosive player — any time he touches the ball he can take it to the house.”
Mroz, who talked to Knox in the hospital Monday night, said the location of the injury is of utmost concern.
“When you are dealing with the brain you’ve got to be worried,” Mroz said. “It’s real serious, but [Knox] wants to play.”
Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki did not return messages left on his phone last night.
Henley is also dealing with a potentially season-ending break.
“[The injury] is pretty serious,” Henley said. “It was no play that was different from anything else I have done. I have done it plenty of times before, but this one just caught it in the right place.”
Because of the injury, Henley has the option of applying for a medical red shirt. If he chooses the option and sits out the entire season, he will have another year of eligibility but will have to leave Yale for at least a semester because of Yale College’s rules regarding term time at Yale.
Henley said he has not yet made a decision.
“I have been gathering information on all of the options I have and what it looks like to return this season or come back next year and red shirt,” he said. “My parents are still around [New Haven], so I have been talking to them and hopefully I will be able to decide one way or the other in the next couple of weeks what I want to do.”
Henley, who received for 716 yards and three touchdowns last year, will be sorely missed.
“It’s a tough loss,” Mroz said. “He’s out of the question the top receiver in the [Ivy] League and I don’t think anybody playing college football has caught as many passes in preparation than him in the last two years. He has prepared better than anybody that I can imagine, so for this to happen is pretty rough.”
Todd Feiereisen ’06, a former quarterback who has been making the transition to wideout since spring ball, said the loss of Henley may have one silver lining.
“Obviously you can’t replace [Henley], but it has brought our group closer together because we realize that anyone can go down at any time,” Feiereisen said. “We are working hard to make up for the loss, but [Henley] is still around at practice and meetings for support.”
As for the secondary, the loss of Littleton’s ability to disrupt opposing offenses will be yet another obstacle to overcome. Littleton played in all 10 games last season and recorded three solo tackles as a sophomore. In addition, Mroz said Littleton had an infectious spirit.
“He is such an optimistic kid,” Mroz said. “He is so excited about playing football and his positive attitude and outlook rubbed off on those around him. The loss will definitely be felt.”
Yet after suffering these three injuries to such important players, optimism like Littleton’s may be in short supply regarding the Elis’ coming season.