Appalachian State isn’t the only Division I-AA team making a splash in the polls. The Bulldogs snagged the No. 24 spot in the Football Championship SubdivisionCoaches’ poll, the only time in Yale history that the Elis have made the national preseason rankings.
It should come as no surprise that the Bulldogs enter the 2007 football season as the team to beat, as they return first-team All-Ivy selections at linebacker, defensive tackle, running back and offensive guard. As a result, the Bulldogs were overwhelming favorites to repeat as Ivy League champions, garnering 14 of the 16 first-place votes in the 2007 Ivy League preseason media poll.
“I think the preseason poll prediction was accurate and we expected to be picked to win it because of the talent we have coming back and the season we had last year,” quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 said. “With that said, it doesn’t mean that we’re just going to run away with the championship. We haven’t won a game yet with this team and we still have a lot to prove to ourselves and everyone else.”
If the Elis hope to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1980-’81, they will have to fill huge holes at wide receiver and on the offensive line. The Bulldogs graduated All-American tackle Ed McCarthy ’07 and guard Brett Crandall ’07 along with all three of their starting wideouts, including All-Ivy first team selection Ashley Wright ’07. As a result, the Elis have spent most of their preseason rebuilding their offensive line and trying to find answers at wide receiver.
In an effort to replace McCarthy and Crandall, the Bulldogs moved defensive tackle Bryan Kana ’09 and fullback Steve Morse ’08 to the offensive line. At 6’4” and 270 pounds and 6’2” and 313 pounds, respectively, Kana and Morse certainly have the size and strength to succeed on the line, though they will have to overcome a steep learning curve as they learn the intricacies of a new position. But the return of All-Ivy guard Jeff Monaco ’08 and honorable mention All-Ivy center Nick Wachtler ’08 should help ease the transition.The Elis are also counting on the successful return of tackle Darius Dale ’09, who was limited to four starts last year due to injury. The Bulldogs only allowed 13 sacks last year — good for second in the Ivy League — meaning that this year’s offensive line will have some big shoes to fill.
“You can’t just replace a guy like Eddie [McCarthy] — he was a rock for us,” captain Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “But we do have a lot of guys stepping up this year. Spawn [Steve Morse] looks good at guard and Bryan Kana’s move from the defensive line has been huge. In addition to our starting line, we have a number of strong backups, which is going to be a big factor in our favor as the season wears on.”
After the offensive line, the biggest questions are at wide receiver. The loss of all three starters has forced the Elis to completely rebuild their receiving corps. Currently, the de facto starter is Chris Denny-Brown ’08, who missed all of last season due to injury. Joining him as starters are Jarrett Drake ’09 and John Sheffield ’10. Head coach Jack Siedlecki will move Denny-Brown around the field from halfback to tight end to wide receiver — in an H-Back role similar to the Washington Redskins’ Chris Cooley — in order to exploit mismatches.
“Chris Denny-Brown is definitely the leader of the new receiving corps and has had an excellent preseason,” Siedlecki said. “Matt Polhemus has been nursing a groin strain the past week but has had better timing with the receivers, with Chris, John, and Jarrett leading the way.”
Siedlecki isn’t the only person with faith in Denny-Brown. Departed wide receiver Ashley Wright ’07 had nothing but positive things to say of the new wide receiving corps.
“I believe Chris ‘Myles’ Denny-Brown is the greatest living organism this side of the sun,” Wright said. “I expect big things out of him and the rest of the wide receivers. As long as they keep the ‘street-fighter’ mentality they will do just fine.”
Despite the uncertainty on the offensive line and at wide receiver, the rest of the Bulldog offense looks poised to pick up where it left off. Polhemus gives the Elis a dual threat at the quarterback position with his athleticism, as he averaged over 40 yards rushing per game last year, good for eighth in the Ivy League.
At running back, All-Ivy first team Mike McLeod ’09 hopes to build on his record-breaking performance last season, when he set new team highs with 20 total touchdowns and 19 rushing scores. McLeod’s season was so extraordinary that he became the first Yale player to ever be included on the prestigious Walter Payton Award Watch List. The list, headlined by New Hampshire quarterback Ricky Santos, names the most viable candidates for the Walter Payton Award, awarded annually to the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) player of the year. Unsurprisingly, Yale led the Ivy League in rushing last season with 200.8 yards per game, over 40 yards more than third-place Harvard and 18 yards more than second-place Cornell.
“There are two things in this world that I love,” Wright said. “One is college and a close second is Mike McLeod.”
On the other side of the ball, the Elis return six All-Ivy players and nine starters. The Bulldog defense, headlined by Hollander and first-team All-Ivy linebacker Bobby Abare ’09, hope to continue the progress they made at the end of last year and will look to establish themselves as the Ivy League’s most dominant unit.
The Elis’ front seven boasts incredible depth behind its starters and will benefit from the return of Lee Driftmier ’08, who missed last season to injury. In 2005, Driftmier led the Bulldogs with five interceptions and 54 solo tackles and was widely considered to be one of the fastest players on the team prior to his injury. In addition, the secondary returns all four starters and will look to improve a pass defense that finished last in the Ivy League, giving up more than 233 yards per game.
“Contrary to last year, our defense has the veterans and experience,” Siedlecki said. “We need to continue to be opportunistic and have our big play players step up on a weekly basis. It starts with captain Brandt Hollander in the middle, the aggressiveness of Bobby Abare at linebacker and the veteran leadership of Casey Gerald in the secondary.”
The Bulldogs have the luxury of not worrying about their special teams play. The team returns Steven Santoro ’09 who led the Ivy League in kick return average while also notching four interceptions, good for second place in the Ivies. In addition, kicker Alan Kimball ’08 led the league in field goals made and finished fourth in total scoring.
The Elis open the season this Saturday at Georgetown before beginning Ivy League play against Cornell the following week.