Growing legacies: Mike McLeod and Ryan Lavarnway

New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Three years ago:

CCL had not been renovated, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had not yet been published, Beta was still a fraternity. I arrived at Phelps Gate for the first time, a wide-eyed freshman eager to experience all that Yale had to offer, mistakenly understanding four years to be an eternity. Reveling in my newfound freedom and bustling with energy, I delved into the Yale life, discovering libraries and meetings, butteries and Toad’s. But as my junior year comes to a close, I’ve become increasingly cognizant of the transience of my college career. And that nagging question begins to pop up: What have I been doing all this time?

Whether you’re president of the United States or of Yale University, you naturally start to examine the legacy you will leave behind when you’re gone. George W. Bush’s legacy, for instance, might include starting an (unnecessary) war, leaving behind an economic recession and providing ample material for political comics across the nation. Richard Levin’s might include renovating Yale’s crumbling campus, reversing a multi-million-dollar deficit and shaking hands with every freshman over the past 15 years. But on a much smaller, more athletic scale, there have been others who have contributed to continued success and excellence at Yale — and who will surely leave their mark.

Even those vaguely familiar with Yale athletics will likely recognize the names Mike McLeod ’09 and Ryan Lavarnway ’09. In fact, these names may quite possibly be recognizable at the professional level very soon.

Both young men have been vital to the success of their respective teams (football and baseball), while setting numerous individual records along the way and being appropriately recognized for their talents throughout the Ivy League. Moreover, both are major reasons for increased interest in their athletic programs, facilitating recruitment and higher turnout at games. When they look back at their college careers, it will be very easy indeed to see what they’ve been doing all this time.

Running through the record books

After being named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2005, McLeod exploded in his sophomore campaign, scoring 20 of Yale’s 32 touchdowns, while becoming the first Eli to lead the Ancient Eight in rushing yards since 1982. He recorded a touchdown in eight consecutive games and averaged 136 yards per contest (1st in the Ivy League, 6th in all of 1-AA football).

And McLeod only got better from there. Much better. During his junior year, McLeod rushed for 1,619 yards and registered 23 touchdowns — both school records. He turned in a Yale-record 256-yard, five touchdown performance against Holy Cross, only to break his own record by going for 276 yards against Lehigh two weeks later. He was Yale’s first Ivy League Player of the Year in over two decades and currently holds Bulldog career records in almost every offensive category, including touchdowns (48), rushing yards (3,672), and rushing attempts (817).

In the midst of McLeod’s impressive individual accolades, his most notable feat might be overlooked: leading the Elis to their only Ivy League Championship this decade. To make things even sweeter, the Bulldogs clinched the 2006 title with a win over none other than the hated Crimson. In that game, McLeod rushed for 87 yards and three touchdowns, while Harvard’s star running back Clifton Dawson (currently playing for the Indianapolis Colts) was limited to just 60 yards and one score. With the potential for another record-breaking campaign ahead of him, McLeod has a legitimate shot of becoming the next Ivy player to make it to the NFL.

Slugging to the big leagues?

While McLeod does his damage by plowing over 250-pound defensive linemen for touchdowns, Lavarnway focuses on reliably hitting a tiny ball that is hurled at him upwards of 90 miles per hour. He doesn’t just hit it, he pummels it. Far, far away. But at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Lavarnway might just be able to plow over those linemen if he needed to.

The reigning NCAA Division I batting champion holds the Yale record for most career home runs and is currently one of the most powerful sluggers in the nation. With 13 home runs already this season and 11 games remaining, he may very well break the Ivy League single-season home run record of 19. Not only does he hit it far, he hits it consistently. Lavarnway began the 2007 season by recording a hit in each of the Elis’ first 23 games to break the 78-year-old school record for most consecutive games with a hit. His .467 batting average was the best in the nation and, like McLeod, he owns almost every offensive school record.

Perhaps most importantly, Lavarnway currently has the Bulldogs just 2.5 games behind division-leading Dartmouth. With 4 games against the Big Green this weekend, the Elis have a reasonable chance of taking the division lead and bringing home the Ancient Eight title for the first time since 1994.

Like his gridiron counterpart, Lavarnway’s talents have not gone unnoticed. Professional scouts have been watching his development as a player over the past few seasons and Lavarnway is expected to be selected in this year’s draft.

Students at this school, if they’ve been paying attention, have had the opportunity to witness some of the best Yale ball players of this generation. Both Coach Siedlecki and Coach Stuper describe the stars as once-in-a-career type players who have had a profound impact on the program. Both players will no doubt leave behind an impressive legacy — one that they both still have a chance to add to.

Yale: watch closely.

Dhruv Khullar is a junior in Davenport College.

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