FOOTBALL | A new beginning for the Bulldogs

After getting picked to win the Ivy League title before each of the last two seasons, the Yale football team will begin the Tom Williams era with lower expectations. Following the graduation of more than 30 seniors in May, the media has picked the Bulldogs to finish fourth in the conference.

Not that Williams — or his players — care.

“I haven’t looked at the poll and don’t plan on checking it out,” the rookie head coach said in an interview. “The only thing we care about is where we rank at the end of the season.”

And where they rank at the end of the season will be a toss-up. Preseason predictions are far from an exact science; after all, just take a look at the Elis the last two years.

In each campaign, Yale was picked to finish at the top of the league but could not come through. Last season, an early home loss to Penn set the Bulldogs too far back in the conference, and in 2007, it was an abysmal 37–6 loss in The Game that derailed a perfect season and gave Harvard the Ivy title.

However, with a new coaching staff, this year is not like years past. In interviews, players said the team’s practices have more energy than they did in the past.

“Practices are fast-paced and we just get a lot done in our two hours out there,” wide receiver Gio Christodoulou ’11 said. “Practice hasn’t been a burden like in the past. I’m looking forward to it every day.”

In spring practice Williams opened each position for the taking, saying that no one on the team was guaranteed a starting spot, and that has extended to summer practices.

“Coach has been telling us that the players make the depth chart, not the coaches,” running back Rodney Reynolds ’10 said. “And that’s led to high-energy, competitive practices.”

Following the graduation of several All-Ivy performers, including tailback Mike McLeod ’09 and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09, the Bulldogs will feature plenty of new players.

Surprisingly enough, junior southpaw quarterback Brook Hart ’11, who split time under center last season with Ryan Fodor ’09 and started five games, is the Ancient Eight’s most experienced quarterback. But even his job is far from certain. Hart is competing with Bryan Farris ’12 — who was the No. 1 quarterback out of spring practices — and Rich Scudellari ’10, as well as one addition to the team, Nebraska transfer Patrick Witt ’12, who may be the most intriguing prospect of the quarterbacks.

Williams said he will have a better idea of who will be under center in the season opener at Georgetown on Sept. 19 after the team’s intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday. The new regime’s first depth chart will be made based on the scrimmage.

On the defensive side of the ball, All-Ivy cornerback and team captain Paul Rice ’10 will be moving from cornerback in to the front seven, where he will try to ease the loss of Abare, the team’s 2008 captain and an All-American selection at linebacker.

“At 245 pounds, Paul was probably one of the biggest corners at any level,” Williams said. “We just feel that we can use his skills for the better at linebacker.”

Only punter and placekicker Tom Mante ’10 was named to the preseason first-team All-Ivy league team. Three players were selected to the second team: tight end John Sheffield ’10, defensive end Travis Henry ’10 and Rice.

For those thirsting for constant Bulldogs football, Williams is looking to satisfy you. Beginning last week, the first-year coach — like many college coaches around the country — submitted to the Twitter craze and created a Yale football Twitter feed. His first post, on Aug. 17, read, “Only 4 days until we tee it up … can’t wait to see some collisions! GO BULLDOGS!”

He has posted pictures of the team’s first meeting and the squad having dinner in the Saybrook College dining hall as well.

“We’re a 300-year-old school but we’re still technologically savvy,” Williams said. “Several coaches post updates and I can do it from my BlackBerry. It’s a good way to keep recruits, fans and family updated with what’s going on with the team.”

In the media rankings, Harvard was picked to finish first, and it is the only Ivy League team in the national Top 25 poll, ranked 23rd in the nation. Penn was picked second in the Ivy League poll, followed by Brown. Princeton was picked to finish fifth and Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth rounded out the rankings.

Contact jorge castillo

at jorge.castillo@yale.edu .

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