Linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12 had barely given Ivy League football a thought as he looked at colleges four years ago. Then he received a text from then-Yale defensive backs coach Tony Reno. He soon canceled all of his planned official visits to other schools in order to commit to Yale. Three seasons later, Haynes’ teammates have voted him the next captain of the Bulldogs.
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Head coach Coach Tom Williams announced that Haynes would replace Tom McCarthy ’11 and become the 134th captain of Yale football at the team’s annual banquet on the Sunday after The Game. He is the fifth consecutive defensive player to earn the honor, and the first African-American since 1974. There have been three black captains in the team’s history.
That trend is the result of having a predominantly white team for many years, Williams said in a phone interview. “We’re at the point where the players are going to vote for a leader no matter what he looks like,” he added.
Haynes’ teammates said he is a passionate player who leads by example in every aspect of his game.
He has earned playing time for the Elis since his freshman year, when he played on the special teams. By sophomore year, Haynes was earning time at linebacker, but he was playing behind two experienced seniors. There was only one game last year in which he did not see any time on defense was against Princeton, when he was ejected after the opening kickoff for punching an opposing player.
This season, he had a firm grasp on the starting job, and his passion showed in the box scores. The inside linebacker led the Elis with 102 tackles this season, 47 more than the next defender. He built that number by leading the squad in tackles in every game but one. Though in an interview he attributed those numbers to the strong play of the lineman in front of him, Haynes’ other statistics are further testament to his individual success on the field. He had the most fumble recoveries and tackles for a loss on the team, and tied for the second most interceptions.
“He’s a stud,” Williams said.
Some of those defensive stops changed games. Haynes scored the first points of the Bulldogs’ season when he took a fumble back for a score against Georgetown. He was instrumental in the Elis’ one-point victory over Princeton — he forced the fumble that safety Geoff Dunham ’12 returned for Yale’s opening touchdown and also made an interception in the end zone to keep Princeton off the board.
“He’s just a passionate football player,” former captain Tom McCarthy ’11 said. “And when you play with passion, you get to the ball.”
McCarthy added that that same passion makes Haynes a rare player whose game day speed and strength go beyond his typical numbers.
For his play this year, Haynes was named to the first All-Ivy team, Yale’s only returning starter to earn the honor.
“People sometimes think there’s some kind of conspiracy of just defense at captain,” wide receiver Gio Christodoulou ’11 said. “But I have to negate that. The captain is the kid that earns the vote and respect of his teammates, regardless of whether he plays offense or defense.”
And, Christodoulou added, Haynes has distinguished himself not only on the gridiron but also off the field, earning the respect of his teammates.
“Haynes is a very intelligent and passionate guy and is very well respected,” Dunham said in an e-mail. “He carries a certain swagger that is contagious to the whole team.”
That ability to influence the feeling of the whole team is essential for a captain, teammates said. The team leader has a multitude of responsibilities off the field, including helping to turn a group of over 100 men into a cohesive team, communicating between coaches and players, and leading crucial off season workouts, McCarthy said.
The off-season workouts are especially important. After they return from Christmas break, the players begin a training regimen that includes weightlifting, running and practicing yoga to prepare for the next season, Williams said.
“Seasons are won and lost in the off-season,” McCarthy said.
But although that training is enormously important, it can be difficult to inspire the same work ethic since the season seems so far off, McCarthy and Haynes both said. Haynes said that inspiring his teammates to work hard — both by example and by dividing into seven or eight senior-led teams to compete in training — in the next few months is one of the chief concerns right now.
Dunham sees his teammates as a man who can handle that kind of responsibility.
“We’ve had the blessing of playing with a bunch of great upperclassman leaders and Jordan has used their advice and experiences to help mold his own style of leadership.”
Haynes’ play and leadership is the product of years of football experience. He first played organized football as an eight-year old, and went on to excelled on the gridiron as both fullback and linebacker at Jesuit High School in Folsom, Calif. He served as a captain of the high school team for his junior and senior seasons.
“I loved the feeling of being the vocal guy and having that trust from the guys,” Haynes said.
But Haynes also pointed out that there was less pressure as a high school captain, when he was one of four leaders. Yale tradition dictates that there be a single captain for each team, and so Haynes will lead the Elis alone next season. Haynes said he expects the help and support of the team’s other seniors, including quarterback Patrick Witt ’12, running back Alex Thomas ’12 and Dunham.
“You can’t take the burden of the whole team on your shoulders,” Williams said. “We have to create the support for him. We need lieutenants and colonels and majors, and he’s our general.”
McCarthy echoed that sentiment, and said that the first advice he gave to the new captain was to keep doing what he has been doing.
“You get elected captain because you are who you are,” McCarthy said. “If you stay true to that, you’ll do a good job.”
Correction: December 1, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the class years of Patrick Witt and Alex Thomas. They are in the class of 2012, not 2011.