Yale football is off to one of the team’s best starts in recent memory. Its rejuvenated secondary has proven to be a cornerstone of the Bulldogs’ defense, which itself has been integral to the team’s success.
Head coach Tony Reno took a risk this season when he decided to start three freshman defensive backs in the secondary along with returning sophomore Cole Champion ’16. His decision has paid off so far this season, however, as Robert Ries ’17, Spencer Rymiszewski ’17, Foyesade Oluokun ’17 and Champion have made key tackles and game-changing interceptions to help Yale (3–0, 1–0 Ivy) to its hot start to the season.
“Spencer, Foye and Robbie have all done a great job focusing each week on the game plan and their roles in that plan,” Champion said. “Coach Reno has done a great job recruiting players who will work to compete for a starting job right away. Those guys have all earned the opportunity to play each week and more importantly have also earned the trust and respect of the team.”
After serving as Yale’s leading tackler in the secondary last year, Champion has so far surpassed that effort: he is the Bulldogs’ leading tackler overall this year. In last Saturday’s game against Cal Poly, Champion led all tacklers with 14 stops and added 2 interceptions along with a fumble recovery. For his outstanding performance, Champion was awarded Ivy League co-defensive player of the week honors and was named national FCS defensive player of the week by The Sports Network.
Despite these recent laurels, Champion said that his teammates and coaches have been a big part of his success. When asked how he has managed to play so well against opposing offenses, Champion said the team had prepared intensely by watching films, focusing in practice and concentrating on the game plan the coaches had prepared.
“We had an idea of when and how Cal Poly would run certain plays in certain situations and I was fortunate enough to be the one to make some plays,” Champion said.
Ries has also been impressive with strong performances in the past three games. With an interception against Cornell two weeks ago and 20 overall tackles to start the season, Ries is already playing at the level of a seasoned veteran.
He gave credit to his high school playing experience and the Yale coaching staff for his rapid transition.
“It’s been a challenge starting as a freshman, but high school football definitely prepared me a lot,” Ries said. “My high school had an extremely talented team with a highly trained coaching staff, so having that background has helped me acclimate to the speed of play. The Yale coaches are, in my opinion, the best in the nation, and they’ve definitely helped me adjust my game to be a starter at the collegiate level.”
For his ball-hawking plays, Ries was awarded Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors against Cornell. Because of his performance a week later at Cal Poly, Rymiszewski was awarded the same honor.
Like Champion, Ries deflected praise directed towards him, instead expressing gratitude towards his coaches and teammates.
“We’re obviously a young secondary, and we’ve been provided a lot of support,” Ries said. “We have gotten a lot of recognition these past few games, but a huge amount of credit goes to the [defensive line] and linebackers for doing a great job pressuring the quarterback. There are a lot of veterans on this team who mentor us, which has contributed to great team wins these past few weeks.”
With impressive wins over Colgate, Cornell and Cal Poly, the team’s consistent and dominant play gives Yalies reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season. The secondary will continue to have an impact on the team’s success, so it will be important for the players to sustain their strong performances in the coming weeks.
Captain Beau Palin ’14 praised the young secondary players for their contributions to the defense.
“Our secondary can run with the best of them and they love contact,” Palin said. “It’s fun to play with them.”
Yale plays at Dartmouth this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on FOX College Sports Central.