Three-and-a-half years ago, a future freshman walk-on stood by the sidelines of the Yale football practice field three different mornings, asking where he could find then head coach Tom Williams. Last weekend, the entire football team rushed the field when tailback Tate Harshbarger ’14 scored his first career touchdown against Columbia at the Yale Bowl.
Harshbarger, who was raised in the Midwest and graduated from El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, Calif., was not recruited to play any sport at Yale.
Harshbarger’s primary responsibility is to be the scout offense running back, according to head coach Tony Reno. Each week, he runs the next opponents’ offense in practice in order to help Yale’s defense prepare. As a result, he takes a constant beating in practice.
“He gets killed every Tuesday, and I’ve never heard him complain,” captain Beau Palin ’14 said.
The tailback stands at five-foot-nine, 153 pounds, but regularly lines up against the Bulldogs’ hardest hitters in practice on “Tackle Tuesdays,” or as he calls them, “Tackle Tate Tuesdays.”
Harshbarger played his first three seasons with the JV program. Despite taking just six snaps with the varsity, all against Columbia on Saturday, teammates said he was an inspiration to the Elis.
“To see him go out and get a reward for his hard work that he’s been doing for the past three-and-a-half years was truly spectacular and that’s why you saw so many guys rally around his success when he got into the end zone,” said running back Kahlil Keys ’15. “We were really truly ecstatic to see that happen.”
Although an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was assessed to the Bulldogs, head coach Tony Reno said it is a penalty the Bulldogs “would take 100 times.”
The walk-on process started for Harshbarger during Bulldog Days. After arriving on campus, Harshbarger said he talked to numerous administrators and players before he was finally pointed to the Ray Tompkins House, where he was able leave a highlight reel with the coaches.
Harshbarger was not just a leader in the moment when he scored; he has proven himself a leader on Yale campus and with the football program, according to Reno. Each week, the Bulldogs elect a senior leader who helps lead the team both vocally and through his actions during the week leading up to the game. This past week, Harshbarger was elected the team’s senior leader and talked to his team right before the Columbia game.
“I stressed how much football means to me and wanted to make sure everyone was looking inside to find what it was that motivated them,” Harshbarger said.
In addition to addressing the team before kickoff, Harshbarger joined Reno and Palin at the front of the pack as they lead the Bulldogs into the Yale Bowl.
Off the field, Harshbarger has inspired teammates by working multiple jobs. He worked as a Communication and Consent Educator and is a freshman counselor.
“He’s a guy that shows great resilience and energizes those around him with his energy and hard work,” Palin said.
Harshbarger faced a long journey to the end zone last Saturday. After making 256 tackles as a linebacker in high school and being voted his high school’s athlete of the year as a senior, he hit a roadblock in his freshman campaign at Yale. In his very first JV game as a Bulldog on Halloween night, Harshbarger broke both his right fibula and tibia and was out for the season.
“I was standing right behind him and I heard it pop,” Palin said.
After months of rest and recovery, however, he was able to return by the spring of his freshman year, only to trip over another hurdle in his sophomore season.
In the spring of his sophomore year, Harshbarger suffered an MCL tear that set him back about six weeks.
Harshbarger’s resilience has motivated his teammates just as much as his leadership and accomplishments have, Reno said.
“He’s one of the hardest working guys on the team,” Reno said. “Guys look at him as an important member for everything.”
More than half way through his senior season, Harshbarger said he is grateful to be a part of the Bulldog family.
“It’s been great to be involved with such a great group of people who give so much day in and day out,” Harshbarger said. “It’s inspiring to be around them and it’s been a pleasure being on the team and giving myself to the cause. It’s become a family here at Yale.”
Harshbarger is an economics major in Branford College and said that he is considering law school next year.