FOOTBALL: ‘Five fingers, one fist’

Football
Photo by Maria Zepeda.

When wide receiver Deon Randall ’15 or running back Candler Rich ’17 celebrates in the end zone after a touchdown, five men in the trenches are often overlooked.

Yale’s offensive line has been stout to say the least, allowing just nine sacks in as many games this season. That pass-blocking prowess puts them third in the Ivy League in sacks allowed and has provided time for the Yale signal callers, primarily Henry Furman ‘14, to sit back in the pocket and go through their progressions.

The well-oiled machine that is the O-Line has grown progressively more cohesive over the past two years. The same five linemen have suited up and started for the Bulldogs in each game this season, and the veteran crew has started in Yale uniforms for a combined 102 games.

“Experience has been a big key for us this year in terms of chemistry,” left guard Will Chism ‘15 said. “The offensive line depends a lot on how five guys work together as a unit. ‘Five fingers, one fist’ is a common metaphor that we use.”

The line has excelled in the Ivy League despite being relatively small, an idea exemplified by the play of center John Oppenheimer ‘14. Oppenheimer is one of only three offensive linemen in the entire Ivy League listed at 6’0” or shorter, and was passed over by every other Ivy Leage team during recruiting, but his talent garners praise from numerous people associated with the team.

“I was definitely under-recruited, which put a chip on my shoulder, and that motivates me every single day to work harder,” Oppenheimer said. “But I also need to have better technique and watch more film, to know my opponent better than he knows me.”

Technique has been a major point of emphasis for the entire unit, said offensive line coach Joe Conlin. With regards to Oppenheimer specifically, Conlin noted that he is one of the smartest players he has ever been around.

This team chemistry and technique has proven central in the Bulldogs’ zone blocking scheme, a system that places a greater emphasis on footwork and agility than sheer power, Conlin said.

“We focus on techniques which would make guys who aren’t the biggest guys able to make quick movements on the line,” right tackle Luke Longinotti ’16 said.

The proof is in the pudding for the Bulldogs, as Yale’s rushing offense is third-best in the Ancient Eight at 202.8 yards per game, nearly 50 yards per game higher than the conference average.

Conlin said that the unit embraces its role as an underdog.

“They understand that they aren’t the biggest, and they don’t try to be anything that they’re not,” Conlin said. “They communicate a lot on the field, but I think they can do a lot of it non-verbally at this point.”

Because the team cannot do heavy lifting during the season, the linemen rely on sheer calories to keep up their size between games.

They eat breakfast every morning in Commons and try to eat at least every two hours, Chism said. He added that his usual breakfast in Commons consists of one or two omelettes, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and two bagels.

He noted that the team supplies the linemen with Muscle Milk and PowerBars to eat between meals.

“We always have protein around us,” Chism said.

Strength and conditioning coach Emil Johnson weighs each lineman every week to see if any of them have gained or lost weight.

Conlin noted that the coaching staff gives each player an ideal weight to maintain in order to maximize athletic ability.

“But at the same time I’m not standing over their shoulder at the dining hall looking at what they eat,” he said. “They do a good job of handling that on their own.”

The Eli linemen are also among the most disciplined on the field, having committed just five holding penalties this season. Longinotti said that the linemen practice keeping their hands inside their defenders’ pads in order to avoid holding calls.

Heading into the season’s final game against Harvard, the five men on the line are hoping to give seniors Oppenheimer and left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 a proper send-off with a win. Oppenheimer said that the line is especially motivated because of their intense camaraderie.

“Every group spends a lot of time together, but I think we probably spend the most time together as far as outside of football,” Oppenheimer said. “We really do like each other a lot and have a lot in common. The main thing that brings us so close together is how we need to be close to have success.”

The Game will kick off at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday.

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