Late in the game against Columbia, the Bulldog offense huddled around quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05 as he called the next play: New York.

For several seconds, the offensive linemen were confused, not knowing how to run the play, until Mroz broke out laughing — he had made it up.

“Nobody knew what the heck was going on,” Mroz said. “The game was pretty much decided — I’m not going to do that if it’s a close game — but you play football to have a good time, and I just wanted to try to make it fun for everyone.”

With plenty of time on the play clock and the Bulldogs holding a sizeable lead, Mroz said he could afford to inject some levity into his teammates.

“The New York call was one of the funniest things I have experienced on the football field,” offensive lineman Rory Hennessey ’05 said. “Jeff [Mroz] keeps us loose out there, and that is important because it is easy to lose your cool.”

With such a grounded outlook on football, it is easy to see why Mroz, who had never attempted a pass in a varsity game before replacing the injured Alvin Cowan ’04 this season, has become an effective player and leader for the Elis.

“Alvin [Cowan] is a fiery leader in the huddle, and Jeff [Mroz] is a more relaxed get-the-job-done type of guy,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “He did not try to be Alvin [Cowan]. He let his own personality run the team, and his teammates have responded very positively.”

Cowan’s record-setting season-opener — he was responsible for a school-record six touchdowns against San Diego on Sept. 21 — garnered him Ivy League and ECAC Player of the Week honors. He also appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.”

But just minutes into the Bulldogs’ next game, at Cornell, the junior fractured his fibula, and Mroz found himself at the core of the Eli lineup.

“In football, the injuries are going to happen, and you have to be ready to play because you’re always one snap away from getting in,” Mroz said. “I really wasn’t so much nervous, just a little bit inexperienced because I hadn’t really been in a college football game.”

But with the help of running back Rob Carr’s ’05 235-yard performance, Mroz and the Bulldogs controlled the Big Red.

“When Alvin [Cowan] went down, we lost one of the most important leaders on our team,” tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 said. “Alvin [Cowan] has a lot of spirit and is a great guy to play with. Luckily, Jeff [Mroz] did a great job stepping into the void that was left by Alvin’s [Cowan] injury, and he did a good job of taking up the slack.”

Entering the season’s final game, Mroz is no longer inexperienced and is coming off three strong victories after the Elis suffered through a three game midseason slump.

“We weren’t making the big plays in those three games,” Mroz said.

The Columbia contest on Nov. 2, which Mroz and other players on his team consider to be his best game, broke the series of losses with a vengeance.

Mroz connected on 20 of 26 passes for a career-high 306 yards, throwing four touchdown passes as the Elis whipped the Lions, 35-7. For his play, Mroz was named to the Ivy League weekly Honor Roll.

“Jeff [Mroz] and I came in together as the only two QBs in our class, so I got to know him pretty well off the bat as his competitor,” said Ralph Plumb ’05, who now plays wide receiver. “He is gaining more and more confidence with every game he plays, and everyone around him — coaches and players — are as well.”

Teammate Ted Stem ’05, who has known Mroz since first grade and played football with him on their Greensburg Central conference-championship winning team in Greensburg, Pa., said the Brown game — in which the Elis came back to win 31-27 — was an indication of Mroz’s abilities in clutch situations.

“He wants the ball in pressure situations and to have a chance to go out there and make plays and win the game,” Stem said. “In the Brown game, when we were down, we had to drive the field and score a touchdown to win, and he got us there.”

Siedlecki said Mroz’s ability to throw the long ball is as good as anyone he has coached.

But there may be a lesser known reason for Mroz’s success: his shaven legs. After shaving from mid-calf down in high school so that he could tape an injured ankle as tightly as possible, Mroz played very well in the subsequent game and decided to go a little further.

“I shaved it all the way up so it wouldn’t look stupid and then the next game I played after that was probably my best game, so I decided to keep shaving it after that,” Mroz said.