For captain and quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06, The Game will be the culmination of a lifetime of football.
Born into a family and area steeped in quarterback tradition, it is no surprise Mroz has led the Elis with poise and calm after a year away from football. His knowledge of the game and strong arm have made Mroz the team’s emotional leader as well as its offensive crux.
Both of Mroz’s brothers are quarterbacks, either past or present, for Princeton. And western Pennsylvania, the area where Mroz grew up, has been a breeding ground for great quarterbacks, from Johnny Unitas to Joe Montana to Dan Marino. With that sort of heritage, Mroz said, he knew it was always expected he would become a quarterback.
After filling in for injured quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 for the last nine games of the 2003 season, Mroz said he recognized Cowan would reassume the starting role come 2004. Despite his 14 touchdowns and 1,731 passing yards — the seventh most in Yale history — Mroz said a year off was the only way to ensure a full season as the starter.
“I realized that I wasn’t going to start, but I really wanted to help the team,” he said.
Mroz spent 2004 working for an investment banking firm and a stock brokerage company. But time away from gamedays did not mean Mroz distanced himself from the team or the hard work that comes with being its future leader.
Ashley Wright ’07, Mroz’s favorite target, said teammates noticed his diligent training and that helped him earn the 2005 captaincy.
“Jeff did about as much work last year as anybody could do,” Wright said.
For Mroz, time off helped him develop a better cerebral sense of the game. In 2004, he watched the first half of every game from the endzone, then moved under the press box at midfield for a new perspective in the second half.
“When you remove the emotional aspect of the game you can see a lot of things you don’t normally see,” he said.
As captain, Mroz quickly became a confident leader. While teammates insist he often offers words of encouragement when needed, Mroz is not prone to singlehandedly take control.
“He’s the kind of guy who leads by example,” Wright said. “Jeff’s not too much of a hoo-rah guy.”
Backup quarterback Matt Polhemus ’07 said he has benefited from the tutelage of such a student of the game as Mroz.
“Jeff doesn’t take it solely in his hands,” he said. “He lets other people take control too. And a lot of guys like him, so when he talks people listen because they respect him.”
But calm and reserve should not be confused with a lack of efficacy.
Mroz’s hard work has left an indelible mark. His coordination with receivers, especially his easy chemistry with Wright, Todd Feiereisen ’06 and Chris Denny-Brown ’07, is a result of his ability to impress the same attitude upon the receiving corps.
Each Wednesday or Thursday before gameday, Mroz and the receivers gather at his apartment to watch film. Mroz started the tradition during summer workouts and the habit has carried all the way through fall.
“It’s been really helpful knowing what’s going through his head,” Wright said. “It has really cut down on mistakes.”
Mroz’s biggest struggle early this season was reducing those mistakes that he pinpointed watching game reels. Despite his 6-foot-5 height, his pocket presence and his strong arm — all the qualities of a pro-style quarterback — Mroz was still prone to interceptions and inadvisable passes under pressure.
At the season’s midpoint, he led the Ivy League’s quarterbacks in nearly every statistical category — including interceptions. But stellar, nearly mistake-free games against Cornell, Dartmouth and Columbia showed that Mroz is capable of better decision-making and efficiency, and the performances spoke volumes about the growing familiarity between Mroz and his receivers.
That efficiency will be critical against a strong Harvard defense. But most importantly, Mroz will have to prove he is capable of performing in one of the biggest games of his career, something he has not done consistently. Mroz knows the stakes and understands the history that will dominate the last contest of his career.
“There have been countless All-Americans, Heisman winners, business leaders, political leaders, people who’ve gone on to do something important with their lives,” he said. “The Game is one last chance to step inside the Yale Bowl, one last chance to show everyone how good you are, one last chance to lay it all on the line.”