Yale football will look quite different in 2009 with a total of 37 seniors graduating this May and an overhauled coaching staff taking the reins. But if there is anyone who can captain the beginning of this new era of Yale football, Paul Rice ’10 is certainly qualified.

Even if his dad is a Harvard football alum.

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“It’s a huge transition — we’re losing a lot of guys and there’s going be a lot of different things this year, but if there’s anyone for the job, it’s Paul,” halfback and close friend John Sheffield ’10 said.

Rice’s teammates elected the three-year starting cornerback as Yale football’s 132nd captain on Friday at the Ray Tompkins House.

“When Coach Williams announced that I was captain, I immediately felt a huge sense of pride and honor knowing that it was a team vote and my teammates were the ones who picked me,” Rice said in an interview.

At University High School in Ohio, Rice was a first-team all-state safety, excelled on the other side of the ball as a running back and lettered as a basketball player, too.

Since his first season at Yale, where he is a member of Silliman College, Rice showed leadership that fellow freshmen on the team picked up right away.

When he arrived on campus, his exact position on the team was still up in the air, but the athletic Rice ultimately found his niche at cornerback. Listed as 6 feet 2 inches, 240 pounds, Rice is one of the bigger corners in the country and made his presence felt on the gridiron from the beginning.

“Coming in as a freshman, he was the leader of the class,” Sheffield said. “He put in a lot of time and has really wanted to see the team do well.”

Despite beginning the 2006 season as a backup, Rice cracked the starting eleven by the fifth game of the season and hasn’t looked back since.

The then-freshman eventually started the last six games of the season, notched 35 tackles overall and proved to be a vital part of the Elis’ Ivy League Championship-winning season. After the season, Rice received the Charley Lotus Award as the team’s top freshman.

The following year, Rice started all ten games and was an All-Ivy honorable mention. He also finished fourth on the team with 49 tackles. This past season, he started nine games, recorded 38 tackles and intercepted four passes, which included one that he returned for a touchdown in a rout at Dartmouth despite battling injuries.

The fact that Rice was a three-year starter and a crucial part of the Bulldog defense — a defense that has finished first in the nation in scoring defense each of the past two seasons —was more than enough to impress his teammates.

“I feel that he’s uniquely qualified because he has been a part of what we’ve done here the last three years,” said Casey Gerald ’09, who started alongside Rice for three seasons. “He’s been part of the ups and downs of Yale football.”

The team’s outgoing captain, linebacker Bobby Abare ’09, added: “I think what also makes Paul stand out is that he isn’t afraid to do what’s right and to speak up when need be.”

Rice acknowledged that the transition to a new coaching staff will make his time as captain much different than those who have preceded him, but he said he believes the Bulldogs will be ready to go for the 2009 season.

“Because of the change in coaching and in staff, Coach Williams and I will have some issues to deal with that maybe other captains might not have had to,” Rice said in the interview. “As we progress further into this new era of Yale football, I am sure challenges will arise, but am confident that we, as a team, will rise above them and succeed in all our endeavors.”