In the weeks leading up to the first game of the season, the football team has witnessed several additions to its normal preseason agenda, from singing with the Glee Club to living together on Old Campus before classes began to practicing in the early morning.
The reason for the challenges: Rookie head coach Tom Williams says he wants to develop a new football culture at Yale.
Williams’ team philosophy is largely based on a two-tiered form of unity, involving not only cohesiveness within the squad, but also integration within Yale College and its traditions. Despite being new to the University, Williams said he prioritizes teaching his players the history of Yale football. He has started a new tradition in which the team meets underneath the Walter Camp arches outside the Smilow Field Center before walking into the Yale Bowl prior to every game.
“Walter Camp is one of the founding fathers of the modern game of football; meeting at the arch is something that we’re going to do before every game to get in touch with history and tradition, f0r the guys to refocus on why they are here, and what it means to wear the ‘Y’ on their helmets,” Williams said in an interview.
Another way he is helping current Elis connect with the roots of the program is by inviting past players to share their experiences.
“We had alumni come and talk to the team, from different generations from the ’60s to the ’90s. We’ll do that once a year in the fall,” Williams said.
In addition to starting various new team-bonding traditions, the team has taken steps to bring together all members of the squad. During preseason training, the seniors lived with the freshmen on Old Campus, rather than in their residential colleges or off-campus apartments.
“It’s important to stick together and walk down the halls, to the dining hall, and to the [Ray Tompkins House],” Williams said. “This is what you draw on in the game — it’s important to know what the guy next to you feels.”
The new coach said progress has also been made toward better integrating the players in daily Yale life. Most notably, Williams scheduled early morning practices in order to free up afternoons for his players to participate in other extracurricular activities.
“A lot of what happens on campus occurs between three and six o’clock — Master’s Teas, seminars, office hours, study groups,” Williams said. “You miss a lot of those things when you’re a student-athlete. [Morning practices] give our guys a chance to experience these things [and] integrate them into the community.”
That is a change for upperclassmen who spent the past few years practicing in the afternoon. “He realizes that there is more to life than just football,” linebacker Tim Handlon ’10 said of Williams.
Indeed, Williams said he hopes that embracing both Yale’s football history and respecting players’ role on campus will translate into a payoff on the field.
“There is a great team unity on the football team and that is both on and off the field,” defensive lineman Matt Kelleher ’10 said. “We consider each other brothers and we look out for each other both on and off the field.”
Of course, this newfound tradition and camaraderie has not occurred at the sacrifice of practice and work ethic on the field. In fact, with the expertise Williams brings from his time as an NFL assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, practices have been anything but relaxing, players said.
“The practices are run at a much harder, faster tempo, and I think this has helped bring us together as a team,” Handlon said.
Punt returner Gio Christodoulou ’11 added, “Everything is high tempo. You’re not a passenger; you’re there to work. Everyone is just hungry to make a play.”
Despite this seemingly grueling practice attitude, the offensive and defensive players come together by the end of each training session. In another new tradition, all the players shake hands to remind themselves that they are in fact teammates.