Tom McCarthy ’10 has come a long way from a 5-foot-10-inch sophomore at the Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J. Now standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighing in at 255 pounds, the defensive lineman is Yale’s new football captain and a potential NFL prospect.

The announcement naming McCarthy Yale’s 133rd football captain came at the Bulldogs’ annual banquet in Commons on Nov. 22. McCarthy, who will replace linebacker Paul Rice ’10, was elected by the team in a vote.

McCarthy’s brother, Kevin, a 2008 Yale graduate, encouraged his younger brother, who was initially a baseball player, to start playing football during Tom McCarthy’s sophomore year of high school.

“It’s not like I really wanted to play football,” McCarthy said. “The first year [of high school] was really tough. Sophomore year of high school I was 145 lbs.”

Though size is no longer an issue on the field — McCarthy had grown eight inches by the time he was a junior in high school — when McCarthy first came to Yale, he faced another setback: mononucleosis. After McCarthy lost 20 pounds the fall of his freshman year, some doubted he would return to the field, McCarthy said in a press release announcing his captaincy.

Nonetheless, McCarthy returned as a backup defensive tackle as a sophomore in 2007, and his 29 tackles in each of the 2008 and 2009 seasons prove he is once again a formidable force on the field. His three sacks this season tied for the team high, and he forced two fumbles — one of which he recovered — and added a blocked field goal. McCarthy said his coaches have talked to him about the possibility of playing football after Yale, and he added that NFL scouts might come and watch him play next season.

Being captain requires more than sheer athletic talent, head coach Tom Williams said.

“There were a lot of candidates this year for the position,” Williams said. “The fact that he was chosen shows that he appeals to a lot of the team.”

McCarthy said his hard work, both during games and during practice, qualifies him to be captain. Preferring to lead by example, McCarthy said he is not the most vocal player on the team but that he can be when necessary.

McCarthy has an additional edge over other Bulldogs — time. The illness that sidelined McCarthy his freshman year enabled him to apply for a medical hardship waiver, allowing him now to complete his fourth season of play in the fall of 2010.

“He’s already been here for four years, so he’s a great fit for this team,” Rice said. “He knows the guys really well.”

Off the football field, McCarthy, an economics major in Branford College, is a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He lives in the DKE house that does not throw parties, which he said is quieter than the one that does.

McCarthy said his medical waiver is forcing him to take the spring semester off from Yale coursework. Because his freshman season of football did not count against his four seasons of playing eligibility, McCarthy can return in the fall of 2010 as captain. But to avoid taking more than eight semesters of classes — the maximum number allowed by Yale College for a bachelor’s degree — he will not practice with the team in the spring since he will not be enrolled at Yale. McCarthy said he has a job in New Haven and will continue living at DKE and working out.

“Since I won’t be considered a student-athlete, I won’t be able to use the varsity gym,” McCarthy said. “It will be weird.”

McCarthy’s captaincy despite his absence this spring semester is a testament to his support for all of his fellow teammates, wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 said.

“His absence is not going to hurt us at all [during spring practice],” Smith said of McCarthy. “We have a lot of other senior leaders that will help us lead the team. Tom will stay close to the program even though he can’t be with the team.”

Looking ahead to next year, McCarthy is not the only Bulldog who will bring experience to the field. In addition to 16 returning starters, the entire coaching staff, led by Williams, is sticking around for the 2010 season, McCarthy said.

McCarthy is the fifth defensive lineman to serve as captain under the 13-year tenure of defensive line coach Duane Brooks.