Will McHale ’13 may have the football gene in his DNA. With a father and a grandfather who both played linebacker at Notre Dame, McHale’s defensive prowess is no surprise. Now, the third-generation Division I defender has made a name for himself in his own right as the 135th captain of the Yale football team.

Head football coach Tom Williams announced that McHale would be the Bulldogs’ new captain at the team’s annual banquet held in Commons on Nov. 20. McHale, who replaced former captain and fellow linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12, was elected in a unanimous vote by his teammates.

McHale’s teammates said he is perceived as a force on the team, earning the nickname ‘Bulldog’ in recognition of his intensity and work ethic.

“He is as intense as it gets,” Haynes said of McHale. “He is a hard worker, especially in the weight room, and he will always give everything he has.”

As a three-time varsity letter winner, McHale has put his hard work to good use for the Bulldogs ever since his freshman year. McHale did not let the torn ACL that kept him on the sidelines for his senior season at Greenwich High School in Connecticut hold him back when he arrived at Yale. In his freshman fall, McHale earned playing time in four games for the Bulldogs on special teams.

By the end of McHale’s freshman season as number 41, former captain and linebacker Paul Rice ’10 recognized McHale’s potential. At the end of each season, the graduating seniors give gifts to the freshmen on the team. Rice gave McHale his number, 5, so that he might carry on his defensive legacy.

“He told Will to step up and be the leader on the defense,” wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 said. “He has answered the call.”

As a sophomore, McHale followed Rice’s advice and filled the defensive gap left by graduating seniors, including Rice. He started every game of his sophomore season and finished second for the Bulldogs with 55 overall stops.

McHale went on to start all 10 games this fall and finished second for Yale with 75 total tackles. He was one of two Yale juniors to earn Second Team All-Ivy recognition and finished eighth among Ivy League defenders with 7.9 tackles per game. McHale lived up to his ‘Bulldog’ name with 11 solos and 13 overall stops against Penn. At the football banquet, McHale was given the team’s Hammer Award in recognition of being the hardest-hitting Eli.

But McHale’s impact on the team goes beyond his hard hits, impressive statistics and awards. Haynes commended McHale for becoming more vocal on the field throughout the season. Williams referred to McHale as Haynes’ “lieutenant” back in September and explained in a Monday email to the News that McHale was “in lock step” with Haynes demonstrating “the same type of leadership” throughout the season. With Yale’s one-captain tradition, it is essential that the upperclassmen support the captain in leading the team of over 100 men.

“The captain’s not out there by himself,” Haynes said. “It’s more of a group effort in terms of leadership.”

Living in the Zeta Psi fraternity house with 11 of his teammates has allowed McHale to form strong bonds that will serve the team well in the upcoming season. Smith, who lived with McHale last year in Pierson College, added that being an “active member” in the team “social life” enables McHale to bring the team together both on and off the field.

As the fourth linebacker to captain the Bulldogs in the past five years, McHale has gained great perspective on the role of captain. He said he feels fortunate to have played alongside such leaders, including fellow linebackers Haynes and Rice. McHale has yet to seek advice from his former captains, but he anticipates having these conversations in the coming weeks.

Haynes told the News that he too looked to his predecessors when he was elected captain and they “provided guidance over the course of the season.” When asked what advice he had to share with McHale, Haynes gave the same advice that former captain Tom McCarthy ’11 gave to Haynes when he was elected captain last year: “Be yourself.” Haynes explained that McHale is a great guy who was elected captain for who he is, and he will serve the team best by continuing to be himself.

With the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Bulldogs now move into a bit of downtime before starting their offseason training. The offseason is a time of intense workouts where the Bulldogs are “expected to make big strides” at a time Haynes said. Williams told the News in an email that the team will need to improve its strength and “discipline under duress” in order to be successful in the fall. With over nine months until the kickoff of the 2012 season, the Bulldogs will have to stay focused on their goals to best prepare for the fall.

“We are excited about the chance to rededicate ourselves to winning an Ivy League Championship,” McHale said. “It’s our singular purpose going into the offseason.”

McHale, a political science major, is the first Eli from Connecticut to captain the Bulldogs since Tim Penna ’02.