One year ago, they were three freshmen and one sophomore, a band of four defensive backs determined to make their mark on the Yale football team. Now, after postseason honors and another year of starting experience, the secondary figures are to produce plenty of Bulldog highlights this season.
The four players — Robert Ries ’17, Foyesade Oluokun ’17, Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 and Cole Champion ’16 — combined for 221 of Yale’s 738 tackles last season, as well as five of the Elis’ nine interceptions. Yale’s secondary, which also included fellow defensive backs Charles Cook ’15 and Dale Harris ’17, ranked fourth in the Ivy League in passing yards allowed.
According to Ries, however, the secondary could be even better.
“Last year, it felt like we were [just] trying to get by, three freshmen and a sophomore,” Ries said. “Now we can excel and be a strong point on the team, and make more than just the plays that we’re supposed to make.”
The elder statesman of the group, Champion, has started his last 17 games in a row over the course of two years. After being named to the all-Ivy second team last year behind 49 solo tackles and three interceptions, both of which led the team, the safety from Fort Lauderdale was named to the CollegeSportsMadness.com preseason all-Ivy first team this year.
Right behind Champion is Oluokun, who was also named to the all-Ivy second team after last season. Oluokun followed in Champion’s footsteps by winning Yale’s Charles Loftus Award for most valuable freshman, an award conferred to him following a season with 59 tackles, four pass breakups and an Ivy Defensive Player of the Week honor for his efforts in the Elis’ win over Brown.
Ries started eight games last season, recording 42 tackles and a pair of interceptions. In Yale’s early-season victory over Cornell, Ries patrolled the sidelines with vigor, recording nine total tackles and earning notice as the Ivy League Rookie of the Week.
As the final member of last year’s young pups in the defensive backfield, Rymiszewski started all ten games last season and recorded 42 tackles along with five pass breakups.
Both Rymiszewski and Oluokun said they worked on improving on conceptual parts of defense in their first full collegiate offseason.
“In the secondary before the snap, it’s essential that you think ahead so that you can make the right calls on a motion or switching between different routes,” Oluokun said. “The smoother we can align to different formations and communicate quickly on how to defend them, the better we can be.”
Extensive starting experience has also helped these Bulldogs develop. All four started the majority of the team’s games during their freshman years, with Oluokun and Rymiszewski starting every game.
Rymiszewski said this experience has benefitted the secondary tremendously.
“As the year went on, I felt more and more comfortable playing within myself,” Rymiszewski said in an email. “With that comfort came more confidence. I think that the experience really helped me become a better player, as well as create chemistry with Foye, Robbie, and Champ.”
Rymiszewski also cited the camaraderie between the members of the secondary, saying they have an incredible bond both on and off the field.
As far as this year is concerned, Ries has some pretty specific goals.
“I think we can be leaders of the defense,” Ries said. “We change the defense’s calls, we can dictate how the defense [and the opposing offense] plays, and [we plan on] taking full advantage of that to give us the best chance to win.”
The Bulldogs will get their chance to strut their stuff in the season opener against Lehigh on Sept. 20. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.