Before strapping on pads and taking the gridiron as an Eli, defensive end Victor Egu ’17 was known to Yale football fans as a heralded recruit. But now that he’s entering his sophomore season, he is on track to be known for his play at the Yale Bowl, rather than his high-profile status before he ever set foot inside it.

In January 2013, Egu made waves by reneging on his verbal commitment to the University of California, Berkeley and instead pledging to Yale. ESPN reported that he also held offers from Oregon and Notre Dame.

Egu immediately became head coach Tony Reno’s highest-profile recruit, as well as the highest-ranked Ivy League recruit since Harvard snagged four-star prospect Blake Barker in 2010, according to ESPN. He had the highest recruit grade of any Yale player on the site, dating back to 2006. However, Egu said that the pressure never gets to him.

“Being a top recruit wasn’t even on my mind,” Egu said. “[My mentality] was just to work hard and good things will happen.”

Avid high school football fans might recognize Egu’s alma mater, De La Salle High School, as the subject of a recent movie, “When the Game Stands Tall.” The movie focused on the Concord, California school’s record 151–game winning streak that spanned from 1992–2004. Although that run was before his time, the Spartans won four state championships during Egu’s tenure with the program.

Egu admitted that it was not easy to transition from such a successful high school program to the Ivy League.

“At first, it was a huge shock,” Egu said. “In my high school career, I really never lost a game … . It definitely took me a while, I’m not going to lie, but I feel comfortable now and we can only go up from here.”

Defensive back Robert Ries ’17 cited Egu’s competitive spirit throughout his transition to the college game as a positive, saying that the team has benefitted from having that attitude.

In his freshman campaign, Egu made his presence felt as a pass rusher, leading the team with three sacks and three forced fumbles to go with 26 tackles. His best performance to date came in Yale’s 38–23 victory over Cornell, when Egu registered a career-best five total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in just the second game of his college career.

One of Egu’s best attributes is his speed. At 6’4” and 247 pounds, Egu fits the profile of an edge rusher perfectly.

“He’s big and fast,” Ries said. “[It’s] a very rare combination among any football player, much less in the Ivy League. When he gets pads on, he looks bigger and faster than he does without pads, which is rare.”

Fellow defensive lineman Jeff Schmittgens ’15 agreed, saying that Egu’s speed allows him to play just about any position in the front seven. He added that Egu is a threat to get multiple sacks in every game.

“He is so fast and so big … . He makes opportunities for himself to make big plays,” Schmittgens said. “But [he] does so in a way that helps open up space for the rest of us, too.”

Egu was far from the only freshman playing meaningful defensive snaps last year. Run-stuffing defensive tackle Copache Tyler ’17 started every game and recorded 33 tackles, including two for a loss. In the secondary, defensive backs Foyesade Oluokun ’17, Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 and Ries combined for 143 tackles and 13 pass breakups.

According to Ries, having that many freshmen playing helped them develop camaraderie as a unit.

“We feel like we’re a family on the team,” Ries said. “There’s something to be said for playing alongside your friends and your family, and I think that’s what we’re becoming every day that we practice.”

Egu said his goals for this season are simple: to win an Ivy League championship and to be both a playmaker and a leader on defense.

But Schmittgens said he has even higher expectations for Egu. With Egu’s combination of speed, size and a knack for finding the quarterback, Schmittgens said he believes Egu has the potential to be one of the best defensive players in the country.

“With a heightened role this year, and even increasingly as he gets older, I can see him being first-team all-Ivy, and even all-American, for multiple seasons,” Schmittgens said.

The Elis kick off their season on Sep. 20 against Lehigh at the Yale Bowl. Kickoff is at 1:00 p.m.