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The Yale football team’s offense has shown fans in its 8–1 start that if a team wants to put up 43.0 points a game and own the highest-gaining offense in the entire NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, it is going to need a diversity of weapons.
Under head coach Tony Reno’s spread offense, the Bulldogs have set up a consistent formula for success. If opposing defenses stack the line of scrimmage to stop Tyler Varga ’15, captain and wide receiver Deon Randall ’15 can catch passes over the middle. If defensive backs follow Randall in double coverage, fellow receiver Grant Wallace ’15 can take advantage of single coverage along the sideline.
And if, by chance, opposing defenders are able to match up with those senior playmakers, one piece to the puzzle remains to overwhelm them: wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17.
An exceedingly positive presence on the field and the future leader of the Eli wide receiving corps, Clemons has been a strong weapon for quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 in his sophomore season. He is third on the team in receptions with 25 grabs for 271 yards and three touchdowns, one of which was the first score for the Bulldogs in their 44–30 win over Princeton last weekend.
“[Clemons] fits into the offense perfectly,” Randall said. “He runs great routes, he’s fast on the outside and he’s actually a physical blocker. He’s done a tremendous job for us this season as a sophomore.”
Clemons, whose full name lends itself perfectly to the nickname “RC3,” plays as the spread offense’s Z-receiver, lining up on the opposite sideline as the X-receiver Wallace.
In that role, the Laguna Beach, Calif., native has shown off his ability as a multidimensional receiver with a combination of speed, strength and athleticism.
On his second touchdown of the season, for example, he took a direct route to the end zone. On a second-and-long, the wideout simply beat his Colgate defender in a foot race for a 68-yard score despite a defensive pass interference call on the play.
And last week in the first quarter, Roberts lobbed up a ball in the end zone that only Clemons could get to, as he leapt over a Tiger defensive back to bring the pass down and tie the score at seven.
“My job on the offense is just to do my one-eleventh, as we like to say,” Clemons said. “Whether it’s blocking or catching, whatever it is, my job is to block for our backs and catch whatever balls I need to catch.”
That production has come about despite Clemons never catching a pass as an Eli before this season and playing running back in high school.
In his freshman campaign, Clemons utilized his speed solely as a kick returner, returning 29 kickoffs for 579 yards in eight games.
While he dealt with a shoulder injury that kept him off the field for most of spring practice, coaches decided to open up the kick returning role to incoming freshman Jamal Locke ’18 and move Clemons to a receiving role.
“Receiver is definitely a more intricate position, and you have to know more,” Clemons said. “In the spring, I just sat in the sleet and snow [during practice] and learned the offense.”
Clemons also spent the entire summer in New Haven, as many players do, to train before his sophomore season.
Since his return to the field, Clemons has caught a pass in every single game of 2014, peaking at performances of 98 receiving yards against Cornell and 58 yards last week.
“I had no expectations for him this fall because I didn’t know what to expect,” wide receivers coach Art Asselta said. “He’s a guy who’s really surprised us and bought into what we’re doing.”
Both Randall and Asselta stressed the amount of work that Clemons has put in since his injury in spring to rise up and become a top-three Eli receiver. In fact, Asselta used the word “coachability” to describe Clemons’ biggest strength.
They also highlighted his positive presence in the locker room.
“He’s definitely a vocal guy,” Asselta said. “Sometimes you can’t get him to stop talking. The guys love being around him, because his attitude is so good.”
That attitude will likely come into play next season, when younger receivers such as Locke and Ross Drwal ’18 will look up to Clemons, rather than the graduating Wallace or Randall, as a leader.
Asselta said he can already see this leadership in Roberts among the freshmen. Clemens, however, demurred, choosing to focus on playing out the season.
“I do what I can to try to be a leader, but as of right now, we have great senior leaders on the receiving corps,” Clemons said. “I’m probably still one of the listeners … because I still have a lot more to learn from [Randall and Wallace] before I go.”
Clemons will play his final game alongside Randall and Wallace at Harvard next Saturday at 12:30 p.m.