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The Yale football team has enjoyed success this year largely due to its prolific offense, which ranks first in the Football Championship Subdivision in total yards per game and fourth in points per game.
But Yale’s defense is not to be overlooked. In the Bulldogs’ 44–30 win over Princeton, the defense put up three sacks, harassed Princeton quarterbacks Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly into just five net yards per pass play and held the Tigers to just 2.7 yards per carry.
A large part of that defensive success is cornerback Dale Harris ’17. Harris finished with a season-high of 10 total tackles, enough for third on the team. Harris noted, however, that it was difficult for the defensive backs to communicate amidst the loud, enthusiastic game environment.
“I think that [for] the defensive backs, the most important thing is communication,” Harris said. “Some parts are difficult because it’s so loud and there is so much going on. Sometimes it’s hard to look at the guy and have the correct call.”
Even before the Princeton game, the Brooklandville, Maryland, native has stood out this season. Harris has started all nine games this year and ranks fifth on the team with 39 total tackles.
After his inaugural season was cut to just five games due to a meniscus injury, Harris said that staying healthy has helped him improve. Harris also remarked that playing with the same group of players in the secondary — including fellow sophomores Foyesade Oluokun ’17, Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 and defensive leader Cole Champion ’16 — has helped him become better.
“The speed of the game increased a lot [from high school to college],” Harris said. “You have to react faster.”
Harris also said that he has gradually progressed throughout the season, both physically and mentally. He noted that watching film after practice and studying the playbook have helped him tremendously.
Among teammates, Harris is known for his power and strength. Tight end Jackson Stallings ’17 said that the team is blessed to have him in the defensive backfield.
“Dale is not only a great cover corner, but he is the hardest hitter we have on defense,” Stallings said.
Offensive lineman Khalid Cannon ’17 echoed a similar sentiment, saying that Harris is essentially a linebacker playing corner.
Harris agreed that he is a hard hitter on the field.
“I definitely like to look at football as a physical game,” Harris said. “I played linebacker in high school, so I always enjoyed hitting people.”
On top of playing linebacker, Harris made extensive appearances on the other side of the ball, rushing for 1,578 yards and 28 touchdowns in his senior year of high school. He averaged over nine yards per carry and led his team to a league championship.
Since he changed positions to cornerback, Harris is still relatively inexperienced with playing in the defensive backfield. Harris said he owes much of his growth to the leadership and support from fellow defensive back Champion. The junior ranked second in total tackles on the team a year ago. He was also named to the All-Ivy second team last season and is the oldest and most experienced player among Yale’s defense.
Though Yale’s defense is young, Harris said that it is definitely maturing.
“We are starting to really play as a collective group; we are starting to communicate more,” Harris said. “I just want to be the best defense in the league. I think we have a defense capable of doing that.”
After Rymiszewski’s injury in the Elis’ game against Penn earlier this season, the Bulldogs’ defense has gotten even younger, but freshmen Jason Alessi ’18 and Hayden Carlson ’18 have had a big impact, according to Harris.
In anticipation of the Bulldogs’ final game, Harris said that the team is ready to go against the Crimson.
“I would say the goal for defense every week is to compete every play as if it is your last,” Harris said. “I think that allows the defense to be unstoppable.”
Yale will compete for an Ivy League title at Harvard this Saturday. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.