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As The Game approaches, Eli freshmen are gearing up, ready to bring the heat that has powered Yale to eight victories this year.
Through the first nine games, the Bulldog squad has accumulated an impressive (8–1, 5–1 Ivy) record and are in position to claim a piece of the Ivy League title should they defeat Harvard on Nov. 22. The 32-member freshman class has been key to Team 142’s success this year. Of those 32, five rookie bulldogs stand out.
Jason Alessi ’18 (DB/K):
Hailing from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Alessi is the definition of a multi-threat. Through seven games, Alessi has displayed not only the vision and poise necessary to be an elite defensive back, but also the strength and speed to compete as a kicker and kick returner.
As DB, Alessi has assisted five tackles and recorded 32 of his own, the eighth highest total on the team. In his single kick return, Alessi ran for 31 yards — the second longest return recorded this season. He also pulled down two interceptions against Columbia for a total of 43 yards.
Ross Drwal ’18 (WR):
Though a multi-sport athlete in high school, and a two-time 4×400 Nebraska state champion in track, Drwal has focused all his efforts on football while wearing the blue and white.
This effort has more than paid off.
“[Ross] is a great addition to the receiving squad, pulling in a huge touchdown against Army,” quarterback Andrew Johnson ’18 said. “His athletic ability allows him to always make a play.”
Through four varsity seasons at Millard West, his Omaha, Neb., high school team, Drwal put up 4,447 all-purpose yards and 54 touchdowns. Only eight games and four receptions into his Yale career, Drwal has already found the end zone for a touchdown, recording a notable 22-yard reception along the way.
Matt Oplinger ’18 (LB):
Two months into the season, Oplinger — the Summit, New Jersey, native — is one of the few freshmen who can say that they have made an appearance in all nine games. Though new to the linebacker position, Oplinger has adjusted well, becoming one of the cores of Yale’s defensive squad.
Through those nine games, Oplinger has assisted 14 tackles and taken down 39 of his own, managing to grab an interception against Ivy foe Cornell in his third game. Oplinger has proven himself as a true freshman power, and his teammates have taken notice.
“He’s a hustler. He’s a monster. He’s so strong and fast at the same time, [and] it’s impressive that he’s started from game one as an inside linebacker,” Alessi said.
Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18 (WR):
Much like his teammate Alessi, the 6-foot-3 receiver has displayed his impact as a dual-threat. Heading into the final game of the season, Michael “Goose” Siragusa has proven not only his finesse as a player and receiver, but also his strength of character as a teammate.
“Goose has a very laid back personality, but is very hard working and it creates a fun environment … [It] pushes the receivers to be the best they can be,” Drwal said.
Siragusa, the Cleveland, Ohio native hailing from perennial powerhouse St. Ignatius high school, has already appeared in six games. With five receptions and 43 yards to his name, “Goose” is sure to continue to impress — just as he did at the 2013 National Underclassman Combine, where he won MVP.
Hayden Carlson ’18 (DB):
Hailing from Glen Ellyn, Ill., Carlson adds another dimension to the strong Bulldog defense already bolstered by Alessi and Oplinger. Carlson is not new to success in this regard. At Glenbark West high school, a team for which he captained senior year, he set the state record for most tackles in a state championship game with 14.
Through eight games for Yale, Carlson has recorded six assisted tackles and 21 solo tackles. Also like Alessi and Oplinger, Carlson has pulled down an interception, though his was for a 33-yard return. Alessi, Oplinger and Carlson have accounted for 40 percent of all Bulldog interceptions.
Alessi, Drwal, Oplinger, Siragusa and Carlson are not alone, however. The entire 32-member freshman class has shown themselves to be capable of leading the Elis to victories, and the future looks bright.
Defensive end John Herubin, cornerback Jamal Locke, defensive end Earl Chism, and the next generation of Yale quarterbacks, led by Andrew Johnson ’18, Rafe Chapple ’18 and Stephen Barmore ’18, among others, have shown great promise. And while they may not all get their time in the 2014 Game, they are sure to be staples in the Yale lineup for years to come.
When the Bulldogs take on the Crimson in Cambridge at 12:30 p.m., ESPN’s College GameDay will air at 9:00 a.m.