Yale football running back Tyler Varga ’15 has accumulated an impressive slate of honors for his performance this past season. Today, he may have won his most important yet.
This afternoon in New York City, Varga was named a winner of the Asa S. Bushnell Cup, given to the Ivy League offensive and defensive players of the year. Varga is the ninth Yale player to win the award since its inception in 1970, and the first Eli to be honored since fellow running back Mike McLeod ’09 won the award in 2007.
“It’s a [proud] day for Yale and Yale football,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Tyler Varga epitomizes everything we want in a football player at Yale. Tough, physical, hard-nosed, a guy who plays on Saturday for 60 minutes with every ounce of energy he has, and he practices like that during the week … Today, he joins the greats in the Ivy League.”
After piling up 1,423 rushing yards, 22 rushing touchdowns and a Yale record 26 all-purpose touchdowns in the 2014 season, Varga was named winner alongside Harvard defensive end Zach Hodges — also a 2013 recipient — and Princeton linebacker Mike Zeuli, who both won the defensive half of the award because of a tie.
Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams was also named a finalist last Monday. He was on hand for the presentation of the award, as were most of the eight football coaches and eight athletic directors of Ivy League schools. Reno spoke about Varga just after he was named the recipient.
The punishing running back expressed gratitude not only for his success on the field, but for the chance to experience the tradition of Ivy League football and the opportunities it will create later in life. Varga is a potential NFL prospect but also has expressed aspirations of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
“Winning football games and championships is at the top of our goal sheets, and achieving those things means the most to us during our stays here,” Varga said. “But ultimately, in our short careers as Ivy League student-athletes, it’s the vast number of opportunities made available to us that will serve us the most down the road and leave us with an impression of what the Ivy League can help us achieve.”
Varga was a clear candidate for the honor all season, having easily led the Ancient Eight with 142.3 rushing yards per game and 22 rushing touchdowns. The next best figures in those categories were Harvard’s Paul Stanton with 110.0 rushing yards per game and Princeton’s Quinn Epperly with just 12 rushing touchdowns.
Varga, though, may not be done reaping the benefits of his 2014 showing. He remains a finalist for the Walter Payton Award for the Football Championship Subdivision most valuable offensive player, as well as the William V. Campbell Trophy for the top football scholar-athlete in the country. He also recently accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, the nation’s foremost football showcase event for players who have completed their college eligibility, in Mobile, Alabama, on Jan. 24. He will be the first Yale athlete to play in the event in 64 years.
The 2014 season was a historic one around the field for Yale, as quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 broke Yale records for passing yards and completion percentage in a season, and wide receiver Grant Wallace ’15 is the new Yale record holder for receiving yards in a season.
Ivy League executive director Robin Harris announced Varga, Hodges and Zeuli as the Bushnell Cup winners. The National Football Foundation and Pasadena Tournament of Roses were co-sponsors of the event at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
“When I think of our Ivy League student-athletes … there’s one word that comes to mind, and that is extraordinary,” Harris said. “Our student-athletes embody the truest sense of being a student and an athlete and managing the balance that allows them to be successful in whatever pursuits they choose.”
This season was the fourth in which an award was given for both offensive and defensive players of the year, and the first ever that three recipients in total were named.