Following Saturday’s Blue-White spring scrimmage at the Yale Bowl, tight end Stephen Buric ’16 was given an Ivy League championship ring before the 2015 football season has even started. Yet the ring is not his to keep, as it is on loan from Greg Hall ’77, a tight end on Yale’s 1976 Ivy League champion team.
“I have so much confidence that you guys are going to win the Ivy League championship that I brought my ring today,” Hall told Buric in front of the entire team on Saturday before tossing him the ring. “I’m going to give my Ivy League championship ring to you for safekeeping. I don’t want it back until we’re here to present you with your own in a year.”
Hall’s 1976 team, like the 2015 Elis, entered the offseason having suffered a season-ending loss to Harvard that cost it an Ivy League title. In 1976, Yale rebounded not only to defeat Harvard but also to take the Ancient Eight title. Yale head coach Tony Reno and the new squad have already begun preparing their shot at the same this spring.
The Blue-White scrimmage capped off the spring season with a battle between offense and defense at the Yale Bowl. Though many starters remained off the field for precautionary reasons, several Elis were able to show the progress they have made over months of winter training and 11 spring practices.
In a hotly contested game, the Yale offense defeated its defensive counterpart, 48–46, under a nontraditional scoring system developed for the scrimmage. The offense scored on two touchdowns through the air to receivers Blake Rowlinson ’17 and Ross Drwal ’18, while defensive backs Spencer McManes ’17, who initially came to Yale as a quarterback, and Roger Kilgore III ’16 tallied interceptions for the defense.
Reno said that the Bulldogs’ spring season has been successful in improving aspects of Yale’s game on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve had three other scrimmages like that [this spring], so we’ve had a lot of tape and a lot of games, probably about two games’ worth of plays that we’ve been able to run,” Reno said. “When it comes down to it, there are two things for us: defensively, we want to be aggressive but not give up big plays, and offensively, we want to be able to run the ball effectively.”
Specific work on Yale’s running game has been difficult following the loss of running back Tyler Varga ’15, as the Elis’ current top two running backs, Candler Rich ’17 and Deshawn Salter ’18, were both limited with injuries in practice this spring. Though Reno said they both were healthy enough to play on Saturday, he kept them out of the game to minimize risk.
In their place stepped running back Austin Reuland ’16, who was a wide receiver for the first three years of his Yale career but made the transition to tailback this offseason. While most positions on the field had players constantly rotating during the scrimmage, Reuland took the vast majority of snaps at running back, including one long run that set up Drwal’s seven-yard touchdown reception over the middle.
Reuland saw consistent action throughout the spring and earned the team’s “Every Play, Every Day” award after the game for his efforts. The junior, who played some running back at Mission Viejo High School years ago, said he enjoyed getting more touches than a wide receiver traditionally gets.
“It was nice having the team rely on me,” Reuland said. “Towards the end [of the spring practice season] I got pretty much every carry because all the running backs got hurt. I was forced to pick it up quickly, and I think I did a pretty good job.”
Injuries similarly limited Yale’s starting offensive line, of which three different players — Khalid Cannon ’17, Mason Friedline ’17 and Jon Bezney ’18 — had minor offseason surgeries that kept them out for the spring.
The open spots allowed players like Beau Iverson ’17, Derrek Ross ’16, Dustin Ross ’16, Cody Arledge ’18 and Anders Huizenga ’18 to get additional opportunities to improve. Reno said their performance made him confident in the future of Yale’s line, which was the best in the Ivy League by numerous measures last season but loses left guard Will Chism ’15 and right tackle Ben Carbery ’15 to graduation.
“I was really impressed with the depth we’re going to have,” Reno said. “When we get those other guys back, and the guys who have had a lot of work in the spring, we’re going to be okay.”
Also graduating this year are two key components of the offense: wide receivers Grant Wallace ’15 and Deon Randall ’15, who formerly captained the team. Their shoes will be filled by a receiving corps featuring Drwal, Robert Clemons III ’17, former starting quarterback Eric Williams ’16, Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 and NC State transfer Bo Hines.
Hines flew up from Raleigh, North Carolina to observe the scrimmage, though he is unable to play with the Elis until he arrives on campus in July.
“It’s an awesome offense, definitely fun for a receiver,” Hines said. “They play wide open, they get to stretch the field, use their moves, work inside, run the ball a little bit. Receivers get to do a little bit of everything.”
Starting quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16, another transfer from the Atlantic Coast Conference and a high-school opponent of Hines, took many snaps behind center in the middle of the scrimmage, but Logan Scott ’16 and Stephen Barmore ’18 took credit for the touchdown passes.
Defensively, the Elis saw strong performance from their secondary, with two Yale interceptions and an additional near-pick by Kilgore in the first half. Foyesade Oluokun ’17 led the secondary for most of the game, but defensive backs Jason Alessi ’18, an attackman for the men’s lacrosse team, Spencer Rymiszewski ’17, who suffered a spinal cord concussion against Penn this fall, and captain Cole Champion ’16 did not play in the contest.
Reno said the secondary’s play on Saturday, despite not having those three players on the field, looked much improved from a unit that allowed the sixth-most passing yards per game in the Ivy League last season.
“You’re going to see a more aggressive defense, definitely,” Reno said.
Following the game, Reno helped lead an awards presentation in which 14 Elis received individual awards for their performance and efforts during the offseason.
Clemons and Kilgore took home the two “One Team” honors, given to players who demonstrate commitment to the team in practice, while Oluokun was awarded the “Big Dog on Campus” belt after winning the annual special teams competition. Reno also presented six positional awards, and head strength and conditioning coach Emil Johnson gave out four awards recognizing effort in the gym.