Yale running back Tyler Varga ’15, the Ivy League’s leading rusher last season, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday at the conclusion of the 2015 NFL Draft.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Varga said. “I think it’s the best place for me at this point to make a team and move forward here in my NFL career.”
Terms of the deal have not yet been announced, but Varga said he will receive a signing bonus. His agent, Joe Linta, will be finalizing the deal tonight.
During the final four rounds of the NFL Draft, there were 157 chances for Varga’s name to be called. He said he was pretty confident he was at least going to get picked up as a free agent, but as the afternoon dragged on, Varga and Yale coach Larry Ciotti began fielding calls about free agency.
The Colts were one of a handful of teams that called Varga during the draft to express interest in signing him as a free agent.
“Obviously, at this point, I didn’t get drafted, but I’m getting the same opportunity now,” Varga said. “That just makes me more hungry, making me work harder and harder than I am already. I saw a lot of guys go before that I think I can beat out in the camp, so I’m just going to go out and do my best.”
He will fly out to Indianapolis next Thursday to attend minicamp and organized team activities.
Once he arrives, Varga will have to earn his spot on the team. He does not yet know if he will play running back, the position he played his entire life, or halfback. Varga will have to contribute on special teams, and he said he will be working on sharpening those skills.
Being a free agent has its benefits, Yale running backs coach Larry Ciotti pointed out. Free agents can choose from several options, allowing them to go where they have the best opportunity to make the team, as opposed to players drafted in the late rounds, who have only one option and face an equally difficult journey to make the team.
“Mike Derice, one of [Indianapolis’s] scouts, has been with me all the way through the whole process,” Varga said. “He’s been not only scouting for the Colts and got all my info for them, but given me advice along the way. He’s close to a few guys on our staff, so I’m grateful for that too. I think it’s going to be a good fit.”
Last season, the Colts went 11–5, winning their division and their first two playoff games before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
The 2014 season marked the second consecutive year the Colts lost to the Patriots in the playoffs. They also made the playoffs in 2012, the first year they had first overall pick quarterback Andrew Luck behind center.
“I know they’re playoff contenders every year,” Varga said of the Colts. “They have a great quarterback, a great offensive line, and they’ve got a veteran running back there right now in Frank Gore that could be a great guy to learn from. I’m excited to go there and compete.”
The 222-pound Varga played for the Elis for three seasons after transferring to Yale from the University of Western Ontario. In that time, he amassed 2,985 career yards, the fourth-most in program history.
His 2014 campaign earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl, the first Yale football player to receive the honor and opportunity. At the Senior Bowl, held on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Alabama, Varga scored twice. He also was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February but was unable to participate due to a bone spur in his foot.
Varga was surrounded by friends, teammates and coaches throughout the day, which had a little more excitement than anticipated.
At 10:45 a.m., people around the University reported power failures as Wifi and lights went out across campus. The television in Ray Tompkins House went black, and though Varga was wearing an earpiece that fed him information at real time, he and his friends, teammates and coaches migrated to Yorkside Pizza in order to watch the draft on television. When the power returned, the group returned to Ray Tompkins House.
Also present were cameras from ESPN. The sports network had a little fun when broadcasting from New Haven, as anchors told the country that Varga is a “Canadian sensei” who speaks three languages — English, French and Swedish — and majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale.
The last Yale football player drafted into the NFL was halfback Shane Bannon ’11, who was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round as the 223rd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.