Four months after signing with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent, former Yale football running back Tyler Varga ’15 is still working hard to make his case for joining the 53-man roster. And if recent developments in the NFL preseason are any indication, the former Eli standout appears to be making a strong impression.
Varga has appeared in all three of the Colts’ preseason games, most recently highlighting his new NFL career with a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams — a touchdown that turned out to be the game winner for the Colts. Varga spiked the ball in the end zone to cap off a nine-carry, 35-yard performance that had the Indianapolis sideline “in a frenzy,” according to the Colts’ online news blog.
“I just try to play my hardest every single game, and I think my effort is evident on the field,” Varga said following the game on Saturday.
The Kitchener, Ontario native survived the first round of roster cuts from 90 to 75 players this past Monday, but he will still need to prove himself this week in order to avoid being in the final 22 cuts by Saturday afternoon, at which point all NFL teams must trim their rosters down to 53 players. Varga may also make the eight-man practice squad, which would strengthen his chances of making a roster in the future.
Varga’s touchdown rush gave him an opportunity to show off both agility and power. From one yard out, Varga took an inside handoff to the left, cut further to the left outside of the tackle and then bowled through a linebacker on a dive into the end zone.
The scoring drive, which started from the St. Louis 14-yard line because of an interception, was also produced almost entirely by Varga. Of the four plays for positive yards, Varga was either the rusher or receiver for three.
“To say that I didn’t expect [Varga] to do this would be a lie,” Yale football head coach Tony Reno said. “I expected Tyler to do on Saturday exactly what he did when he was given the opportunity, because that’s just the type of player that he is. He did the same thing Saturday against the Rams that he did every day for the past three years.”
The Colts have also found use for Varga on special teams, and a week earlier in the Colts’ game against the Chicago Bears, Varga returned two kicks for a total of 54 yards.
Varga is one of six running backs on the Colts’ current roster, a list that includes fellow rookie Josh Robinson, who was drafted in the sixth round this year but was out with a concussion on Saturday. The Colts carried four running backs and one fullback on their 53-man roster last season, but all of their backs this year are currently listed as running backs.
Athletic director Tom Beckett said he is following Varga’s progress closely and rooting for him to make the roster this weekend.
“Just like we root for any and all of our students, whether it’s in whatever career path they choose,” Beckett said. “But this would be special, [for Varga] to join the ranks of Yale’s best who have made it at the professional level.”
Varga also showed camaraderie with his veteran teammates on Saturday, as star running back Frank Gore grabbed a microphone during Varga’s post-game interview and asked him a few questions as a reporter would.
When Gore asked Varga about the feeling of scoring his first NFL touchdown, Varga mentioned not the touchdown rush itself, but his actions just after it.
“It felt really good to be able to spike the ball,” Varga said. “You couldn’t do that in college, so I’ve been waiting to do that for a while.”
After Varga answered questions from Gore, the 10-year NFL veteran gave him encouragement entering a pivotal week for the rookie running back.
“I think this week is a big week for you, but I think you can handle it,” Gore said. “I think you’ll do a great job.”
Former Harvard linebacker Zack Hodges, who also signed with the Colts in May, was cut from the Indianapolis roster on Monday.
The Colts play the Cincinnati Bengals tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Eastern time in the final week of the preseason.