On Saturday, second-team All-Ivy quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 will return to the field with a record-setting season behind him. Three of the Yale football team’s top four scorers in 2014, however, will not be joining him on offense.
Among those graduated are three of the most prolific players in recent history: running back Tyler Varga ’15, along with wide receivers Grant Wallace ’15 and former captain Deon Randall ’15. Their numbers contributed to Yale’s Football Championship Subdivision-leading offense, which averaged 41.1 points and 571.5 yards per game.
“We’ve got a lot of question marks we got to answer,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I think first when you look at our team, you lost a lot of production … There are a lot of good players who aren’t here.”
Wallace and Randall were key weapons for Roberts in the passing game, with the two combining for 154 receptions, 2,068 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Both were named to the All-Ivy First Team, and both also rank in the top-four in Yale’s career reception list, with Randall at No. 1 with 219 career catches.
Meanwhile, Varga, now of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts, won the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year award after setting a school record with 26 total touchdowns.
“Obviously last year Tyler had an extraordinary year,” Reno said. “Two other guys go in that same conversation, Deon Randall and Grant Wallace. There’s a ton of offensive production in those three guys. In the running game, Tyler had the ability to understand our concepts, run with great pace and he really finished runs.”
Now, with Varga playing in Indianapolis, Wallace scouting for the Miami Dolphins and Randall working at a Los Angeles-based investment bank, younger Bulldogs have the opportunity to step into larger roles. In order to make up for this lost production, Yale’s offense will need to find the trio’s combined 349.1 yards per game from other contributors.
Supporting those young players will be both an experienced offensive line as well as a familiar face under center. Roberts’ return, Reno said, has provided continuity for the offense and allowed receivers who played sparingly last season to develop in the offseason.
Robert Clemons III ’17, whose 2014 numbers put him right behind Wallace and Randall, is currently the most experienced wide receiver on the roster. He is joined by 12 other wideouts, including three — Ross Drwal ’18, Michael Siragusa ’17 and Myles Gaines ’17 — who caught at least one pass in a game last season.
“I believe as an offensive unit, we are ready to play,” Clemons said. “Grant, Deon and Tyler were great players, but this new year brings the same preparation and expectation of being the best offense we can be.”
Bo Hines ’18 also caught passes last year, but in a different uniform. The transfer from North Carolina State, who led the Wolfpack in both receptions and yards as a true freshman, will be suiting up in navy on Saturday. Hines, a state track champion who runs a 4.41 40-yard-dash, could potentially fill Randall or Wallace’s role in the slot or on the perimeter.
The wide receivers will be joined by a trio of tight ends — Stephen Buric ’16, Leo Haenni ’17 and Sebastian Little ’16 — who fought injuries last season.
“We expect [the wide receivers] to be a very good group,” Reno said. “It’s kind of like the running back position, where there’s a relative unknown on how good our offense will be, because our guys haven’t proven anything in games yet.”
However, when it comes to the depth chart, the running back situation is more clear cut. Come Saturday, it will be Candler Rich ’17 lining up behind Roberts. Rich, who backed up Varga in all 10 games last season, racked up 502 yards and two touchdowns on 67 carries in 2014. He managed 7.5 yards per carry, an especially impressive statistic when viewed alongside Varga’s 6.1 average — and a school record with a minimum of 65 carries.
Furthermore, Rich has packed on 15 pounds in the offseason, according to Reno, giving the 5’11” tailback a little more power behind his runs.
“I think Candler’s going to get the lion’s share of the carries,” Reno said. “I also think that it’s very important to have other backs who can play. We will have that, we’ll have two or three tailbacks who can play, maybe four like we did last year.”
Behind Rich are DeShawn Salter ’18, converted wide receiver Austin Reuland ’16, Andrew Johnson ’18, Daniel Debner ’19 and Kyle Ellerson ’19. Kick returner Jamal Locke ’18 is also listed at running back after spending last season at the cornerback position.
Reno stressed that despite the loss of Varga, he does not foresee the Yale team dramatically changing its offensive style. Despite putting up more yards through the air than on the ground in 2014, the Bulldogs averaged 46.2 rushes per contest compared to just 37.5 passing attempts.
“We’re the tightest we’ve ever been,” captain Cole Champion ’16 said. “We’re competing at the highest level. But like Coach said, we have a lot of open spots that are waiting to be filled.”
The Yale football team kicks off its 2015 season at Colgate on Saturday at 1 p.m.