Following the Yale football team’s 29–28 victory over Colgate on Saturday, just about all members of the team’s class of 2016 have nine games of competitive football remaining in their careers, pending the outside chance of an NFL contract. For one senior, however, a full season of football at Yale will remain after the 132nd rendition of the Harvard-Yale game in November.
Tight end Sebastian Little ’17, who played in his fourth season opener for Yale in the win this weekend, left campus this past spring semester in order to maintain his football eligibility next fall, taking advantage of a conference rule that allows for an Ivy League version of a redshirt if a player has missed the vast majority of a season. Though Little will walk at Commencement with his senior class in the spring, he will finish his degree next fall — his eighth semester of enrollment — while playing his final season for the Bulldogs.
When Little tore his medial collateral ligament in the first game of his freshman season and missed the rest of 2012, he became medically eligible for a fifth year of Ivy League football. Because Ancient Eight players must graduate in eight semesters, however, he took an internship in Washington, D.C. in order to make this semester his sixth, not seventh, at Yale.
“I was brought in here as a freshman, and I expected to contribute to this program in as many ways as I possibly can,” Little said. “If I can contribute for five years rather than four, then I’m going to try to do that.”
In leaving Yale temporarily to play in a fifth season, Little joined a small group of recent Eli football players who have done the same, including last year’s captain and wide receiver Deon Randall ’15. Randall, according to Little, was a major influence in his ultimate decision-making process.
While Randall said he spent his junior spring in Texas to “work, spend time with family and train,” Little, a psychology major, worked as an intern for McChrystal Group, a leadership and management consulting firm that also employs previous Yale captain Beau Palin ’14.
Little said the time off helped Randall become a better leader on the team, and that he hopes to be similarly aided by the experience in a leadership-based firm.
“I articulated to [Little] that playing college football is a unique experience, and that there’s not much similar to the camaraderie he’s experiencing now after college,” Randall said. “I also shared with him how the extra time helped me mature and figure out what I wanted to do after college … On or off the field, Seb is an extremely talented decision maker, so I had no doubt he’d do what was best for him.”
Though Little has split time with fellow tight end Stephen Buric ’16 this season — the tight ends each had two catches for 15 and 13 yards, respectively, last Saturday — he will likely be the lone starter next year when Buric graduates.
With this in mind, head coach Tony Reno noted that Little’s return will be an asset to next year’s offense, which will not lose any starting wide receivers to graduation. In his lone full season as a Bulldog thus far, Little was third on the team with 20 receptions for 252 receiving yards.
“Sebby’s one of the first guys that we recruited when I came here, and we knew what we were getting with Sebby. He’s a team-first guy,” Reno said. “He loves playing the game, and he wants to have his 40 opportunities. We’re just excited that we’re going to have him for nine more [games] this year and 10 more next year.”
Little had been considering the prospect of a fifth year after his season-ending injury in 2012, but he did not make the final decision until the end of the fall 2014 term, when his internship for the spring was set in stone.
He wanted to make the time off worthwhile, Little said, by gaining new experience in an activity that would help him both professionally and personally.
“I was able to do that with McChrystal Group,” Little said. “But that came on pretty late, almost scary late.”
Although the extra season at Yale will give Little an extra 10 games to contribute to the Bulldogs, he remains unable to finish with a full 40 because of a second injury that he suffered in the middle of last season. Little injured ankle ligaments in Week 3 and missed five games of Yale’s historic 8–2 year.
The recent injury added more reason for Little to seek another year playing football. Randall, who started working as an investment banker a few months after he stepped off the field last November, said that additional chances to play football for Yale should not be missed.
“I wish I somehow had one more year of eligibility, because Yale football is off to a great start,” Randall said.