After sustaining a concussion in the Indianapolis Colts’ Week 3 comeback win over the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 27, former Yale running back Tyler Varga ’15 was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 14, ending the tailback’s rookie season.
Although he will not play again this year, Varga’s agent Joe Linta ’83 said his client — Yale’s only former player presently signed to an NFL contract — will remain with the Colts’ organization and that the injury will not endanger his status with the team. During the three regular-season games he played in Indianapolis, Varga racked up 151 yards on six kickoff returns, as well as 20 total yards on one carry and one reception.
“[The Colts] made a point of calling me several times and saying we really like him and he’s a part of our program and we want to keep him for the long term,” Linta said. “Everybody has to earn their spot every day, but he’s not a fringe player. They really like him and if he’s healthy and doing everything he’s supposed to, I’m sure he will be on the team next year.”
According to longtime Yale running backs coach Larry Ciotti, Varga’s injury occurred on the last play of the game against Tennessee.
Down by two points with less than two minutes to go, the Titans attempted an onside kick, and the 225-pound Varga was lined up opposite a 260-pound tight end. Tasked with blocking the Tennessee player, Ciotti said, Varga led with his shoulder but still received a blow to the head.
“Kickoffs and onside kicks are probably the most dangerous plays in football,” Yale head coach Tony Reno said. “Some teams set up the wall so it’s just like ‘Gladiator’. One side rushes the other. It’s a dangerous play.”
Ciotti said that Varga felt fine the day of the injury as well as the following day, but began to notice symptoms — including dizziness and headaches — two days later on Sept. 29. Varga reported the injury to the Colts that day before taking a concussion baseline test one week later on Oct. 6 to assess his status.
In the week following the injury Varga remained isolated in his apartment and did not practice, according to Ciotti.
“The last few weeks have been a little foggy. I’ve been dizzy, I’ve had headaches and I’ve had trouble sleeping, the usual concussion symptoms,” Varga told his hometown paper in Ontario, the Record, on Oct. 19. “The past three or four days have been much better though, and I expect to be cleared soon, but that’s irrelevant now because I can’t come back.”
As ongoing research about the long-term effects of head injuries on NFL veterans has revealed worrisome findings, the league’s concussion protocol has become much stricter in the past few seasons. Today, that protocol is a three-step process that ultimately requires players to earn clearance from independent medical consultants before returning to action.
Joe Linta ’83, Varga’s agent, said the Colts’ roster move was not indicative of the severity of Varga’s concussion but was rather a protective measure. However, the move also provides a strategic benefit for the Colts.
The Colts’ decision to place Varga, last season’s Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, on injured reserve opens up a spot on the 53-man roster for a healthy member. Indianapolis has since announced the signing of running back Ahmad Bradshaw, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants who played for Indianapolis in 2013 and 2014 before breaking his leg in Week 6 of last year.
Varga signed a three-year rookie free-agent contract with the Colts last May. Although he is scheduled to earn a base salary of $352,411 this year, Varga could potentially earn less if his rookie deal is a split contract. The particulars of the tailback’s contract have not been made publicly available.
While he recovers, Varga told the Record, he will move back to Kitchener, Ontario.
“So I think I’ll probably move back home and save some money on rent,” he told the Record. “It will be nice to spend some time with my family because I haven’t been able to do that in a long time.”