Yale football head coach Tony Reno often speaks of the need to overcome adversity. While that mantra typically comes in reference to the team’s ability to come from behind against strong opponents, adversity has also come in a different form this season: injury diagnoses.
Six weeks into the season, an unprecedented number of injuries have decimated the Yale football team and wreaked havoc on the depth chart. A mid-season health evaluation revealed that, of the 109 players listed on the Bulldogs’ roster, 40 athletes have been injured or sick this year, according to a Yale football press release. Twelve of those players have been ruled out for the season, including three members who have played large roles: safety Foye Oluokun ’17, running back Candler Rich ’17 and tight end Sebastian Little ’17.
“There are a lot of guys who are rehabbing, and hopefully they can come back,” Reno said. “We just don’t know. Some of those guys may not end up coming back, some may, but who knows? … If not, one of the benefits about coaching this team is we have 110 guys.”
Twenty-six of the 40 injured or sick players are “regulars,” or players who frequently see time on the field, according to the press release.
With the exception of quarterback and kickers, every major position group has seen at least one player miss time.
No position group has been impacted more than the wide receivers. Of the seven different players who have caught a pass this season, only one has played in all six games. Week 1 starters Robert Clemons III ’17 and Myles Gaines ’17 have seen time in three games each, and Bo Hines ’18, injured both in Week 1 and in his Week 6 return, has yet to play a full game since transferring from North Carolina State in the offseason.
After compiling a team-leading 30 catches in the first five games, wide receiver Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18 was injured two weeks ago at Maine. Siragusa sat out against Penn and will not take the field against Columbia this weekend, according to Reno.
The only constant in the receiving corps’ rocky season has been Ross Drwal ’18, the lone Eli wide receiver to play in every game. Drwal has 12 receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns thus far in 2015.
With mononucleosis working its way through the offensive line earlier this year, a rotating cast of linemen — including one who played on the defensive line last year — stepped in. They have blocked for four different backs this season. After Rich’s injury in Week 2, running back Deshawn Salter ’18 stepped up, earning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors two times in his four starts before injuring his neck and exiting the game at Penn.
Austin Reuland ’16, a converted wide receiver who began the season third on the depth chart, replaced Salter on Friday.
“I wasn’t expecting too much playing time [this season], but I wanted to stay ready because running back is a tough position,” Reuland said. “It’s hard to be durable, and if a guy goes down, the next guy needs to be ready to go. I saw an opportunity and went in there. I knew [Salter] was having problems with his neck, so I was preparing really hard all week.”
However, Reuland did not play at Maine, and fourth-string running back Andrew Johnson ’18 earned carries in his place when Salter was rotated out.
The tight ends were dealt a major blow on Friday when Little injured his right knee in the third quarter. The Cheshire, Connecticut native also missed five games last year and nine games his freshman season due to injury, so he has one more year of eligibility. Provided his rehabilitation goes well, Reno said, Little will return for his fifth year.
In addition to Oluokun, the defense lost defensive end Nick Crowle ’18 and linebacker Victor Egu ’17 for a combined three games.
The injuries have taken their toll on both the players and the coaching staff. Reno praised Yale’s training staff for its work this season, but acknowledged the difficulty of the present situation.
“Have there been a lot of times this year where I’ve had what we call ‘checking in,’ getting myself back to where I need to be?” Reno said. “Yeah, and [the players] have too, but the most important thing is what we believe in, which is worrying about the moment and what we can control.”
But at 4–2, 1–2 Ivy, the Bulldogs are no longer in complete control of their destiny. With both No. 15 Harvard and No. 22 Dartmouth undefeated in league play, the team needs some help if it is to earn a share of the title.
The Elis’ “next man up” mentality will serve them well as the team takes on its final four conference opponents in the upcoming month.
“Whatever your role is that day, you’ve got to embrace it,” Reno said. “It could change at any moment.”