This Wednesday, National Signing Day, thousands of high school football players across the country formalized their commitments to Division I universities by signing National Letters of Intent. The 29 members of Yale football’s class of 2020 were not among them.
Still, despite the Ivy League’s prohibition of athletic scholarships — a prerequisite for a National Letter of Intent — and the absence of postseason play, Yale football head coach Tony Reno and his staff have quietly put together one of the strongest classes in recent Yale history.
“To me, what jumps out is when you’re getting kids who could’ve played in bowl games. Yale’s getting kids who could’ve played in the [Football Bowl Subdivision],” Brian McLaughlin, a senior writer currently covering Football Championship Subdivision recruiting at HERO Sports, said. “We all know they’re going to Yale, obviously, for academics. They could play in bowl games, but since they’re choosing to play in the Ivy League, they’re not even going to the FCS playoffs.”
This year’s class includes athletes from three countries and 15 different states, according to a compilation of recruiting sites, Twitter and news clippings. It also features one national record holder and at least five three-star prospects, according to the recruiting website 247sports.com.
Yale coaches are not allowed to comment on specific recruits at this time, per NCAA regulations. The team will officially release its recruiting class later in the spring, once all the athletes have formally matriculated.
Though the recruits come from diverse backgrounds, four of them have congregated in Wallingford, Connecticut at Choate Rosemary Hall, a prep school at which the players can take a postgraduate year before entering college.
Offensive lineman Dieter Eiselen, linebacker Alex Abelite, defensive tackle Julian Fraser and wide receiver Abu Daramy played together on an undefeated Choate team that went on to win the New England Division A championship this past season.
“I’ve never been a part of a team this good or this tight-knit of a brotherhood. This team was something special,” Daramy, a three-star recruit, said.
Originally a recruit for the class of 2019, the 5-foot-10 speedster took a postgraduate year in order to get his test scores up to Yale’s academic standards. Daramy will be retaking the ACT on Saturday in an attempt to raise his score.
Despite the presence of one final hurdle, Daramy expressed excitement at the possibility of attending Yale and said he knows he needs to take advantage of all the opportunities he has been afforded.
“These coaches have had my back since the first day they called me and said, ‘Abu, we liked your tape and we’re going to look at it some more.’ Then they called me in June and said, ‘We want to offer you,’ and ever since then, they’ve stuck with me throughout the whole process,” Daramy said. “That’s how, when I committed to Yale, I knew it was the right place.”
Daramy’s recruiting process has now been going on for over a year. Eiselen, his Choate teammate originally from South Africa, has had a much shorter process.
Prior to this year, Eiselen said, he did not play American football, instead participating in rugby and competitive weightlifting. He had been watching football for three years, but had not played before coming to the U.S.
“I attended the Yale camp in July and got offered there before I played my first game. I committed to Yale a week later,” he wrote in a message to the News. “I never would have thought that I would be in the position that I am now. I originally applied to do the postgraduate year so that [I] could play a season and hopefully earn a scholarship off of that, but thankfully Yale came knocking early.”
Many of the other recruits interviewed, including those who also received FBS offers, singled out Yale’s academics as the deciding factor in their decision.
Alan Lamar, a two-star running back out of Mississippi, hopes to go to medical school and become an orthopedic surgeon after graduating college. Despite his eye-popping statistics — in his senior season, the tailback ran for 2,372 yards and 38 touchdowns — Lamar did not receive many offers from large FBS schools. Once he decided to attend an FCS school, he said, it came down to finding a school that would accommodate both his football and career aspirations.
“With all the Ivy Leagues, you have a great education,” Lamar, who received preliminary offers of support pending a holistic admissions evaluation from five other Ivy League schools, said. “It came down to the people. I really liked Coach [Derrick] Lett and Coach Reno. I felt like they can help me grow as a football player. It was kind of a no-brainer.”
Lamar also had the opportunity to speak with a former Yale football player who went on to medical school and then a career as a surgeon. Calling it “a really good experience,” Lamar explained that the alumnus showed him how he could go from being an undergraduate to being a doctor while playing football.
Like Lamar, Sterling Strother, a three-star offensive tackle from Northern California, had to determine what type of college he wanted to attend before selecting a school. The 6-foot-5 tackle, one of six recruits from California, received offers from FBS schools such as Cal, Vanderbilt and Army, in addition to interest from multiple Ivy League schools. Yale was among the earliest, but not for football — Yale men’s basketball head coach James Jones initially recruited Strother to join his team while the tackle was a sophomore in high school.
When Strother decided the following year to play football in college, Yale again came calling. Strother returned to campus last spring, visiting Harvard and Princeton on the same trip. He left New Haven sold.
“It was heads and shoulders above Harvard and Princeton,” Strother said. “I don’t mean to bag on Harvard or Princeton or their character, but I found Yale was a much closer family environment and had much greater trust between everyone. It’s another cliché, but it’s less of a business, more of a brotherhood.”
Though he had offers from other Division I schools, Strother said that if he were to remove football from the equation, he believed Yale was the best fit for him. The fact that Yale offered the possibility for him to be a “true student-athlete,” Strother said, helped him narrow his choices.
Three-star defensive end Charles Callender was also able to take his pick of the Ivy League. The son of two Harvard graduates and the brother of a current Columbia student, Callender’s final list included Harvard, Penn, Columbia and Yale. After visiting each of them, Callender decided to become a Bulldog, crediting the way Reno runs the football program.
“Considering I didn’t have any criteria when I visited, I went by what felt right and thought about the opportunities each program could give me,” Callender said. “My dad and I both thought that Yale’s way of running its football program and the fact that it’s Yale, academically, is an amazing opportunity.”
Daramy, Callender and Strother, along with defensive tackle Josh Keeler, offensive tackle Lucas Tribble and wide receiver Reed Klubnik, are Yale’s three-star recruits, according to 247sports.com.
Joining them is an intriguing prospect in JP Shohfi, a wide receiver from Southern California who set the all-time record for most receiving yards in a season by a high-school player this year. Shohfi’s 2,464-yard, 122-catch season broke an 18-year-old mark, though it inexplicably led to just one Division I offer: Yale.
Shohfi and Lamar, McLaughlin wrote on Signing Day, are two of the “most underrated and explosive offensive players in the nation.” Though he also highlighted Columbia’s incoming class, McLaughlin, who has covered national college football recruiting since 2008, labeled Yale’s class the best in the Ivy League yesterday.
“They have some dark horse candidates for big honors,” McLaughlin said. “You have the top quantifiable recruits in the same class. It’s got everything as far as I’m concerned.”
Yale football 2016 commits:
List of names, positions, high schools and hometowns compiled from recruiting sites, Twitter, Hudl profiles and news articles, and will be updated as more information becomes available. Not listed is RB/LB John Dean, who plans to matriculate in 2017 after a post-graduate year at Choate Rosemary Hall.
LB, Choate Rosemary Hall, Norwell, MA
DB, Canada Prep Football Academy, Brampton, Ontario
DB/WR, Hun School of Princeton, Princeton, NJ
LB, St. John Bosco High School, Bellflower, CA
DE/OL, Gulliver Prep, Miami, FL
OL, Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, NJ
WR/DB, Choate Rosemary Hall, Westerville, OH
TE/QB, DeLand High School, DeLand, FL
DB, Sunny Hills High School, Fullerton, CA
OL/DT, Choate Rosemary Hall, South Africa
DE/DT, Valdosta High School, Valdosta, GA
RB, C.M. Russell High School, Great Falls, MT
RB, Centennial High School, Roswell, GA
TE/WR, Tantasqua Regional High School, Fiskdale, MA
DE/OL, Bishop Moore Catholic High School, Orlando, FL
WR, Westlake High School, Austin, TX
RB/DB, DeSoto Central High School, Southaven, MS
DB, Thompson High School, Alabaster, AL
DB/RB, Shaker High School, Latham, NY
DE, Fremd High School, Palatine, IL
QB, John Carroll High School, Bel Air, MD
OL, West Plains High School, West Plains, MO
WR, San Marino High School, San Marino, CA
OL, Campolindo High School, Moraga, CA
K, Columbus Academy, Columbus, OH
OL, Carroll Senior High School, Southlake, TX
LB/QB, Cretin-Derham Hall High School, St. Paul, MN
WR, Edison High School, Newport Beach, CA
RB/WR, Woodbridge High School, Irvine, CA