While many would argue that Harvard or Dartmouth was the toughest opponent on last season’s schedule, it could be that the Yale football team’s biggest obstacle during the 2015 campaign was the injury bug.
By Week Four, seven of the team’s 22 opening day starters were sidelined by injury or illness. According to a count conducted by Yale sports publicity after Week Seven, 42 of the team’s 110 players — including 27 regulars — were either injured or sick at that point of the season. One-quarter of the injured Elis were out for the season, including many key contributors. Safety Foye Oluokun ’17, tight end Sebastian Little ’17, running back Candler Rich ’17 and wide receiver Bo Hines ’18 were all lost for the majority of the season.
“So much of the recovery journey was about completing repetitive, small and seemingly unimportant tasks,” said Little, who worked his way back and competed in last weekend’s scrimmage against Brown. “But it’s not until you step back and reflect about how far you’ve come that makes the ‘meaningless’ steps so meaningful.”
Though the team has made several changes in the offseason designed to address these health issues, Yale is already tasked with replacing the team’s only two First-Team All-Ivy defensive players from last season: Cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and defensive lineman Copache Tyler ’17 is taking the school year off for “personal reasons,” according to head coach Tony Reno.
While the loss of Rymiszewski and Tyler will present a challenge for Yale’s defense this season, it was the injuries afflicting the offensive skill positions that hurt the Bulldogs most during their 6–4 season. Six different running backs — including Dale Harris ’17 and Austin Reuland ’16, who originally played cornerback and wide receiver — took snaps after Rich suffered a season-ending injury in Week Two. The receiving corps was also stretched dangerously thin after injuries to Hines, Robert Clemons III ’17, Myles Gaines ’17 and Michael Siragusa ’18: Of the seven different receivers to catch a pass, only Ross Drwal ’18 appeared in more than eight games.
Due in part to the thinness of their bench, the Bulldogs finished with just 3,904 total yards of offense in 2015 — a 1,811-yard drop-off from the previous year’s 8–2 campaign, when Yale led the Football Championship Subdivision in total offense.
But in hoping to return to their 2014 form, the Elis are not simply crossing their fingers for good luck. Following last year’s middle-of-the-pack finish in the Ivy League, Reno decided to make some serious changes. By bringing in external consultant Tom Newman, who has worked with the Yale men’s lacrosse program in the past, the football team completely overhauled its strength, conditioning, nutrition and rehabilitation programs.
“The change in sports performance was huge,” Reno said. “We focused on nutrition and what guys are putting into their bodies, which helps them withstand things like sickness better. We’re also working on preventative rehab — guys are treating their bodies daily, doing foam rolling and are smarter in practice.”
Additionally, this summer, nearly 90 players — a program high, according to Reno — spent much of their summer in New Haven working on strength training and injury prevention. In conjunction with these structural changes, many of last season’s injured players have spent the past several months rehabilitating to full strength, including Oluokun, Rich and Hines, among others.
“My team has been the biggest motivator through all the rehab and recovery over the past year,” Little said. “Seeing my teammates work so hard in the offseason meant I couldn’t let them down.”
As a result, the team that takes the field on opening day figures to be a much fitter, stronger crop of Bulldogs.
For the first time, Reno said, the team is deep enough that it will be able to rotate in players without decreasing the level of play, thus keeping players fresher throughout the season.
“On offense, it’s cool to see how much depth we have, especially with the style of offense we play,” quarterback Stephen Barmore ’18 said. “A lot of guys are going to get in and get playing time.”
Reno’s rejuvenated personnel will get their first test two weekends from now, when the Elis battle Colgate on Sept. 17.