After the Yale football team’s 55–13 loss to No. 23 Colgate on Saturday, quarterback Rafe Chapple ’18 sat in front of a new navy Under Armour backdrop, arms crossed and slightly scowling as his teammates and coach fielded questions from the media.
When it came time for him to speak, Chapple said what he was supposed to say — that the offense struggled to sustain momentum after scoring on its first play from scrimmage, that he is looking forward to watching film in preparation for this week’s game against Cornell — and that was it.
In his first collegiate start, Chapple went 18-for-31 with one touchdown and three interceptions. Though he was by no means the sole factor in Yale’s 42-point drubbing, Chapple seemed to be taking the loss hard.
Perhaps that sort of dedication and commitment to the game is what head coach Tony Reno looks for in a quarterback: On Tuesday, he named Chapple the team’s starter.
“He’s a winner,” said Tim Hardy, Chapple’s coach for two years at Greater Atlanta Christian School. “He just lives and loves football.”
The youngest of four boys, Chapple comes from a football family: Eldest brother Lee played professional indoor football after quarterbacking for Georgia Southern University and University of North Alabama, Colton played quarterback at Harvard and Jared played tight end at the University of Georgia.
“Growing up, every weekend we were at a different college football game, whether it was supporting Lee at Georgia Southern or flying up to Harvard to watch Colton play,” Chapple said. “It’s really good — I can call them up and pick their brains any time I want, so that’s been helpful.”
Colton was recruited to Harvard the year before Reno arrived for a three-year coaching stint in Cambridge. In 2012, Colton’s sole season as a starter, he threw for 2,567 yards and finished not only as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, but also with the highest career-passer efficiency rating in conference history.
His season total of 3,169 total yards of offense also ranks sixth on the Ivy League’s all-time list, just four places behind former Yale quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16, who graduated last year as the Elis’ all-time leading passer.
But after all the years spent in the shadow of an older brother, and two years under Roberts, the youngest Chapple finally has the chance to star front and center — an opportunity he does not take for granted.
“One thing that impressed us about Rafe is … he was the number two guy behind Morgan [Roberts], but he prepared like he was the starter,” Reno said. “For us, that preparation spoke volumes about how important this position and how important being successful and being part of that team was to him.”
Calling Chapple “a student of the game,” Reno refrained from directly comparing him to Roberts.
Still, Roberts’ influence will undoubtedly manifest itself: Chapple studied behind Roberts for two years, seeing time in three games last season and finishing 5-for-11 for 45 yards with four sacks. And when Chapple’s first day as a college starter concluded Saturday, he and Roberts texted about his performance.
Entering three games for Roberts in mop-up duty last season, Chapple finished 5-for-11 for 45 yards and was sacked four times.
“[Chapple’s] an extremely accurate passer and he’s learning to get rid of the ball on time,” Larry Ciotti, special advisor to Reno, said. “Once he gets rid of the ball on time, then there won’t be sacks and that will make him more effective.”
Chapple comes across as fairly reserved but fiercely focused, a polished athlete who rarely says the wrong thing. Listed at 6 feet even and 192 pounds, he is neither the biggest nor the most mobile gunslinger on the team.
Nevertheless, wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17 observed that Chapple, though less fiery than his predecessor, is no less talented. Due in part to his compact release, the righty’s tight spirals find their mark more often than not.
This is beneficial, even though Yale’s preferred offensive attack, an up-tempo and spread offense, asks less of a quarterback than more vertical passing schemes. The Bulldog quarterback, as Reno and players are fond of saying, is a “point guard” — someone who distributes the ball rather than airing it out. Chapple’s skills, therefore, are well-suited to the Eli offense.
And on a team with 19 seniors on the roster, there is plenty of leadership to go around, perhaps diffusing some of the responsibility on the signal caller’s shoulders. Yet Chapple still possesses the intangibles necessary to take command, Hardy said, citing the strides Chapple made as a senior in high school.
“He really became a strong leader,” Hardy said. “Off the field, he intentionally connected with everyone on the team. On the field, he improved as a decision-maker — he learned to stop throwing at the first open man and instead went through his progressions. His knowledge and execution just went way up.”
For all the praise heaped by his former coach, Chapple remained focused on the “we” rather than the “I.” When asked about any possible nerves before his first official game as starter, Chapple demurred, instead referencing the team’s “next man up” mantra.
This humility is not new to Hardy.
“With Rafe, what you see is what you get,” Hardy said.