Robbie Short

Last Wednesday, thousands of high school football players made one of the biggest decisions of their lives: where they would spend the next four years playing college football. As the 2017 National Signing Day came and went, coaches from universities all across the country found out whether months of recruiting, in-home visits and phone calls paid off the in the form of unofficial pledges from highly-touted collegiate prospects.

Although Yale was spared from the drama of any nationally televised announcements or commitment videos, the future of the Bulldog program began to come into focus as recruiting for the class of 2021 crystallized. Though Yale commits were prohibited from signing national letters of intent due to the Ivy League’s policy on athletic scholarships, many of the almost 30 recruits to Team 145 still affirmed their decisions to come to New Haven, pending a holistic review by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, through means such as “signing” celebrations at their high schools.

“[Yale’s appeal] was the unique fit of [its] campus and the football program,” said Micah Awodiran, a linebacker from Chicago. “It was one of the few places where I felt that I could fulfill my playing potential while being an involved member of the student body. I found that Yale sets the gold standard in defining what a student-athlete truly means.”

According to Herosports.com, an athletics recruiting website, Yale brings in seven of the top 25 commits in the Ivy League, edging out Harvard’s tally of six for the best mark in the Ancient Eight. The incoming Class of 2021 is currently ranked fourth among Football Championship Subdivision teams by 247Sports and second in the Ivy League behind only the Crimson. The newest batch of recruits looks to join a team that relied heavily on freshmen in a 3–7 campaign that nevertheless ended on a high note. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, wide receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 and running back Alan Lamar ’20 were among the team’s top contributors in its season-ending victory over Harvard, which snapped a nine-year losing streak.

Awodiran, the top-ranked Ivy League recruit and No. 3 in the FCS, is perhaps the prize of the class. After recording 108 tackles and three sacks in his senior season at Marist High School, the three-star recruit had nearly 30 offers from Division I programs but chose Yale over powerful Football Bowl Subdivision programs including Arkansas, Duke and Vanderbilt. Awodiran is Yale’s highest-ranked recruit since quarterback Tre Moore ’19.

Several other members of Yale’s recruiting class turned down offers from notable FBS programs for the opportunity to don the Blue. Three-star offensive line recruit Tyler Jost, who stands at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, decommitted from Iowa State before verbally committing to the Bulldogs over teams such as Harvard and Western Michigan. In November, the ISU coaching staff informed the Libertyville, Illinois native that it planned on grey-shirting him, meaning that Jost would not be able to come to campus and begin school until January 2018. Not interested in waiting a full semester to go to college, Jost decided to back off from his pledge to the Cyclones and join Yale’s class.

“When I reopened my recruiting, Yale along with the other Ivy League schools began talking to me about playing football,” Jost said. “I visited Yale this past December and loved it: the campus, the coaches [and] the players on the team. It was an easy decision for me to make after taking my official visit in December. Education has always been important to me, and at Yale, education is second to none.”

Two-star defensive back recruit Deonte Henson also picked the Bulldogs after decommitting from Sam Houston State, a program that has made the FCS Playoffs every season since 2011. Rather than joining the Bearkats, the Beaumont, Texas native opted to play in the Ancient Eight — a conference that does not compete in postseason play — citing Yale’s great tradition and athletic and academic opportunities.

Offensively, the addition of wide receiver Darrion Carrington will give the Elis’ aerial attack an explosive downfield weapon next season. During his senior campaign for Toms River High School North in New Jersey, the 6-foot-3 wideout torched opposing secondaries by averaging 26.7 yards per reception and scoring 15 touchdowns. Carrington will join a pair of pro-style quarterback recruits in Jimmy Check of Fairfax, Virginia, and Patrick Conte of Fairfield to help lead Yale’s spread offense in future years; the pair of signal callers combined for 4,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns in their high-school careers.

Despite graduating two of their most productive running backs, Dale Harris ’17 and Candler Rich ’17, the Bulldogs will gain a dynamic playmaker in tailback recruit Zane Dudek. The Kittanning, Pennsylvania native set a Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League record for points in his senior season and averaged 10.1 yards per carry through his career. In just two seasons of varsity football, Dudek accumulated 4,995 yards on the ground and rushed for 60 touchdowns for Armstrong High School. He is also a threat out of the backfield who averaged 17.4 yards per reception last season. Dudek pledged to Yale over other offers from Army and Air Force as well as six other Ivy League schools.

“The Yale football team and coaches seemed to provide the most family-like atmosphere,” Dudek said. “That is something I want to be a part of. … After talking to a few recruits and the coaches for a while, I just thought it was a no-brainer. I want to be a part of the team that turns this around and gets back to winning championships. Winning championships is the most important thing to me, and it really looks like this team is young and poised to win a lot of games.”

Yale coaches recruited heavily from the Pittsburgh area for the class of 2021, with four commits, including Dudek, hailing from the WPIAL. Offensive linemen recruits Donovan Slater and Jacob Hinish, who were teammates at Central Catholic High School, and running back Thomas Vissman from Upper St. Clair High School are also set to join the Elis next year.

Other members of the 2021 class hail from as near as Fairfield and as far as Modesto, California. Together, they will follow a 2020 class which ranked best in the FCS upon its arrival to New Haven.

Yale’s full 2021 recruiting class will be announced once its members formally matriculate.