In less than two weeks, the Yale football team will take the field for the first time since a memorable underdog victory against Harvard last November.
The Elis ended their nine-year drought in The Game due in no small part to contributions from both sides of the line. Despite the graduation of several key contributors from last year, the presence of promising underclassmen in combination with some returning veterans suggests that the trenches will be a strength for Team 145 this fall.
“[A point of emphasis has been] making sure that our technique is getting better everyday,” center Sterling Strother ’20 said. “We have really good senior leadership, so the effort is always there. We always bring it from an intangibles standpoint.”
The Bulldogs will have some plus-size shoes to fill on the offensive line, as three of Yale’s five starters from last season graduated: guard Mason Friedline ’17 — who received All-Ivy Honorable Mention — and tackles Khalid Cannon ’17 and Beau Iverson ’17. As such, a tandem of game-tested underclassmen will line up alongside three returning seniors.
If the Elis are to pick up where they left off, the offensive line will be key in protecting two young players in the Eli offense: quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and running back Alan Lamar ’20, the latter of whom earned second-team All-Ivy honors last year. The Bulldogs were one of the top rushing teams in the conference last season, and Lamar’s production will only increase with more experience under his belt and a strong line in front of him.
“The mentality is always to make it as easy as possible for whoever is running or throwing the ball,” guard Dieter Eiselen ’20 said. “We’re just trying to be as efficient as possible.”
Strother and Eiselen found themselves thrown into the fire in their rookie season. Thanks in part to mounting injuries to veteran teammates, the pair accumulated a total of 10 starts. Their roles will likely solidify this season: Eiselen will settle into his position at left guard where he started five games in 2016, he said.
Strother, on the other hand, made starts at both tackle positions as well as left guard in 2016. However, the sophomore will have to prove himself yet again at a new position when he starts at center for the Elis this fall. The sophomore garnered national attention in his rookie campaign, as Herosports.com named him a First-Year All-American Honorable Mention for his versatility on the line.
Strother takes over at center for All-Ivy Honorable Mention Karl Marback ’18, who will take his experience and athleticism over to left tackle in order to protect Rawlings’ blind side. According to Strother, the swap benefits both Marback and himself, as Strother said he considers himself more of a downhill run blocker and Marback better suited to deal with speed off the edge in pass protection.
A pair of seniors in Anders Huizenga ’18 and Jon Bezney ’18 will fill out the remaining spots on the line at right guard and right tackle, respectively, according to Eiselen. Ironically, these two may be the least experienced of the bunch: Huizenga has not seen much game action so far in his three seasons, while Bezney, who started as a sophomore, sat out all of his junior season due to injury.
On the other side of the ball, Yale’s defensive line is well poised to exert pressure on opponents for full games. Though the group will have to cope with the loss of defensive end Marty Moesta ’17, who registered four sacks last season en route to an Ivy-League Honorable Mention, Team 145 returns six players with over 15 appearances in a Yale uniform. Without Moesta, the Bulldogs will lean on a plethora of veteran ends, most notably honorable-mention All-Ivy defensive end Kyle Mullen ’19. Mullen led Yale with five sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss last year, and was one of the defense’s most disruptive players.
The biggest boon to the 2017 defensive line, however, comes from a player who was not on the roster last season: defensive tackle Copache Tyler ’18. Though Tyler sat out the 2016 season, the senior played in all 10 games in each of his previous seasons and earned first-team All-Ivy honors in 2015, the last time he saw the field.
Defensive ends John Herubin ’18 and Earl Chism ’18 will anchor the line alongside Mullen and Tyler, head coach Tony Reno said in an Aug. 8 preseason teleconference. The two seniors have both been key pieces to the Bulldog defense for the last three seasons; Herubin played between Mullen and Moesta for a large portion of last season, and even scored Yale’s lone defensive touchdown of the year when he returned a fumble 61 yards in a victory over Columbia, while Chism started every game in 2015 at defensive end.
Nick Crowle ’18 and Nick Hardy ’18 also return for their senior campaigns with plenty of experience and production under their belts. Crowle was a starter on the interior defensive line for much of last season before suffering an injury.
Yale opens its 2017 season on Sept. 16 at Lehigh.
Matthew Mister contributed reporting.