This story is part of the Yale football 2017 season preview issue. For a preview, click here. For a feature on Yale’s secondary, click here. To read about quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, click here. To read about Yale’s receivers, click here

When Yale football defensive back Hayden Carlson ’18 was snubbed from an All-Ivy League honor at the conclusion of the 2016 season, Yale football fans and followers were shocked, but Carlson laughed it off.

“My mom was way more upset about it than me,” the senior said.

Through the 10 games he played, the safety notched 95 tackles last season alone, the most of any Yale football player, third-most in the entire Ancient Eight and 14 more than unanimous first-team all-Ivy safety Nick Gesualdi of Cornell.

Carlson moved past the slight faster than perhaps the Eli faithful, spending his summer training in California. His efforts have not gone unnoticed, as head coach Tony Reno praised the senior as a “great lieutenant” in Tuesday’s preseason media conference.

“I think [Carlson is] capable of doing even more than he did last year,” captain and cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 said. “He’s been in the top three in tackles the past two seasons. I think he can lead the league again. I’m excited to see him back out there and be able to play with him again in the defensive backfield.”

Carlson, a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, native, connected with Scott Wagner ’91 who also had outstanding football careers at both Glenbard West High School and Yale. When Carlson landed a job with Oracle that placed him in Northern California, Wagner, his wife and their three children opened their home to Carlson for the summer.

Outside linebacker Matthew Oplinger ’18, who spent the summer working for the San Mateo, California, investment firm Franklin Templeton, had hoped to find a job somewhere other than New York City. When Oplinger heard his teammate was mulling over an offer from Oracle, he decided to seriously consider his offer out West. The two ended up living within five minutes of one another.

“It worked out kind of perfectly,” said Oplinger, a 2016 honorable mention All-Ivy honoree. “The hardest part [of summer training] is not having a coach make you do stuff, so we pushed our conditioning to make sure that we came back in great shape.”

The senior duo found a home away from home at Menlo College in Atherton, California, the heart of Silicon Valley. There, the Elis worked out multiple times a week, initially focusing on improving various techniques and then honing in on conditioning in the latter half of the summer.

“It was really just on us being away from the team,” Carlson said of working out with Oplinger. “[We were] working together and pushing each other because we knew we’d be coming back and we’d be leaders of the team.”

The pair will join a handful of veterans on the Bulldog defense. Defensive ends Earl Chism ’18, John Herubin ’18 and Kyle Mullen ’19 — who Carlson highlighted as a particularly improved player — will anchor the line, while Rymiszewski will return to the secondary after sitting out the 2016 season with an injury.

“It is an honor playing with both of them,” Mullen said of Carlson and Rymiszewski. “They both have such an incredible passion for the game and that is displayed in how they play. They are fierce competitors and truly care about their teammates and that makes it a lot of fun to play beside them.”

Mullen added that motivation comes easy during the summer because players know that they are playing for something far bigger than just themselves. This season, Team 145 has its sights set on snagging an Ivy League title for Yale.

Defensively, that means 11 men playing on the field as a single unit.

“We had some moving parts in the secondary for a variety of reasons [last season], but Hayden was the mainstay,” Reno said. “He’s had a really good offseason. He’s really changed his body in the offseason which is something that he did through a ton of effort and work, and I’m very excited about him coming back for his senior season.”

In addition to his play on the field, Carlson contributed to the team as an off-season captain. According to Rymiszewski, Carlson immediately came to mind as a rising senior who could serve as a vocal leader for  the defense and for younger players.

“I’m just looking forward to playing as well as I can and being a leader on the team,” Carlson said. “I want to have the best senior year I can and play with some of my best friends. It’s going to end very soon but it’s going to be a great 10 weeks.”

Jane | @janiemiller97