Matthew Stock

This story is part of the Yale football 2017 season preview issue. For a preview, click here.For a feature on Yale’s defense, click here. To read about quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, click here, and for a feature on defensive back Hayden Carlson ’18, click here.

Last season, the Yale football team ranked dead last in the Ivy League in scoring offense, total offense, passing offense and passing efficiency. Only twice did the Elis accumulate over 200 receiving yards: a 27–13 loss to Cornell and a 27–22 defeat to Brown.

But while optimism for 2017 may not be supported in the Bulldogs’ most recent statistics, emerging talents and returning veterans set the stage for what could be a dynamic receiving corps this season.

The Bulldogs saw their top four wide receivers suffer season-ending injuries less than halfway through the 2016 slate. Ross Drwal ’18, Bo Hines ’18, Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18 and Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 all endured significant medical hardships, combining for just 28 receptions and two touchdowns in limited game action. With these departures, however, new faces took on more significant responsibilities, as quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 shifted the focus of his air attack to receivers Reed Klubnik ’20 and JP Shohfi ’20.

“Across the board there’s a lot of the talent in our receiving group, and that’s an amazing problem to have,” Shohfi said. “We don’t really have any huge egos and we work well as a group, which is fun to see. We all love each other and have a great time when we’re out on the field. It’s going to be cool to see what we can do staying healthy this year.”

Even with the preseason announcement that Hines, a Freshman All-American at North Carolina State in 2014, would be retiring from football, the Bulldogs’ substantial depth and talent at the wide receiver position puts them in an ideal situation heading into their opener against Lehigh. With three seniors set to start on Saturday, this group should be among Yale’s best in 2017 and provide Rawlings with plenty of passing options.

One of the focal points of the offense will be Williams-Lopez, a 6-foot, 200-pound wideout who finished with 15 receptions and two touchdowns in 2016 despite missing the majority of the season due to injury. When healthy, the Duluth, Georgia native proved himself to be Yale’s top receiver, leading all players with 60 receptions for 576 yards in the 2015 campaign.

Williams-Lopez’s return will be bolstered by the recovery of fellow starters Drwal and Siragusa, two players who racked up over 700 yards and 60 receptions combined in their first two seasons with the Yale football program before sitting out most of 2016. According to head coach Tony Reno, Yale will feature Jamal Locke ’18 as another primary option in the passing game. The Ridgewood, New Jersey, native has just one career reception but should see an expanded role in 2017.

The returning talent for Yale will only be augmented by the emergence of wide receivers Klubnik and Shofi, two players who both saw significant playing time as rookies. Klubnik caught two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ first victory over Harvard since 2006, including an acrobatic go-ahead grab in the corner of the endzone, while Shofi tallied 226 receiving yards in his first season of collegiate competition.

“The freshmen who played last year just raised the competition for us as veterans,” Drwal said. “Everyone’s going to get playing time and everybody is going to be fresh playing. It’s huge for our receiving corps.”

As far as incoming stand-outs, Reno acknowledged the depth at the wideout spot but said that receivers Darrion Carrington ’21 and Melvin Rouse II ’21 both performed well in fall camp and have a chance to see the field in 2017. Rouse is currently listed alongside running back Zane Dudek ’21 as Yale’s starting kick returner and is also the backup punt returner to defensive back Jason Alessi ’18.

Reno cited both Siragusa and Drwal’s leadership for forging a camaraderie between both incoming players and experienced starters.

“Mike Siragusa and Ross Drwal are probably two of the most welcoming guys I’ve ever met, two guys who have no ego,” Reno said. “[It allows us] to rotate guys in right now. When you look at the big picture, there’ll be a lot of guys that will be in our day one lineups that weren’t a factor last year for us.”

Yale’s wide receivers will have a chance to impress early on in their first game against Lehigh, a team that ranked second to last in the Patriot League in pass defense in 2016.