Just over a week after winning its first Ivy League title in more than a decade, the Yale football team, led by newly-elected captain and defensive end Kyle Mullen ’19, has already shifted gears to its new goal: repeating as champion in 2018.
With the final whistle of The Game, the Bulldogs ended the 2017 season alone atop the Ivy League, but this momentous occasion also marked the end of the road for the 31 seniors who walked away from the Yale Bowl as eligible collegiate athletes for the final time in their lives. Mullen will be tasked with the challenge of leading the Elis’ returning players in their quest to replicate both the talent and intangible qualities of the graduating class. The defensive end takes over as captain for cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’18, whose leadership head coach Tony Reno pointed to throughout the season as a major reason for the Bulldogs’ immense success.
“One of the most unique things about Yale is that the players select the captain,” Reno said. “So the captain is truly a man of the people. Kyle will do a great job [because] it matters a lot to him. He loves playing the game, and he has the ability to have the ear of all of his teammates to help build a better team every day.”
Although several first years enjoyed breakout seasons for the Elis, the leadership and stability provided by Team 145’s senior class was perhaps the driving factor in Yale’s championship run. Alongside Rymiszewski, a deep reserve of seniors in every positional group laid the foundation for a winning culture in New Haven.
Mullen, who witnessed firsthand the team-oriented qualities of the class of 2018, will look to maintain the standards and build upon the successes of a 9–1 team that is set to lose 14 starters before next season.
“There’s a standard of work ethic that we’ve left,” linebacker Matt Oplinger ’18 said. “I know Mullen is a guy that lives and breathes everything it takes to be a great person, a great football player, a great leader. So I know for a fact that he’s going to uphold all those things that our senior class started building while we were there.”
Mullen, a recipient of All-Ivy honors for the second consecutive season, was a key member of a Yale defensive front that terrorized opposing quarterbacks. The Bulldog defense finished the season 10 sacks ahead of second-place Brown. Even with a rotating unit that featured close to eight linemen per game, the New Jersey native tallied 4.5 sacks and 32 total tackles in his junior season.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end also helped anchor a dominant rush defense that bolstered the Elis’ elite pass rush. In 10 games, the Bulldogs conceded an average of just 73.1 rushing yards per contest, good for first in the Ivy League and third overall in the Football Championship Subdivision. Furthermore, Mullen’s role is likely to grow even greater in 2018 with the graduation of three key contributors on the defensive line — Earl Chism ’18, John Herubin ’18 and Copache Tyler ’18.
But Mullen’s responsibilities during his captainship will extend far beyond the field. As the successor to Rymiszewski, a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection, Mullen will be responsible for instilling Yale’s championship culture in younger players and for setting a consistent standard of excellence in all aspects of the program.
“Spence was an amazing captain and has the upmost respect from all the players on the team,” Mullen said. “[He] did a great job of molding the culture of our team as a group that outworks the competition. Spence has a tremendous work ethic and the rest of the guys followed his lead, which was a major factor in our success this year. He also did a great job of not only leading himself, but he had other guys around him who would step up in leadership roles in their respective position groups.”
Coming off the program’s first outright Ivy League Championship since 1980, Mullen will play a critical role in meeting the lofty expectations set forth for Team 146 heading into the 2018 campaign. Since 1982, Yale has finished with a combined record of 26–14 in its four previous opportunities to repeat after winning an Ancient Eight crown and failed to win a conference title on all four occasions. Mullen will look to sustain the Bulldogs’ continued quest for an “Ivy League takeover” according to Reno, in the hope of winning back-to-back conference titles for the first time in 37 years and only the fourth time in program history.
Mullen will become the sixth defensive player to serve as captain under Reno in his first seven seasons at the helm in New Haven and the first defensive end since Beau Palin ’14. Fellow defensive lineman Julian Fraser ’20 noted that Mullen’s election as captain emphasizes the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage and ensuring that Yale’s defensive line continues to set the tone for the entire team.
“The defensive line this year called ourselves the ‘mad dogs,’ and I think that brought a lot of energy and fire up the whole team,” Mullen said. “It shows the physicality of this team by electing someone that has their hand in the dirt.”
Mullen recorded three tackles in Yale’s 24–3 defeat over Harvard in the 134th playing of The Game.
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