Yale football head coach Tony Reno preaches about the “next man-up” mentality. Usually, he does so in reference to defensive line rotations and season-ending injuries. But that mindset proved critical in a different context when it was announced on Aug. 22 that defensive end and captain Kyle Mullen, who was previously scheduled to graduate in 2019, would no longer be part of the Yale football team after he withdrew from the University for personal reasons.
Less than a week after Mullen’s departure became official, team members elected another defensive lineman, Nicholas Crowle ’19, the new captain of Team 146 to take his place. The Milford, Connecticut, native is in his fifth season with the Bulldogs after missing most of the 2014 season due to injury. Since then, Crowle has dealt with off-and-on medical struggles every season. Despite injury difficulties, Reno cited Crowle’s unique experience as one of the reasons why he is fit to lead the Elis’ quest for back-to-back championships.
“Whenever you’re a fifth-year player in the Ivy League you always have to overcome some adversity,” Reno said. “Nicholas Crowle is one of those guys who’s a tough, gritty kid that plays with a ton of emotion. He’s very intense, and his work ethic is incredible. He personifies what we want to be as a tough, gritty team.”
In his four seasons with the Yale football team, Crowle has missed a total of 15 games due to injury but hopes to be fully healthy and make his on-field presence known for the whole 2018 campaign. The 6-foot-2, 270-pound nose guard will be the sixth captain on the defensive side of the ball in Reno’s seven seasons at the helm. He will replace outgoing captain and first-team All-Ivy defensive back Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 from last year’s title team.
In Mullen’s absence, Crowle will be tasked with leading a Bulldog defense that returns just three of 11 starters from a season ago, when Yale posted Ivy League bests in points allowed, yards allowed and sacks. While the loss of a captain in the month leading up to the season opener may seem like a major setback, Reno believes that Crowle is just one of many leaders capable of filling the void.
“We have a different leadership model as a team which involves top-down, empowered execution,” Reno said. “When you have that sort of organization more people are empowered to lead. We have a leadership program where we start with guys who are freshmen all the way up to the seniors. When something happens that might affect our organization it affects us a lot less, especially because of our seniors who have done an extraordinary job mentoring other players.”
In 26 career games, Crowle recorded 49 total tackles, including 6 1/2 tackles-for-loss and a pair of sacks. Previous injuries have kept him out of seven of 30 games over the past three seasons, but his emergence as a full-time starter for the first time in his career would be an added boost to the Bulldogs’ goal of an “Ivy League takeover,” according to Reno.
Crowle will look to lead a defensive front that terrorized opposing quarterbacks and stone-walled rushing offenses in 2017 as the Elis seek to dominate once again at the line of scrimmage — an area that will be crucial to the team’s goal of winning back-to-back conference titles for the first time since Yale claimed three straight from 1979 to 1981. For Crowle, being around the program for four seasons has allowed him to observe and learn from of variety of leaders before he was eventually announced as captain himself.
“I’ve seen four captains now,” Crowle said. “Spencer [Rymiszewski] did a great job because he commanded respect, and ultimately demanded that you put your best effort forward every day. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how many times I get in the middle of the circle and give rah-rah speeches. It’s about how well we give our intentional effort every day.”
Crowle and the rest of the Bulldogs will open the season in less than month when they play at Holy Cross on Sept. 15.
Joey Kamm | firstname.lastname@example.org