Yale Athletics

Rushing offense

Last season the Bulldogs dominated the ground game, leading the Ivy League with 25 rushing touchdowns and an average of 216.8 yards per game. These impressive tallies were due in no small part to the work of running back Zane Dudek ’21. The Phil Steele FCS Offensive Freshman of the Year and First-Team Freshman All-American rushed for a league-leading total of 1,133 yards and 15 touchdowns in last year’s campaign. Not limited to the ground, Dudek also racked up 179 receiving yards to go along with a touchdown snag.

Running back Alan Lamar ’20, who missed last season due to an ACL tear, will also be healthy for the start of the 2018 season. Lamar rushed for 557 yards and five touchdowns in his first year for the Elis and looks to serve as Dudek’s counterpart out of the backfield.

Passing offense

Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 heads into his third year in New Haven with a wealth of experience and talent. The signal caller from Bel Air, Maryland was the fifth-most accurate passer in the FCS last season and has been with the Bulldogs through the highs of the 2017 season and the lows of the 2016 season. Barring injury, look for Rawlings to take the next step as the commander of an explosive offense.

On the outside, wide receiver J.P. Shohfi ’20 looks to step into a highlighted role after a strong sophomore campaign. With a talented core of receivers from the class of 2018 having graduated, Shohfi and returning players Reed Klubnik ’20 and Jamal Locke ’19 will look to pick up the slack. Melvin Rouse ’21 will also factor into the rotation, after he teased the Bulldog faithful with spurts of excellence a season ago.

Offensive line

The backbone of any offensive scheme is the men in the trenches. Offensive lineman Sterling Strother ’20, who took most of his snaps at center after switching from offensive tackle in last year’s preseason, returns and looks to build on a second-team All-Ivy campaign. Strother will start at left tackle, his original position, while Steven Cepalia ’20 will take over at center. Another crucial piece of the line is offensive guard Dieter Eiselen ’20 who, along with Strother, is Yale’s only other returning starter on the offensive line. Potential replacements for last year’s three graduated All-Ivy linemen are Cepalia, Jack Lee ’19 and Lucas Tribble ’20.

Linebackers

Last season, Yale boasted the best defense in the Ivy League, allowing only 20 touchdowns and an average of 15.6 points per game. Part of its success came from an outstanding pass-rush that led the Ivy League in sacks last year with 39 —  ahead of Brown, the second team on the list — for a total of 229 yards for loss. Team 146 will look to fill the shoes of outside linebacker Matthew Oplinger ’18 who led the league in both solo sacks and solo tackles for losses of 11 and 14, respectively.

Secondary

In the secondary, the Bulldogs lost three program stalwarts over the summer in Jason Alessi ’18, Hayden Carlson ’18 and captain of Team 145 Spencer Rymiszewski ’18. As such, Yale’s passing defense, which lagged behind its league-leading rushing defense a season ago, will be put to the test this upcoming season. Returning All-Ivy honorable mention recipient Malcolm Dixon ’20 will spearhead the charge from the Elis’ final line of defense, but a position change will likely be in his future. Reno said he plans to move Dixon to a safety position alongside Rodney Thomas ’21 while Jaelin Alburg ’19, Deonte Henson ’21 and Marquise Peggs ’19 battle for the cornerback positions.

Defensive line

As previously noted, the Bulldogs were extremely successful at pass rushing a season ago thanks to their talented and deep defensive line. Defensive end Charles Callender ’20 tallied 20 plus tackle seasons last year, and the league-leading defense will continue to look scary with the second-team All-Ivy recipient returning for 2018’s campaign. The loss of former captain Kyle Mullen ’19, who has left the team for personal reasons, will put a dent in the unit, but Reno and his staff’s recruiting ability will likely manifest in the defensive line’s depth yet again. New names Devin Moore ’20 and Chris Sampleton ’21 will also play a role as both are listed high in Yale’s media depth chart ahead of Week 1.

Special Teams

Alex Galland ’19 will lead the kicking unit for yet another season after he earned second-team All-Ivy recognition last year. The punter and kicker, who doubles as a trumpeter for the Yale Precision Marching Band, enjoyed quite the summer as he was named the 2018 Chris Sailer Kicking College Camp’s best punter. Field position was a real advantage for the Elis a season ago, and they should see similar success with the improved Galland on their side.

Coaching

Head coach Tony Reno enters his seventh season as a champion. It took just six seasons to return Yale to the forefront of Ivy League football, as Reno’s Team 145 downed rival Harvard 24–3 last season to win its first outright conference title in 37 years.

But the coaching staff has endured an offseason of big changes. Along with the success of last season came many offers for Reno’s assistants, and several important coaches have left the Bulldog program. Most notably, Fordham hired offensive coordinator Joe Conlin to serve as its head coach. With other changes at offensive line coach, defensive line coach, linebackers coach and tight ends coach, the Yale staff is set up very differently heading into the 2018 season. However, defensive coordinator Sean McGowan returns after a record-setting 2017 season and several of Reno’s coaching changes came by way of internal promotion. As long as Reno is at the helm, the Yale program should be in good hands, but coaching turnover has derailed successful programs in the past.

Won Jung | won.jung@yale.edu

Cristofer Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu