With a series of unexpected injuries to multiple ball carriers early this season, the Yale football team must rely on its combination of talent and experience at the wideout position to boost its air game and tally points against its opponents.
Last weekend, a trio of juniors spearheaded the Bulldogs’ blazing offensive effort in their resounding upset victory over then-No. 16 Maine. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 threw for 306 yards as Maine’s defense proved unable to break up the connection between Rawlings and his favorite targets, wideouts JP Shohfi ’20 and Reed Klubnik ’20. The pair of juniors have been a critical part of the Eli offense since their rookie campaigns — they were highly rated players out of California and Texas, whose promise translated into immediate impact following injuries to their more experienced teammates. Since then, they have stepped up to lead a young Team 146.
“[Klubnik and Shohfi] are both crazy talented people,” Rawlings said. “It’s really cool this year that they have really stepped into that leadership role at that position. [In] previous years, they have had older guys and had to wait to take over. It’s pretty fun when I get to look out and see those guys running by people or making good cuts.”
Last weekend, the pair of junior receivers pulled off three scores and 209 total receiving yards to build up a lead that the Black Bears, visiting the Yale Bowl for the first time in 81 years, could not surmount.
Both Klubnik and Shohfi arrived in New Haven with impressive resumes. Shohfi, a high school record breaker, earned national attention for his talent, but was unexpectedly underrecruited by the nation’s most competitive college programs.
Shohfi racked up a national record–setting 2,464 yards in his senior campaign and a slew of honors in a competitive state. He was named League MVP, All-CIF MVP and first-team All-State. Beyond his talent for football, he displayed clear athleticism and leadership: He earned all-league recognition playing both soccer and baseball throughout his four years at San Marino High. Additionally, he captained all three sports and led his football team to CIF and Regional Championships.
Despite his laundry list of accomplishments, Shohfi did not receive any offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Recruiting analysts throughout the country noticed the snub, especially after a Sports Illustrated article questioned the outcome of Shohfi’s recruiting season and claimed that Shohfi was one of the best players at his position in the history of high school football.
“I love playing football at Yale and that’s where my focus is,” Shofhi said. “All I can do is work hard and enjoy it. My goals are to help the team in any way that I can. Our team evaluates individual performance mainly through team success, so the biggest thing that matters to us is the achievement of the team. I just hope to continue contributing through hard work and leadership, as we all do.”
Klubnik also came to Yale after tallying impressive stats in high school. The two-time 6A All-State, All-Central Texas and All-District team player holds records in receiving yards and receptions at Westlake in Austin, Texas, with 2,412 and 152, respectively. Klubnik was also a member of his school’s track team, where he holds a school record in the triple jump.
With injuries in the wideout position when the two were rookies, Shohfi and Klubnik took advantage of the unanticipated playing time. Klubnik led the team in receptions with 34 after playing in all of the team’s 10 games. To cap off his rookie campaign, Klubnik totaled 55 yards and snatched two touchdown passes in 2016’s edition of The Game to lift the Bulldogs over the Crimson.
Even though they saw a victory at The Game, in 2016, the Elis went 3–7 and struggled at quarterback. They started three separate players, including then-rookie Rawlings late in the season, making it difficult to find a sustained rhythm at receiver, which was reflected in the relatively banal statistics that year.
In his sophomore season, Klubnik hit the ground running, notching 10 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown before an injury cut his campaign short. Meanwhile, the risks that FBS programs were unwilling to take on Shohfi started to pay dividends for Reno. Totaling 427 yards and four touchdowns on just 25 receptions, Shofhi emerged as a consistent deep threat for the Elis. One of his remarkable catches, an 83-yard touchdown reception, was the fifth-longest touchdown in Yale history.
Thus far, in the 2018 campaign, both wideouts are averaging roughly 100 yards per game as Rawlings’ favorite and most dependable targets. Klubnik leads the team in receiving touchdowns, with four, after notching one against Holy Cross in the season opener and three in Saturday’s contest against Maine. With Phil Steele FCS Offensive Freshman of the Year and first-team Freshman All-American Zane Dudek ’21 and Alan Lamar ’20 — both starting running backs — injured, the Elis will continue to lean on the experience and prowess of the junior class in the air game moving forward.
“Experience, practice and hard work are the reasons we have formed such great chemistry together,” Klubnik said. “We’ve had two seasons and two years of practice together, so Kurt has thrown a lot of balls to JP and [me]. Kurt’s a very talented quarterback, and JP runs the best routes I’ve seen. We have all worked year-round to get this point, so it’s exciting to see where it has taken us.”
Yale will face the only team it lost to last year — Dartmouth — under the Yale Bowl lights on Friday.
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