In the Yale football team’s most recent efforts to defend its title, the Elis kept their repeat-championship hopes alive by downing Penn. But in the process of notching that win, Team 146 lost something much more valuable — standout quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20.
Rawlings started all 10 of Yale’s games in 2017 to help the Bulldogs to their first solo crown since 1980 and has continued to improve alongside a younger, more inexperienced offensive lineup this year. As the centerpiece of the Bulldogs’ offensive attack, the junior signal caller delivered steady results for Team 146 through the first half of the 2018 campaign, despite sustaining minor injuries. But against the Quakers on Friday, Rawlings’ season was cut short by a lower leg injury.
“Kurt is the guy who always puts himself 107th on the team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “His biggest concerns are everyone else right now. He’s back in his room, and he’s doing well. We expect him to be on the sideline on Saturday if he’s feeling well.”
In the third quarter against Penn on Friday, the quarterback scrambled for 11 yards to pick up a first down before suffering an injury that required him to be helped off the field and replaced by backup Jimmy Check ’21. While Rawlings is expected to recover in time for spring practices, Check will assume the starting job for the rest of this season and determine the Elis’ fate during the four critical weeks of conference play still remaining. Players did not respond to messages requesting comment on Rawlings’ injury.
Despite being a junior, the Bel Air, Md., native is already one of the Elis’ most successful quarterbacks in program history. In 2016, as a first year, Rawlings waited patiently to see meaningful minutes. Yale got off to a dismal start that season, notching just one win in its first six games. Reno approached quarterbacking by committee and finally called Rawlings’ number at the start of the second half of the contest against Columbia in Week Seven.
In that fateful half, Rawlings delivered a three-touchdown performance — making him the first Yale rookie to throw a touchdown pass since 2012 — to hand the Bulldogs the win. Reno never looked back, and Rawlings has started all 19 games since.
After the hot start, Rawlings steadily grew into the role and climbed Yale’s career-high lists in multiple statistical categories. By the end of last year’s championship season, just two years in, he cracked into the top 10 in both career completions and touchdown passes, ranking eighth and ninth respectively.
Despite the graduation of multiple All-Ivy selections from Team 145’s offensive line, Rawlings has continued to impress with his ability and grit in the face of new challenges. Through six games this season, he leads the conference with 1,562 yards through the air while also tallying nine touchdowns. In a testament to his athleticism and prowess in pass-rushing situations, he also ran for 88 yards rushing this season. He now stands fifth in career completions, passing yards and total offense for Yale.
Check, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound sophomore, will take over as signal caller for the Eli offense in the wake of Rawlings’ injury. The Fairfax, Va., native suffered an injury during the 2017 preseason that forced him to sit out a season and preserve his eligibility. This season, Check has already taken snaps in four games, racking up 49 yards on four completions prior to the contest against the Quakers.
Most notably, Reno put Check in for a second-quarter drive against Mercer to spell Rawlings, the week after Dartmouth defeated the Elis. He completed three passes for 37 yards before the possession ended in a punt, and Rawlings returned to helm the offense for the remainder of the contest.
The Bulldogs’ next-man-up mentality, which has already kept the Elis afloat amidst injury at the running back position, was on full display against Penn. In the aftermath of Rawlings’ injury in the second half at Franklin Field, Check kept his composure and calmly orchestrated the offense. Completing five of his eight pass attempts, he tallied 59 yards and demonstrated exceptional clock management in crunch time en route to the Bulldogs’ fourth win of the 2018 campaign.
“[Check] made a couple plays that, as a fan, you might not see how astute they were,” Reno said. “He stayed in bounds twice on two quarterback scrambles to keep the clock running and force Penn to take two timeouts. For a [underclassman] quarterback to do that is pretty impressive. He ran the offense really well, so we have 100 percent confidence in whoever’s back there.”
Besides Rawlings and Check, Yale’s roster includes three other quarterbacks — Patrick Conte ’21, Nick Henkel ’22 and Griffin O’Connor ’22.
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