Courtesy of Jack Warhola
On the first Wednesday of each February, high school athletes throughout the country sign their National Letters of Intent, binding them to the institutions they will represent for four years. Although Yale, as an Ivy League school, does not participate in the formal process of NLIs, the Class of 2023 has taken shape.
The new additions to Team 147 will not be officially announced until April once they matriculate.
But head coach Tony Reno has concluded his recruiting efforts for the Class of 2023. The Bulldogs return most of their playmakers for the 2019 season and will be joined by the seventh class Reno has put together, which currently includes members that span a variety of positions and backgrounds. This year, recruiting site 247Sports ranks Yale’s incoming class third in the Ivy League, just behind rival Harvard, which touts three more three-star recruits.
Yale also secured four of the top 100 players in the Herosports.com Football Championship Subdivision recruiting rankings, six less than the Crimson and one more than defending Ivy champion Princeton.
“I am definitely excited about the new class coming in,” Team 147 captain and wide receiver JP Shohfi ’20 said. “It seems like there’s a lot of talent in this group, and we’re looking forward to getting to know them and seeing how they can help the team once they get on campus.”
Thus far, Yale’s biggest signing has been New Jersey’s Josh McKenzie, who played running back, middle linebacker and free safety in high school. Labeled as an “athlete,” it is unclear what role he will adopt for the Elis, especially with the Elis’ primary ball-carriers — running backs Alan Lamar ’20, Zane Dudek ’21, Spencer Alston ’22 and Trenton Charles ’22 — all returning next season.
Joining a Bulldog roster saturated with talent at the quarterback spot is dual-threat signal-caller Nolan Grooms, who led the Taft School to a NEPSAC championship in his senior season. Eager to begin his collegiate career, Grooms will look to learn about the culture and skills needed to be successful at the position from veteran quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, who aims to return from a lower-leg injury and salvage another Ancient Eight title in his final season at the helm.
“Yale football has a rich history full of tradition and pride that is really second to none,” Grooms said. “My goals for my career are to win multiple Ivy League titles with my teammates, while going 4–0 versus Harvard, and to be the best teammate and player that my body will able me to be. Coach Reno has been able to establish an environment where success is able to flourish, so I look forward to being a part of it.”
Despite the offensive loss of Rawlings just after the midpoint of the 2018 season, Yale’s hopes for a repeat title were dashed largely due to inexperience and lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball. Malcolm Dixon ’20, who played the majority of his snaps at the cornerback position in his first and second years on the squad, was moved to safety to compensate for holes in the roster.
Now, one of the three top recruits for the Bulldogs is a defensive back — Gerron Duhon, a cornerback from Louisiana — who could be in line for early playing time. The incoming first years on defense will look to make an immediate impact, hoping to improve the Ivy League’s sixth-ranked defense that allowed an average of 28.5 points per game last season.
Several players in the incoming class chose Yale over Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Jonathan Durand, a 6-foot-3-inch, 262-pound offensive lineman from Arizona chose the Bulldogs over the Army and over fellow FCS programs Princeton and San Diego.
“I knew as soon as I stepped on campus that Yale would be my choice,” Durand said. “The family atmosphere the coaches and players project, and the culture that Yale football has, finalized my decision.”
Reno is adamant that he and his team look beyond current performance in recruiting the team’s future. He told the News that although he is currently unable to comment on individual members of the Class of 2023, he identified two traits as key in finding successful players at Yale.
First, he noted, Yale football’s most successful members have shown enthusiasm for the sport and the prospect of attending Yale, an Ivy League institution that prioritizes the balance between student and athlete. Secondly, Reno looks for individuals who put teamwork and collective success above individual achievements.
Skill-wise, Yale evaluates prospective players’ “ceiling,” since all players’ potential stretches far past their immediate impact in their first season. Given the nature of college athletics, in which graduation inevitably results in roster turnover at the end of each season, Reno has prioritized building a “balanced” team in each year over looking for specific positions or skill sets in cycles.
Although there have been exceptions in classes past when certain positions offered disproportionately high “value,” this year’s class emerged evenly composed, translating to a fairly standard set of offers among all position groups.
“The young guys bring great passion and an elevated hunger to compete,” Rawlings said. “The more competition we have at every position, the better we will be. Thinking about it just gets me that much more excited for August.”
Yale’s 2018 recruiting class ranked second overall in the FCS on signing day last year.
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