Jack Warhola

Two years ago, the Yale football team emerged with its first solo Ivy crown in almost four decades. Although last year’s attempt fell short, the Bulldogs begin their 147th season with high hopes and an experienced senior class at the helm, led by captain and wideout JP Shohfi ’20.

The Elis, who were picked to finish atop the Ivy League in preseason rankings, return to New Haven with more experience than last year, when the team’s youth was at times apparent. Shohfi, now a four-year starter, was elected the team’s captain after last November’s loss to Harvard ended a frustrating season. In the offseason and preseason, Shohfi and his teammates — a significant portion of whom have been in starting roles for several years, including during Yale’s 2017 championship run — have taken up the responsibilities of preparing the team for its upcoming season, and furthering the culture of inclusion encouraged by head coach Tony Reno.

“[Shohfi] really took to heart the leadership of the seniors two years ago,” Reno said. “That group was so inclusive, and he is using the same mentality with the program. He’s brought everyone along and given them leadership [responsibilities] as well.”

Last year, Shohfi started all 10 games except for an early matchup due to injury. In his junior season, he proved to be a critical and reliable member of the Eli offense. Starting quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 attuned often with Shohfi and fellow wideout Reed Klubnik ’20, who together put up 1,979 yard and 15 touchdowns last year.

The junior trio racked up impressive throwing yards and provided an offensive safety net while Yale’s ground game searched for its footing after 2017 Phil Steele FCS Offensive Freshman of the Year Zane Dudek ’21 struggled throughout the season with a foot injury. The offensive stalwarts were also critically important as the defense adjusted to the graduation of a star-studded class the spring before.

Shohfi and Klubnik provided much-needed consistency even as the team was thrown into unanticipated chaos following a season-ending injury for Rawlings in week six against Penn. After an early fumble in the attempt to replace Rawlings, the Elis settled on then-rookie Griffin O’Connor ’22 at signal-caller. In the last three games of the season, O’Connor connected with his receiving duo to net an average of more than 400 yards a game — earning him the title of Ivy League Rookie of the Year despite his late debut.

Shohfi arrived in New Haven with a long list of accolades in high school football. During his senior year at San Marino High School, he broke a national record in receiving yards with 2,464. He also won a slew of honors in California and led his team to several important championship stages.

Despite his impressive resume, the wideout received no offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools, a story which appeared in Sports Illustrated. Reno, who was hired to lead the Elis in 2012, made him an offer that landed the California native in New Haven.

The risk that FBS schools were unwilling to take paid dividends to Yale — Shohfi was a 10-game starter by his sophomore season. Last year, he caught 55 passes for 836 yards. Reno is quick to praise the wideout’s work ethic and skill level, but nonetheless highlighted that Shohfi’s most important contribution as captain thus far has been his spirit of inclusivity.

“What’s been great about … this season is that there’s been a lot of guys taking leadership roles,” Shohfi said. “Especially in the senior class, there are a lot of people comfortable with taking vocal roles and setting the standard for this team … what we’ve been prioritizing as a team is maximizing our potential. We’re coming off a season that obviously did not go the way we wanted to. We were an average team, and we don’t see ourselves as an average time.”

Last year’s squad was particularly young. Few seniors filled starting positions, while several rookies grew into important roles over the course of the season, including O’Connor, running back Spencer Alston ’22 and receiver Jaylan Sandifer ’22. Now Shohfi and the team — back in full health — are looking for the opportunity to overcome last year’s ups and downs.

Yale’s first opponent of the year is Holy Cross.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu