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While the defense for the Yale football team has lost some of its early-season magic that had made it one of the best units in the Ancient Eight, it nevertheless has remained a force to be reckoned with week in and week out — due in no small part to the weekly brilliance and artistry of defensive back Melvin Rouse II ’21.

Rouse entered his rookie season as the football equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. Throughout his last two years of high school, the East Charlotte native played several positions both offensively and defensively — most notably cornerback, safety and wide receiver. For his first season donning the Blue and White two years ago, head coach Tony Reno and his coaching staff made sure to evaluate the depth of numerous offensive and defensive positions when figuring out how to maximize the value Rouse could bring to the squad. They ultimately decided that Rouse should play at the wide receiver position, a choice that more than paid off. Rouse went on to average over 10 yards a reception and tallied three scores. Yet, halfway through the season, after assessing that the running back position now lacked a desired depth, Reno had Rouse switch from receiver to back, helping the Bulldogs run the table down the stretch to secure their first outright championship in nearly 40 years.

“Melvin means a lot to our team and not just the defense,” defensive back Malcolm Dixon ’20 said. “He’s been a huge addition to the defense in the secondary but also continues to be a weapon for our offense when called upon. Melvin is a very talented player and an even better teammate.”

Rouse amassed quite the array of athletic accolades at Charlotte Latin High School. In just his senior campaign alone, Rouse not only stockpiled 10 touchdowns by the seasons end, but had 60 tackles and four interceptions — helping his school win a championship in the state of North Carolina. When Rouse was not on the football field, he competed in track and lacrosse.

While many players can make instant impacts at one position during their first collegiate season, very few can say that they received time in two major offensive roles like Rouse did in his debut year. As a receiver, he hauled in 15 passes for a total of 178 yards. His time as a running back was similarly productive, seeing him amass 84 yards on 11 carries. Additionally, the speed demon returned nine kickoffs for a total of 189 yards. Through these three responsibilities, Rouse gained a total of 451 total yards which ranked him fourth on the team.

“Melvin truly is one of a kind,” Rawlings said. “When you are that explosive and talented, you need to see both sides of the ball — not to mention how incredible of a returner he is as well. It just speaks to the type of athlete and teammate he is to be able to execute all of these positions at such a high level and balance knowing every role. I wish we could have him at all times on offense, but that is just me being selfish.”

Sophomore year was a test of Rouse’s resilience, as he was injured for five games during what looked to be a breakout season. He tied the school record for the longest kickoff return with a blistering 100-yard sprint from his own goal line to bring the Yale Bowl crowd to its feet. In the five games he featured as a receiver, he caught 15 passes for 177 yards.

In spite of his hectic position assignments and injury, Rouse has come alive this season for the Bulldogs. He was given the opportunity to take his skill set to a higher level as the starting cornerback for Team 147 — a position Rouse had not played since his junior season of high school.

Through seven games, Rouse has broken up the fourth most passes in the Ivy League, has tallied an interception and fumble and is coming off a week in which he helped hold a Columbia squad to half its scoring average. Yale will continue to rely on his excellence, with challenging games against Brown, Princeton and Harvard remaining.

“When you switch from one position to another,” Rouse said, “you need to be more consistent with your technique. You need to be specifically consistent with your eyes, feet, hands — these are disciplinary things that you sometimes lose focus on because you haven’t played at that position in years.”

Rouse next takes the field on Saturday against Brown at 12:30 p.m., when the Elis travel to Providence for their antepenultimate game.

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu and

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu