Even though it was only November, the temperature that day was expected to drop below freezing in Princeton, New Jersey. Despite the frigid weather, the Yale football team took the field. There was only one goal in their blue and white helmet-clad heads: win this game, and with it, the Ivy League title. A slow start left the Bulldogs with a 10 point deficit by the end of the first half, but the Elis came surging back. By the time the final whistle sounded, the score stood at Yale 35, Princeton 31.
This day in 2017 and the win against Harvard that came the following week stand out to senior Tosan Agbeyegbe as the best moments in his Yale football career. Even though these memories immediately bring a smile to his face, Tosan does not want to simply bask in past glories. When I asked him about his favorite moments from his time on the team, his immediate answer looked forward: “Favorite football memory at Yale? Well hopefully this Saturday.”
When Tosan takes the field at the Yale-Harvard game, he’ll carry with him all the time and love that he has devoted to the game of football over the past 10 years. When he was young, most of his athletic prowess was channeled into soccer, the national sport of his native country Nigeria. After moving with his family to Toronto, Canada, in 2007, Tosan first played football at age 12, following in the footsteps of his older brother. “I usually did what he did. He started playing football when he was in high school, and it just made things easier for my mom to have us all in one sport,” Tosan explained. Through football, Tosan found both a passion and a strong community within his new home, although he didn’t have too much trouble adjusting to life in Canada. “I got right into school, and it was easy to make friends because Canadians are so nice,” he said with a laugh.
A breakthrough moment came a few years later, when Tosan realized that football could become more than just an after-school activity. “My brother and I started watching college football and the NFL,” he remembered. “And it just started as a joke one day, like what if you could go and play football in college?” What began as a joke, however, became a dream that led to years of training on the field and travelling around the United States to attend camps and gain exposure to the highest levels of competition. “[My parents] just trusted me,” he said. “Obviously they had never watched American football, and they didn’t understand how much of a risk it would be considering that only 2 percent of high school players go on to play Division I football. They left it up to me to fail or not, to sink or swim … It all means a lot to me, and I will never be able to repay them for that.” All these sacrifices paid off when Tosan was recruited by the Bulldogs and joined the Yale team in 2016 as one of just two international students on the 106-man squad.
Just like all the other Under-Armour-backpack-toting student athletes on campus, Tosan’s college career has been a challenging balancing act of practices, classes and clubs. During the football season, his schedule is mapped out with the precision of an offensive play: classes in the morning, practice from 2 to 8 p.m., section after dinner and homework somewhere in the gaps. “I don’t know what it’s like to not be an athlete,” he said, “but the physical strain and the time you put in is a lot. It does make academics a lot harder timewise.” But for Tosan and his teammates, the sacrifice is worth it for one reason. “We love playing football,” he shrugs.
Even though football brought him to Yale, Tosan hasn’t let his demanding schedule keep him from experiencing all he can during his four years as a student. He has had the chance to explore his lifelong interest in psychology, adding a double major in economics along the way. He also serves as a Community and Consent Educator, working to improve the sexual climate at Yale. “It’s helped me get in touch with other parts of campus,” he said. “It’s also helped me teach the football team different lessons that they might not know and pass on that knowledge.”
All of this is part of an effort that Tosan has made to take advantage of all that Yale has to offer: “No matter what you come in as — athlete, non-athlete, a cappella singer, someone in the marching band — you should always reach out because everyone has a story and a lesson that they can teach. Yale has some of the most amazing people, and you’re never going to be around so many intelligent, experienced and awesome people again.” When he’s not working out his body or his mind, Tosan likes to go to campus shows with friends, especially a cappella concerts by Shades or the Unorthojocks. He also enjoys games that are very different than the type he plays at the Yale Bowl. “I’m a big board game person: Scrabble, Catan, all of that,” Tosan said. He also loves video games, especially Pokemon. “I am a nerd in that sense,” Tosan joked. “I’m not afraid to admit that.”
When Tosan dons his Yale uniform for the last time this Saturday, it will be hard not see it as an ending, one of the many that he’ll experience as his time at Yale comes to a close. “I’m trying not to get nostalgic,” Tosan said. “One of the things we say a lot is ‘don’t count the days, but try to make the days count,’ so I’m just trying to do that. Make the final days count, and maybe once it’s done, then it’s time to look back.”
Elizabeth Hopkinson | firstname.lastname@example.org