Earlier this year, nearly 3,000 miles away, many of the best seniors in the country gathered in one of the most revered football stadiums in the world. Among the collegiate athletes who participated in the annual NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl a month ago, Yale’s own offensive lineman Dieter Eiselen ’20 was one of them.
In what has become tradition since the event’s founding in 2012, a National Team and an American Team face off in what can be compared to as a postseason college football Pro Bowl game. With the likes of former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis serving as coach for the National Team and NFL Hall of Famers Kevin Mawae and Jackie Slater in as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, respectively, the South African native had no shortage of NFL presence to seek guidance from. After a full week of practice in Pasadena, the NCAA’s very best were finally ready to hit the gridiron and showcase their incredible skillfulness and football proficiency. However, Eiselen’s football journey had started far away from sunny California.
“Dieter is an incredibly hard worker in everything he does,” captain and wideout JP Shohfi ’20 said. “In football, he is such a great player and leader. He is strong and plays with every ounce of force that he has, always showing the team the kind of effort and passion that should be given. He will push himself and others to be the best no matter what, and I really admire that from him. He has always been a great player for Yale and an even better role model for his teammates. His drive and work ethic will take him very far in the next level.”
Growing up in Stellenbosch, South Africa, a city known for its picturesque vineyards that produce some of the most renowned wine in the world, Eiselen was a rugby player. As he grew older, however, his interest in American football grew more and more. Eiselen became so captivated by the sport that he began contacting numerous prep schools in the States to see if they would be interested in taking him as a fifth-year student, a practice common among American private schools. Of the schools that agreed, Eiselen settled on Choate Rosemary Hall.
In helping lead his team to the 2015 NEPSAC Championship, Eiselen caught the eye of several college coaches, including that of Yale’s Tony Reno. After witnessing Eiselen’s athletic prowess showcased in the many developmental camps he performed in, Reno was swayed to give him an offer.
While he had a later start to football than most, Eiselen entered college with physical ability that most players could only dream of. Standing an intimidating 6-foot-4 and weighing 300 pounds, he made an immediate impact at a position that is usually dominated by the older and more experienced members of the time: left guard. Eiselen started five games in his very first year, a remarkable feat in just his second official year of playing competitive football.
His sophomore season marked a transition from occasional starts to near dominance. The South African helped create massive holes for the potent Eli running attack. Eiselen played a massive role in running back Zane Dudek’s ’21 historic first year and deservedly received an All-Ivy Honorable Mention at the completion of Yale’s 9–1 championship season. The Bulldogs were sole champions for the first time since 1980, and much of the credit had to go to Eiselen and the offensive line.
The 2018 season was up-and-down for the Elis, but Eiselen continued to rapidly develop as a force up front. He started all 10 games at offensive guard and was instrumental in Yale’s passing offense, which ranked first in the Ivy League that year. The Bulldogs also were second in the conference in first downs, due primarily to the ability of the offensive line to push forward on third down. At the conclusion of the 2018 campaign, he was named Second Team All-Ivy League, Phil Steele First Team All-Ivy League, and also received the Hammer Award — a team nod that recognizes the mentally and physically toughest player on the roster that year.
In his final season, Eiselen brought senior leadership and skillful excellence to the team as he bullied players up front. He missed just one game, the opener against Holy Cross, and regularly gave quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 ample time in the pocket to find his receivers. Yale ended the season ranked first in total offense, with much credit due to Eiselen up front. He was named to the First Team All-Ivy squad, a first for the talented senior, but even more importantly, Eiselen was picked as an AP All-American Third Team member.
The South African was duly deserving of this lofty praise, and the share of the Ivy title that Yale secured made his accomplishments all the better. But his football season was not over just yet, as he was picked to play in the NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl.
“It was a wonderful experience which I am extremely grateful for,” Eiselen said. “It was a great honor to be nominated as one of the 450 college seniors across the country to be selected to play in one of the top college football all-star games. I felt right at home competing with the best that college football has to offer. The opportunity to get coached by two Hall of Famers was invaluable and I have been able to implement new techniques to improve as a player. I am looking forward to working hard over the next few months so that I can be an asset at whatever NFL team I will have an opportunity to play for.”
In the Bowl, Eiselen was a force to be reckoned with, just as he had been in the four years prior donning the Blue and White. He helped the National squad to three rushing scores, 175 yards on the ground, 220 yards through the air and a passing score — all of which were more than the American Team could muster. When all was said and done, the National Team marched off the field having secured a convincing 30–20 win over the American Team.
“Dieter has got to be the most well-rounded individual I have ever met,” quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 said. “He is active in numerous groups around campus, on top of being a football player and a FroCo. Yet, he never fails at being on top of his business, and he excels at everything he does. After only starting to play football in his postgraduate year of high school, his knowledge of the game tops almost everyone on the team. Not to mention his physical ability. That just goes to show what type of a person and teammate Dieter is … it takes a lot for someone to leave their entire life behind in a country halfway around the world to pursue a thought in their mind about becoming a football player. Dieter has done just that, and more. I am lucky to have been protected by him, and even luckier to call him one of my best friends.”
Eiselen is the first Yale player in seven years to compete in a senior bowl.
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Correction, Feb. 5: A previous version of this article said that Eiselen’s position was left tackle; in fact, it was left guard.