Lukas Flippo, Photo Editor

In July, when the Ivy League decided to cancel all sports through the end of the calendar year, athletes no longer able to compete in the fall were faced with the difficult choice of either  enrolling or taking a leave of absence.

The Yale football team, a squad that boasted well over a hundred players in 2019, enters this fall season with only around 42 players enrolled — a more than 60 percent drop in team size. Of those players, 30 are first years, and the remaining dozen is a conglomeration of sophomores, juniors and seniors. Most sophomores made the choice to take a fall-term leave, head coach Tony Reno said, following the University’s decision to allow only first years, juniors and seniors to return to campus this semester. 

Given the unconventional makeup of a Bulldog squad overwhelmingly composed of first years, Reno entered the fall with the tricky task of bestowing structure and order into a virtual locker room made up of rookies. 

“What’s untraditional about our team right now as far as the numbers go is that we have our 30 first years, and then we’ve got just over a dozen more players that are a mix between our juniors and seniors,” Reno said. “The rest of the team is taking this fall semester off. So, as it turned out, it was a nice mix of veterans and young players for us. Our veterans have been doing a great job of leading the way for the younger guys who are just trying to feel it out.”

When Yale was in Phase II of the Ivy League-designed phased practice approach, Reno and his coaching staff orchestrated in-person weight training and conditioning sessions that no more than 10 of the players could partake in at a time. Yale Athletics has now reverted to Phase 0 until at least Oct. 21 following a COVID-19 outbreak on the men’s hockey team. 

The Eli coaching staff has also taken the initiative to design these practices with an eye toward the virtual medium — allowing players that are taking a leave of absence to participate from their computers at home.

“The team is continuing to train as if our first game is tomorrow,” quarterback Nolan Grooms ’24 said. “A lot of our guys, myself included, have taken the semester off to retain eligibility, but we nevertheless are continuing to workout, study the playbook and stay in playing shape. Coach Reno preaches to us to remain focused on what our goals are, and to continue working on the things that allow us to be successful, no matter if we are in New Haven or back home. It’s a new experience, but we have handled it the best way we could have.”

Nolan Grooms ’24 (Lukas Flippo, Photo Editor)

Looking ahead, two of the three seniors currently enrolled will be taking the spring semester off so as to remain eligible to play football in 2021.

Until the Ivy League Council of Presidents makes a decision as to whether fall sports will be carried out in the spring, Reno has preached one sole focus to his team — to prepare for the fall of 2021.

“I have a few seniors that are enrolled in the fall semester, and they’ll be taking the spring semester off,” Reno said. “In total, all but one of our seniors are taking one of the semesters off, either the fall or spring, so that they remain eligible to play in the fall of 2021. And that’s really our focus. Our focus has been on the fall of 2021, and our team is really aligned in that goal. They’re so excited for the opportunity to prepare for that season.”

Yet, with the Blue and White preparing to bring back all but one of their current seniors next fall, it begs the question — how will recruitment for the class of 2025 be impacted?

Director of Recruiting Jake Pelletier was very optimistic about the plan of action currently in place, which would allow for a full recruitment class of up to 30 commits. 

Currently, the team has 23 committed athletes for the class of 2025, and the Bulldogs plan on taking their usual 28 to 30, Pelletier said. If more players do not take time off next year, the football team could be nearly 125 percent of its usual size in fall 2021.

“Coach Reno did a really good job of sitting all of us down and translating what his vision was for the next three or four years numbers-wise,” Pelletier said. “There was a focus on taking the positions that were more crucial to this year and then spanning out over the next three to four years on what was important to us — who we’re going to lose and who we’re going to bring back depending on their eligibility and postgraduate aspirations. [Reno] did a really good job of doing that so we’re in a really, really good spot right now with the [high school] class of 2021.”

18 total men’s hockey players have tested positive for COVID-19.

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu