Courtesy of Yale Athletics
#12 Quarterback Nolan Grooms ’24
Grooms entered the season as Yale’s backup quarterback. Head coach Tony Reno primarily used the sophomore as a change of pace running quarterback in limited action for the first few weeks of the season. After a strong showing in extended action against Lehigh, Grooms’ talent was hard to ignore. He took over the position at halftime of Yale’s battle against UConn, and earned the starting job in practice the following week.
The South Carolina native is now 3–0 in his first three career starts. Leading up to his start against Brown, he had helped lead the offense to average almost 40 points a game and had shown himself to be a true dual threat player — completing 67.9 percent of his passes and amassing 153 yards on the ground.
“I really pride myself on being a passer first,” Grooms said. “But then, once stuff breaks down, you gotta be able to move a little bit, so I got to be decisive … I got to keep working, gotta keep my eyes downfield as a passer, but as soon as I personally pass the line of scrimmage, it’s time to go.”
#1 Wide Receiver Mason Tipton ’24
While just 15th in the league with 24 receptions, sophomore receiver Mason Tipton’s ’24 509 receiving yards is good for fifth among all qualified receivers in the Ancient Eight. This is evidence of the fact that Tipton has been on the receiving end of many explosive plays since Nolan Grooms took over the reins on offense. In fact, Tipton’s average mark of 21 yards per reception is second in the league only to teammate and co-star Chase Nenad. Tipton arguably had his best performance come against Columbia. On the drive that marked the beginning of the comeback, Grooms went deep on back-to-back plays to Tipton for 30-plus yard gains.
#2 Defensive Lineman Reid Nickerson ’23
This junior defensive lineman has had his fair share of brilliant defensive moments throughout Team 148’s campaign. In the season opener against Holy Cross, after Yale’s defensive line forced a fumble, Nickerson came away with an impressive recovery that prevented the Crusaders from putting any points on the board, capping off a first-quarter shut-out. The Texas native has also registered four sacks on the year, good for sixth most in the Ivy League. Half of those sacks came in a matchup with Lehigh, helping the Bulldogs post their first shutout in nearly four years.
#97 Defensive Lineman Clay Patterson ’24
When looking at the numbers put up by sophomore defensive lineman Clay Patterson ’24 in 2021, one could make a strong case that he is one of the best defenders in the League. Against Lehigh early in the year, the Texas native brought in a game-high nine solo tackles and four sacks, for which he was recognized by the Ivy League with Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“Clay [Patterson] has done an amazing job of growing week in and week out,” Reno said after the Lehigh matchup. “You can see how he’s been playing more freely and more confidently as the season has been progressing. He’s a very athletic interior defensive lineman and has a skillset that’s really tough to handle if you’re an offensive lineman.
Patterson has since gone on to register a total of 11 sacks, six more than the next closest player in the Ancient Eight. He is fourth in the nation with 1.36 sacks per game and has helped lead his defense to have the second highest efficiency in the league.
#26 Linebacker Rodney Thomas II ’22
Thomas’ defining moments of the season came in the Ivy League opener against Cornell. In that contest, Thomas picked off two passes — one of which he would have taken to the house for a touchdown if not for a holding penalty. Thomas also recovered an onside kick attempt and ran it back 48 yards for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach for the Big Red. For his defensive masterclass, The Pennsylvania native earned FCS National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Entering week eight, Thomas was tied with teammate Wande Owens for second in the Ancient Eight and 22nd in the nation with 1.1 passes defended per game.
#25 Linebacker Micah Awordian ’22
Despite missing some time in the middle of the season, Awordian is second on the team in tackles and fifth on the team in tackles for loss. The senior has been a staple of the Yale defense his whole career. Last year, captain John Dean referred to Awordian as “the absolute heartbeat of our whole entire football program.”
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, the Illinois native also came up with the initiative to get all eligible Yale student-athletes and coaches eligible to vote. The Bulldog Ballot Challenge was an enormous success, getting 100 percent of eligible members registered. “That’s just something that I really hold dear — to really make sure that everyone’s having their voice heard and affecting their immediate community as much as they possibly can,” he told the News.
#4 Defensive back Wande Owens ’23
Owens enters the second-to-last week of the season as fourth on the team with 38 tackles. The junior has impressed in his first year as a starter. He is one of only four Elis with an interception so far this season and the Maryland native is also tied for third in the conference with seven pass breakups. Owens has been a critical player in a Bulldogs secondary that has given up the third-fewest passing yards in the conference entering the final two weeks of play.
#7 Wide Receiver Melvin Rouse II ’22
Rouse has worn many hats for the Bulldogs over his career. After graduating high school in North Carolina as a four-time All-State athlete, Rouse entered his first year at Yale as a wide receiver. By the end of the year, he had converted to also playing running back after the Elis’ depth chart thinned. The following year, Rouse took the season’s opening kick-off 100 yards for a touchdown, tying a Yale football record. As a junior, Rouse again showed his versatility, converting to cornerback and playing in all 10 games as a starter. This year, the senior is second in the team in receiving yards and added an 86-yard punt return touchdown, the third longest in team history. The electric return earned Rouse Ivy League special teams player of the week honors, an accolade he downplayed.
“At the end of the day, we’re all winners around here,” Rouse said. “We just care about Ivy League championships and putting banners on the wall. So individual accomplishments and recognition just lets us know we’re doing our job.”
#43 Linebacker Captain John Dean ’22
At the end of the 2019 season, Yale announced that Dean would serve as the team’s next captain. The talented linebacker had to wait until after the pandemic to assume that mantle, but has been a key player for the Bulldogs his entire career. Dean saw playing time as a first-year, recording 15 tackles in nine games. He pushed for more playing time the following year, bringing that tally up to 41 as a rotational player. Reno described Dean, who leads the Bulldogs in tackles this year with over 20 more than the next closest player, as a “classic old-school linebacker.” Dean entered the season’s penultimate week third in the conference with 62 tackles.
#24 Running Back Spencer Alston ’23
Alston entered the year splitting backfield responsibilities with Zane Dudek ’22. With Dudek missing some time in recent weeks, Alston became a feature of the Bulldog offense. The junior had a breakout game against Columbia, when he rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns, earning Ivy League offensive player of the week.
“I’m grateful for the award,” Alston told the News. “It’s a good feeling, obviously, anytime you get recognized, but … we like winning. Things come with winning. So you know, that’s just always the main focus, everything else on the field will take care of itself. We take it one week at a time and obviously the big goal is to put that ring on our finger at the end of the season.”
Alston’s game against Columbia featured a 54-yard touchdown run, one of his six rushing touchdowns of the year. The Virginia native leads the Bulldogs in rushing yards with 321, an average of 4.9 yards an attempt.