French Audible

By Tim Bennett, Yale Assistant Sports Publicity Director

Late last fall, it looked like former Yale quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 was ready to begin a career as a commercial real estate broker in Boston. He had been serving as the quarterback coach at his old high school on Cape Cod so football wasn’t completely out of his system, but when Jones Lang LaSalle offered him a job that would start in January, it seemed like the right thing to do. A message he received in his Facebook account a few days later changed that.

“It read `Are you interested in playing football in France?’ At first I thought it was a complete joke that one of my friends was playing on me, but I responded with some follow up questions and did some research on the league,” Polhemus said. “After talking it over with my family, I realized that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was the perfect time in my life to do it.”

So Polhemus, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs to a share of the 2006 Ivy League title, packed his bags, got some cleats from Jeff Torre of the Yale equipment staff and flew to Paris on Nov.18. His new team was Les Cougars of Saint Ouen L’amone, a small town located about 40 minutes outside of Paris. The league was made up of predominantly French players, but each team was allowed two Americans. Joining Polhemus on Les Cougars was Matt Rhodes, who played offensive guard at Georgia Tech.

“The language barrier was a problem at first, as I knew ZERO French when I arrived,” Polhemus said. “I felt like I was in a 24-hour French class. However, being engulfed in a language and a culture does help you learn much faster, and by the end, I was able to carry on a low-level `frenglish’ conversation with my French friends.”

Les Cougars Coach Xavier Mas learned of Polhemus after spending the week leading up to the 2007 Yale-Harvard game with the Crimson coaching staff. Scott Larkee, Harvard’s defensive coordinator, had played for Mas.

Les Cougars played a 10-game schedule, but there was a week off between each game, so Polhemus was able to travel throughout Europe, including trips to Dublin, Barcelona, Munich, Amsterdam, Athens, Croatia and Southern France.

“Throughout my stay, my French teammates would try and `culture’ us as much as possible,” Polhemus said. “Guys would have me over to their house to have a traditional French meal with their families, and we would have team parties or meals often.”

The players on the team ranged in age from the youngest, 20, to the oldest, 36. Many were French college students, while others had full-time jobs, including a fireman, a 300-pound French horn player in the French Symphony, a watch salesman and a custom t-shirt designer.

“It was great to see all these different guys come together with two recent American college graduates to create a real team,” Polhemus said. “The team was full of great guys, who I still keep in touch with and consider close friends.”

Les Cougars had struggled in recent years, but Polhemus and Rhodes helped the team to a more successful season.

“There was a team atmosphere there that they said they hadn’t experienced in the past, and it yielded some come-from-behind wins that highlighted many of these guys’ careers,” said Polhemus, who played quarterback and also saw time at strong safety. “At the end of the year, we didn’t have as many wins as I would have liked, but many of guys thanked Matt and me for their most memorable season ever. It felt great to be a part of another team and especially one as unique as this.”

Polhemus has returned to the United States and is currently working for Jones Lang LaSalle in New York doing commercial real estate brokerage.