November 13, 2009

Red, White and Blue Bulldog

by Charles Moore ‘10

The slogan “For God, For Country and For Yale” can be found hanging in countless Yale dorm rooms. The names of Bulldogs that fought in war are etched into the walls of the Woolsey Rotunda. But in a day and age when military drafts are a thing of the past and world wars seem unlikely, few answer that call to serve country. Senior Tim Handlon has not forgotten that call.

Handlon, known to his friends and teammates as Bear, wants to join Navy SEALs, majors in political science, and skates around Ingalls Rink as “Captain Freedom” during intermission at Yale hockey games. Handlon’s fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, even hosts the Red, White and Blue party once a year. So it came as no surprise to his teammates when Handlon approached them last year with the idea of sending care packages to the troops in Afghanistan.

“I figured that we have so many guys on the football team, we could definitely raise some money,” says Handlon. “I think it is also important to do things as a team and give back to the community. Everyone seemed to agree because they were really excited about doing it.”
Handlon got in contact with his neighbor Chris Kerr, a member of Seal Team Four of The United States Navy Seals, who was stationed in Afghanistan alongside the Seal Delivery Vehicle Team-2 and TF-10 Green Berets. Kerr attended the same high school as Handlon and married the sister of one of Handlon’s childhood friends.

“The idea was to try to bring a little bit of home to them in such a foreign place,” says Handlon. “I thought sending the care packages would be a good way to show our appreciation for what they do for us. Those guys are thousands of miles from their loved ones and putting their lives on the line for us. The care packages were just a small gesture to show that we haven’t forgotten them.”

After setting a mental goal of trying to raise about $300 for the troops, Handlon and the Bulldogs went out to find the funds. Between individual donations, donors that offered to match the football teams’ funds and a party at Handlon’s fraternity to support the troops, the team ended up raising more than $2,000. They immediately went out to purchase items such as DVDs, magazines, beef jerky, letters, toiletries, candy, snacks and more.

“We wanted to try to bring a little bit of home to them in such a foreign place,” says Handlon.

With Afghanistan almost 7,000 miles away from the east coast and military tours that can last over a year, home is something that very quickly becomes a distant memory, according to Kerr.

“Afghanistan is our playground, but it is hard to be away over the holidays,” says Kerr. “Tim and the Yale football team made it feel like early Christmas for us, and we were able to forget, for that hour, where we were.”
The troops were so appreciative that they took a few minutes to write Handlon and the team a thank you note, a gesture which Handlon says he thinks about every day.
“Getting that thank you note meant a lot to us,” says Handlon. “It gave me a chill the first time I read it because they had taken time to thank us in the midst of being in a warzone. I have it pinned up above my desk to look at when I need some motivation.”

“Even though the gifts were great, most of all we are thankful that such a large group of men appreciate and support what we do,” says Kerr. “I still see Yale football shirts on the guys when I pass through the locker room.”

Before Handlon was making tackles at the Yale Bowl and sending packages to Afghanistan, he was growing up in the small town of Valparaiso, Ind., where he played football for Valparaiso High School and ran a small lawn mowing business during the summers. The business started out as a door-to-door affair in sixth grade, then grew to 15 regulars. According to Handlon, it was the perfect summer job.

“The lawn mowing business was great because it was blue-collar work that allowed me the flexibility to train for football,” says Handlon. “Growing up in Valpo was awesome. It wasn’t a huge town and it’s a lot more laid-back than the Northeast. Football was pretty big there. The program has a lot of tradition and we were pretty serious about wearing the green and white.”

As a linebacker who is 6’2” and 226 pounds, it is hard to imagine Handlon was ever undersized, but that’s exactly what he was at the start of high school. Nevertheless, he dreamed of playing college football.

“I was really undersized as a freshman and sophomore, so having that goal of playing in college really motivated me to outwork everyone else,” says Handlon. “I always had a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong.”

Growing certainly helped Handlon in his goal to play college football, but so did being named first-team all state and the Old Spice Indiana Player of the Year while racking up 85 tackles his senior year. When it came time to choose a college, Handlon already had his heart set on Yale. Handlon’s brother Matt Handlon’06 was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs at defensive back.

“Yale seemed like the perfect fit for me because everyone seemed so down-to-earth,” says Handlon. “Coming from the Midwest, that’s what I needed. Also, my brother had played here so I became a pretty avid Bulldog fan in high school.”

Handlon spent his freshman season as a defensive backup, but quickly started working his way into the rotation sophomore year, appearing in all 10 games. Junior year, Handlon recorded 17 tackles and an interception to earn his second varsity letter. This year, he already has 45 tackles and two interceptions – one of which was, according to teammate Larry Abare, an acrobatic feat.
“Bear’s interception against Cornell this year was just an amazing display of athleticism, and I’m not sure too many linebackers could have made a grab like that,” says Abare. “But that’s Bear for you. He is your consummate football player. By that I mean he is a tough kid who is almost always playing hurt, but he doesn’t let that faze him. He loves playing the game and it shows out there with his nose for the football.”

With less than one year left of college, Handlon’s thoughts are turning to life after Yale. Last summer, Handlon worked in New York for a big consulting firm. While he enjoyed his time in New York, the slower pace of the Midwest is more his style.

“The ideal set-up down the road would be to get a good job in the Midwest and coach high school football on the side,” says Handlon. “I’m a simple guy, so I don’t need a whole lot to keep me happy.”

But before Handlon can settle down, he has a duty to defend his country. It wasn’t coincidence that Handlon picked the SEALs to send care packages to. After graduating, Handlon intends to enter SEAL training.

“I want to join the SEALS because I want to stand with the best while serving my country,” says Handlon. “If you’ve ever been around a SEAL, you know these guys are something special. The training they go through to earn that name is unbelievable. Usually, only about 20 percent of the men who enter training make it through.”
For now though Handlon has a football season to finish out, a senior thesis to write in the spring, and a few more care packages to send overseas.

“We’re definitely doing it again this year,” says Handlon. “The biggest thing I learned from last year is the right time to show up at the post office with six 50-pound boxes. This year, we’ll at least get that right.”