Jan. 24, 2009
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Saturday night's annual Yale football team banquet in Commons signified a unique moment for the historic program. In addition to saluting the 37 members of the Class of 2009, the event was also an opportunity to mark the transition in the role of Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, as retiring head coach Jack Siedlecki passed the reins to Tom Williams.
Siedlecki emceed the event, as he has done throughout his 12 years as head coach. He began by thanking all those in the crowd of several hundred who had contributed to the team's success. Members of the support staff, including equipment managers, trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, team doctors, student managers, administrative assistants, radio broadcasters, newspaper reporters and sports information staff all received rounds of applause.
Siedlecki then turned his attention to the seniors, who were seated at the dais in front of the crowd and represented the largest senior class of Siedlecki's tenure.
"These 37 seniors all stuck with us," Siedlecki said. "They played some great football and won a lot of games."
Senior linebacker Bobby Abare, the 2008 team captain, then had the chance to address the crowd.
"In the end success is not measured in wins and losses, but in all areas of life," Abare said. "When the game is over and we are left to move on to something new, something bigger than ourselves, how do we handle that? What lessons will we take from this game, and being a Yale man? How do we handle ourselves? How do we adjust to certain situations? Having played this wonderful game at some of the highest levels of competition, we are forever grateful. Because we know in that situation where things may not be going right, where we struggle, we can draw back on these times and know we're going to be successful in whatever we set out to do."
The crowd then gave the seniors a standing ovation, and each one was given the chance to speak and publicly thank the coaches and the program's many supporters. Senior cornerback Casey Gerald, a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, was the last to speak before turning the microphone back to Abare. Gerald recalled a quote from Lou Holtz at the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame Awards Dinner last December, where Gerald was a finalist for the Draddy Trophy as the top scholar-athlete in college football.
"Life is not about being successful, but rather about being significant," Gerald recalled Holtz saying. "That's why we're all blessed to be part of this program ... When the final line on us is written, it will read that we were significant, that we helped the people around us achieve success."
Abare then publicly thanked Siedlecki for his service to Yale football.
"When I think of Jack Siedlecki, two terms come to my mind," Abare said. "Hard work and industriousness. People don't understand how much effort the coaches put in day-in and day-out. Coach Siedlecki has been a great influence on people and great in helping people out with life beyond football. He wants the best for Yale football."
The crowd then gave Siedlecki a standing ovation. He returned to the microphone to recognize Yale's Ivy League and national award winners and announce the team awards (listed below). He also made a presentation to the seniors, remarking on the fact that so many of them stuck with the team through all four years. The 23 wins Yale has over the last three seasons are the most since the Bulldogs won 25 from 1979 through 1981, and the Class of 2009 played a major role in that statistic along with the team's 2006 Ivy League title.
"This group was extremely significant in that 2006 Ivy League championship season," he said. "There are 37 guys, which is incredible. It shows what they think of each other and what they think of this program."
The seniors then received another ovation, and Director of Athletics Tom Beckett took the microphone to recognize them as well. Beckett then presented a football to Siedlecki that listed Siedlecki's accomplishments as Yale coach, including 70 wins and a pair of Ivy League titles. Beckett also presented Siedlecki a certificate of appreciation, noting that Siedlecki had helped bring "362 of our nation's best and brightest" to Yale in his tenure.
Beckett added that, with Siedlecki and legendary former head coach Carm Cozza still working for Yale Athletics in varying capacities, the department features two coaches who have combined for 249 of Yale's 853 wins.
Beckett then introduced Williams, who had been announced as Yale's 33rd head coach on Jan. 7. Beckett noted Williams' background at Stanford, where he played for Bill Walsh, and the fact that Williams helped coach Washington to a Rose Bowl win and also coached in the NFL.
"Tom Williams is an extraordinary person, and he loves the game of football," Beckett said. "More importantly, he loves the men that love the game of football that also embrace the idea of challenging themselves in the classroom."
Williams then had his chance to speak, and he began by acknowledging the senior class. He also addressed the crowd as a whole.
"I look forward to earning your trust and respect as a caretaker of this program and these young men."
Turning the page to next season, Williams introduced junior Paul Rice, who was elected 2009 captain by a team vote Friday. Williams congratulated the seniors again and the crowd gave the Class of 2009 one last ovation before ending the night's festivities.
2008 Season Yale Football Team Awards
Ted Blair Award
Given to the most valuable player on the varsity team in memory of Edwin Foster (Ted) Blair '24.
LB Bobby Abare '09 (Acton, Mass.)
Jordan Olivar Award
Given to that senior, other than the captain, who, through his devotion to Yale football, has earned the highest respect of his teammates.
CB Casey Gerald '09 (Dallas, Texas)
Woody Knapp Memorial Trophy
Given to that outstanding member of the football team who best typifies the cheerful disposition, leadership qualities, and unselfish devotion to others which characterized Woody's life and accomplishments at Yale.
LB Jay Pilkerton '09 (Nashville, Tenn.)
Robert Gardner Anderson Award
Given to the player who best exemplifies Bob's interest in the sport by combination of skill, spirit and pride in accomplishment.
DE Brady Hart `09 (State College, Pa.)
Norman S. Hall Memorial Trophy
Given to an individual for outstanding service to Yale football, in memory of Norman Hall '30.
FB Shebby Swett '09 (Bow, N.H.)
Charles Loftus Award
Given to the most valuable freshman.
DB Drew Baldwin '12 (Alexandria, Va.)
Chester J. LaRoche Award
Given to that senior who, by his character, academic talents and concern for others, did the most for Yale.
DB Casey Gerald '09 (Dallas, Texas)
Ledyard Mitchell Award
Awarded for proficiency in kicking.
P/K Tom Mante `10 (Westford, Mass.)
Jim Keppel Award
(Offensive Back of the Year)
Given to the offensive back who best exhibited Jim's work ethic, pride and dedication to Yale Football, as well as his ability to enrich the lives of his friends and teammates.
TB Mike McLeod '09 (New Britain, Conn.)
Ryan LoProto Award
(Defensive Back of the Year)
Awarded to the player on the Yale Football Team who best exemplifies Ryan's passion and competitive spirit, skill in the defensive secondary, and devotion to teammates.
SS Larry Abare '09 (Acton, Mass.)
FS Steven Santoro '09 (Airmont, N.Y.)
Ted Turner Award
(Offensive Lineman of the Year)
OL Darius Dale `09 (Seattle, Wash.)
Specialist of the Year
P/K Tom Mante `10 (Westford, Mass.)
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity