The 132nd season of Yale football has much promise with 36 returning lettermen, including 19 starters, and a record-breaking quarterback. Yale, which tied for second with a 4-3 mark (6-4 overall) in Ivy play last fall, broke or tied 43 different individual and team offensive records. In fact, Yale put 71 points on the board against the two nationally ranked teams it faced in 2003 - I-AA runner-up Colgate and undefeated Penn. The Elis, who had 11 All-Ivy selections and the league rookie of the year, LG Ed McCarthy, led the Ivies in points (35.4), passing (307.3) and total offense (479.7) and ranked among the top 10 in the country in all three categories. On the defensive side, Yale returns regulars at all 11 positions and could become one of the top defensive units in the Ancient Eight. The Elis scored 43 touchdowns - two shy of the school record set by the 1968 squad - and made enormous edits on the Yale record books. Head coach Jack Siedlecki's offense outscored opponents by 70 points, including 36 in the fourth quarter, while turning the ball over a nation-fewest (I-A or I-AA) 11 times in 10 games. Included among the 36 returning lettermen and 17 returning starters are five players from the class of 2004, including quarterback Alvin Cowan, who for various reasons missed a season and return this fall for their final campaign. Here is a look at the 2004 Bulldogs by position.
Backfield Only five players had rushing attempts in 2003, and all but one of those players is back in the fold. Senior second team All-Ivy runner Robert Carr (170-800, 4.7, 10 TD), currently the fifth-most prolific rusher in Yale history, has averaged 941 yards and 10 touchdowns his last two years. Junior David Knox (84-430, 5.1, 3), who was slowed by injuries last season, adds to what is arguably the best running back combination in the Ancient Eight. Knox could be used as a fullback, which would get the two top backs in the game at the same time. Sophomore tailback Jordan Spence (10-31, 3.1, 0) got most of his action as a rookie in the Holy Cross game and adds depth to the backfield. Senior Alex Faherty, who did not have a rushing attempt but led all running backs with nine catches, was the starting fullback. He was backed up by senior Tyson Crawford (1 catch). In addition, the Elis will look at junior Drew Palin, also a linebacker, during spring ball.
Quarterback For the second straight fall, the Bulldogs have a pair of proven leaders lining up behind center. Senior Alvin Cowan (381-227-7, 22 TD), a finalist for the 2003 Walter Payton Award as I-AA's top offensive player and the 2003 Gold Helmet winner for the top I-AA player in New England, broke 16 school offensive records and established a new Ivy standard for total offense. He either owns or is about to own every Yale offensive record involving quarterbacks. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound signal-caller can be effective both on the ground and in the air. Senior Jeff Mroz, more of a pocket passer whose only attempt last fall went for a 26-yard TD, had an excellent sophomore campaign (14 TDs and 1,731 yards) after Cowan was injured in game No. 2.
Receivers Senior Ralph Plumb (59-813, 13.8, 7 TD), with another great season, could break the all-time school receiving record. Plumb, who also completed a pair of passes, needs 66 grabs to break the school record held by current San Francisco 49er tight end Eric Johnson '01. Junior Chandler Henley (19-315, 16.6, 3 TD) made the most significant catch of the 2003 season when he hauled in a scoring toss as time expired to help tie Princeton and send the game to OT. Junior William Blodgett and sophomores Ashley Wright, Chris Denny-Brown and D.J. Shooter -- none of whom have a varsity catch -- could rise from the pack during spring ball and summer camp to earn playing time.
Tight Ends There is a good chance senior Alex Faherty (9-78, 1 TD) will move from fullback to tight end. He was primarily a pass-catcher last season but could increase his route running with the positional move. Classmate Ted Stem, looking for his first varsity catch, is also a candidate at this spot.
Offensive Line Senior tackle Rory Hennessey, a unanimous first team All-Ivy pick, and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Ed McCarthy received much attention last fall, but there is plenty of talent elsewhere on the line despite the loss of Jake Kohl, also a first-team selection in 2003. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Hennessey, who was a third team All-American as well, is a pro prospect. McCarthy, a 6-foot-4, 279-pound sophomore who became just the second player in Yale football to earn Ivy rookie honors, will move over to center this fall to fill the gap created by the graduation of Will Conroy. Senior Anthony Bellino (6-2, 275) and junior Brice Wilkinson (6-3, 286) are both guards who have plenty of experience in the trenches and are likely to take starting jobs. Junior tackle Michael G. McDaniel (6-4, 318) missed all of last year with a leg injury but was a starter his rookie campaign.
Defensive Ends Yale returns two solid players who have started and gained quality playing time. Senior Don Smith (27-22-49, 2.5 sacks) is the lone starting returnee at end, but junior Brandon Dyches (17-10-27, 4.0) led the Bulldogs in sacks. Sophomores Michael McGinty and Brandon Etheridge showed great potential against Harvard.
Defensive Linemen All three starters return as well as six players who saw time in each game. Seniors Bryant Dieffenbacher (11-15-26, 0.5) and Willie Cruz (10-12-22, 0.5) anchor the interior of the defensive line. Dieffenbacher was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection last fall. Junior Andrew Ralph (13-15-28, 1.5) had five tackles against both Princeton and Harvard and has the potential to be an all-league honoree this season. Seniors Tim Barrett (9-8-17, 1.0) and Nick Campbell (8-4-12) also figure to see substantial playing time. Junior Jonas Maciunas (1-1-2) brings experienced depth to the position. In addition, Brett Crandall returns after a two-year Mormon mission and could make an immediate impact. Overall, this unit, which could be considered a strength, will be bigger, faster and more experienced.
Linebackers Four seniors give Yale one of the most experienced linebacker corps in the league. Ken Estrera (31-37-68) was a second team All-Ivy selection the last two years. Ben Breunig (35-36-71, 1.0) led the squad in tackles. Seniors Adam Brown (18-12-30, 1.0) and Cole Harris (22-10-32, 2.0) each competed in all 10 games last season, while classmate Lee Driftmier should also be a factor for the varsity in rounding out the most talented and deep of Yale's defensive positions.
Secondary The return of All-Ivy safety Barton Simmons, who missed the entire 2003 season due to injury, will bolster the Yale secondary. Simmons was third on the team in tackles in 2002 (35-20-55), and is one of the top pass defenders in the league. Fellow seniors Fred Jelks and James Beck have been starters. Jelks led the Bulldogs with four interceptions last fall, including one return for a touchdown, while Beck is one of fastest players on the squad. Junior Matt Handlon led all Elis with 39 solo tackles during his sophomore season. Classmates Andrew Butler (21-11-32) and Mike Holben (4-9-13) provide experienced depth to the defensive back corps, which should have added confidence.
Special Teams Senior Ryan Allen had only one punt last year, but finished the 2002 campaign as the starter (33.6 avg.). He could re-assume that role this fall. Senior Andrew Sullivan returns with placekicking experience and could handle kickoff duties for the third consecutive year. With John Troost (second team All-Ivy, third I -AA in field goals in 2003) on a leave of absence for personal reasons, there will be a battle for the other placekicking duties between Allen, Sullivan, senior Brian Christiansen and a rookie.
compiled by the Yale Sports Publicity Department