Aug. 12, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Three times in the last four years, The Game has helped determine the winner of the Ivy League title. That trend may continue in 2008, as the Ivy League preseason media poll has Yale and Harvard in a dead heat for first. The Bulldogs and Crimson each received eight first-place votes and 124 points. The poll was released Tuesday as part of Ivy League Football Media Day at the Yale Golf Course.
Yale returns eight starters on defense and seven on offense after going 9-1 overall (6-1 Ivy League) last season. That list of returnees includes 10 All-Ivy players, including the 2007 Ivy League MVP -- senior tailback Mike McLeod (New Britain, Conn.). McLeod, an All-American and Payton Award candidate a year ago, is Yale's leader in career rushing yards (3,672) and career rushing touchdowns (48).
The Eli defense is lead by senior linebacker Bobby Abare (Acton, Mass.), the team captain. Abare was an All-Ivy and an All-New England pick last year.
"We've got two guys, one on each side of the ball, who are two of the most prominent players in the league," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "Bobby is vocal; he's a motivator and he will play every down as hard as he can. He just plays with tremendous passion and brings an energy level to our whole team because of the way he plays. Mike will probably be up for every award out there and has handled all the attention very well. He compliments his teammates every chance he gets and works extremely hard."
The most prominent position where the Bulldogs will have a new face is under center, with senior Ryan Fodor (Madison, Conn.) emerging as the No. 1 after the graduation of Matt Polhemus '08. Siedlecki praised Fodor's football IQ and noted that the Bulldogs hope to use his arm to take advantage of teams loading up to stop McLeod.
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"We're going to get opportunities in 1-on-1 with the safeties coming up to stop the run," Siedlecki said. "We've got to take advantage of those opportunities. Ryan has three years under his belt. We spent a lot of time this spring molding the offense to what he is going to bring."
The offensive line features a pair of All-Ivy returnees in senior left tackle Darius Dale (West Seattle, Wash.) (second team) and senior center Ty Davis (Fresno, Calif.) (honorable mention). Senior left guard Stephen Morse (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and senior right tackle Bryan Kana (Bedford, N.H.) are returning starters, with junior Cory Palmer slated to fill the vacant right guard position.
The Bulldogs lost a pair of All-Ivy caliber blockers in fullback Joe Fuccillo '08 and tight end Langston Johnson '08, but they feel that the cast of characters returning at those positions includes enough versatility to compensate.
"[Senior fullback] Shebby Swett (Bow, N.H.) will be similar to the type of player Joe was," Siedlecki said. "We also have four guys -- [junior] John Sheffield (Portland, Ore.), [junior] A.J. Haase (Bonne Terre, Mo.), [sophomore] Chris Blohm (San Francisco, Calif.) and [sophomore] Shane Bannon (Southbury, Conn.) -- who are halfback/fullback/tight end types that can run and catch the ball. They will present a different set of challenges to the teams we face."
Senior Jarrett Drake (Dolton, Ill.), who led the team in yards per reception last year (16.9), leads a receiver corps that also features a pair of returning letter winners in sophomore Jordan Forney (Bloomington, Ind.) and junior Reid Lathan (Santa Barbara, Calif.).
The biggest loss on defense is up front, where four members of the Class of 2008 -- including 280-pound captain Brandt Hollander '08 -- saw significant action in a rotation of seven players. Senior defensive lineman Kyle Hawari (Plano, Texas), an honorable mention All-Ivy pick at defensive end two years ago, heads a group of a half-dozen players expected to see time in the rotation this year. Seniors Joe Hathaway (Clifton, N.J.) and Shane Jones (Tullahoma, Tenn.), and junior Tom McCarthy (Chester, N.J.), are all returning letter winners.
"We won't be as big up front, but we will run very well and rush the passer very well," Siedlecki said.
Senior Brady Hart (State College, Pa.) returns at left end after earning second team All-Ivy status and finishing second on the team in tackles with 67. Junior Justin Oplinger (Summit, N.J.) is the top candidate at right end, with junior Max Newton (Great Meadows, N.J.) and sophomore Sean Williams (Portland, Ore.) in the mix as well.
Joining Abare at linebacker is senior Jay Pilkerton (Nashville, Tenn.), who missed three games with an injury last year but still finished with 29 tackles and tied for the team lead in interceptions (four).
The defensive secondary returns intact, including Bobby Abare's twin brother, safety Larry -- a second team All-Ivy pick in 2006 who missed eight games with an injury last season. Senior free safety Steven Santoro (Airmont, N.Y.) (second team) and junior cornerback Paul Rice (Cleveland Heights, Ohio) (honorable mention) earned All-Ivy honors last year. Senior cornerback Casey Gerald (Dallas, Texas), another returning starter, gives this group of four a combined eight varsity letters. A pair of backups, junior safety Travis Henry (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.) and senior cornerback Brian Stephenson (Lima, Ohio), also have two letters each.
The Bulldogs have a key hole to fill on special teams with the graduation of placekicker Alan Kimball '08. They will ask junior Tom Mante (Westford, Mass.), who was honorable mention All-Ivy as a punter last year, to add placekicking to his duties.
"When we recruited Tom we told him he had the chance to be the No. 1 punter as a freshman," Siedlecki said. "He came in ready to go and did it. Now that he has a chance to be the No. 1 placekicker as well, he has done a tremendous job over the summer working on it. He's that kind of kid. He has a powerful leg, and now he just has to distribute his time in practice."
Sophomore Gio Christodoulou (Miami, Fla.), who had an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 47-yard punt return (both against Harvard) last year, figures to be the top return man. Lathan, Rice and Santoro have all seen action returning kicks as well. Senior Joe Dennison (Centennial, Colo.), a former quarterback, is the top snapper and junior quarterback Rich Scudellari (Saratoga, Calif.) -- whose recovery of a bad snap helped give Yale the chance to beat Penn in overtime last year -- returns to hold while also backing up Fodor.
After scrimmaging at Princeton on Sept. 5, the Bulldogs open the regular season at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field against Georgetown on Sept. 20. They open Ivy League play the following Saturday at Cornell. The season concludes with the 125th edition of the Game on Nov. 22 at Harvard Stadium.
NOTES: Individual game tickets go on sale on yalebulldogs.com on Saturday, Aug. 16 ... Phone orders (203-432-1400) and walk-in orders (Ray Tompkins House, 20 Tower Parkway, New Haven, CT 06511) start Monday, Aug. 18 ... The ticket office hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Thursday (starting Aug. 21) ... For advance ticket orders, the ticket office accepts cash, check and Visa or MasterCard credit/debit cards ... All Yale games will be broadcast on News/Talk 960 WELI with Ron Vaccaro '04 as play-by-play and Carm Cozza as color commentator ... WYBC 1340 AM, the student station, will also cover the Bulldogs ... Six games are scheduled to be on TV, including three on the YES Network (Brown, Columbia and Penn) as the Yale on YES package, two on Vs. (Harvard and Princeton) as the Ivy League Football Game of the Week Presented by TIAA-CREF and one on NESN (Dartmouth) ... All home games will feature live stat updates via GameTracker on yalebulldogs.com.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity