Bulldogs Ready for 2003 Season

Sept. 4, 2003

Defensive Line A talented foursome of two ends and a pair of interior linemen have graduated, but the Elis still have impact potential coming up. Senior Bryant Dieffenbacher was a starter at tackle with great potential before suffering a season-ending leg injury in week No. 2. Classmate Tim Barrett also saw time at tackle but was injured for most of the second half of the season. Another senior tackle, Brady Clegg (9-0-9) got plenty of action last fall and should compete for a starting spot. Junior Willie Cruz (2-3-5) saw action in five varsity games last fall and should contribute.

Linebackers The top two tacklers from last season return for the 2003 campaign. Senior Ken Estrera, a second team All-Ivy player (52-28-80), and junior Ben Breunig (43-31-74) give Yale one of the top linebacker tandems in the league. Estrera's mark of 9.5 tackles for loss in 2002 is tops among returning defenders. Junior Cole Harris (4-0-4) could also vie for increased playing time.

Defensive Backs There are five starters returning this fall. Senior Barton Simmons, a second team All-Ivy safety (55 total tackles), was fourth on the team with 35 solo stops and was one of five Elis with one interception. His combination of size and speed on defense is rare in the league. Fellow veterans Greg Owens (27-13-40) and Steve Ehikian (8-2-10), who missed the first half of 2002 with a leg injury, have made a name for themselves with big plays. Juniors Fred Jelks (8-4-12) and James Beck (11-0-11) return after a full year on the first team.

Defensive End The defensive end positions have the most holes to fill. Both All-Ivy seniors graduated and another end was lost to injury. Senior Tate Rich, who missed last fall with an injury, has made the switch from linebacker to end, and sophomore Josh Flaster has converted from the defensive line. Junior Donnie Smith (7-0-7) is the only returning player with significant experience at defensive end. Sophomore Brandon Dyches, after spending a season learning the system, looks to make an impact with the varsity squad.

Offense Offensive Line The Bulldogs lose four offensive linemen to graduation, but have a strong corps of returning athletes, four of whom started games last fall. Senior Will Conroy has seen significant playing time at both the center and guard positions, and classmate Jake Kohl brings a wealth of experience to the tackle position. Fellow senior Walter Badgett looks to return from an injury sustained late last season. Junior Rory Hennessey, the most athletic member of the group, has played regularly since his arrival in New Haven and is one of the top linemen in the conference. Sophomore Michael McDaniel looks to rebound from an injury that forced him to miss the season's final three games.

Running Back The Bulldogs have their top three rushers from 2002 back. Junior and team MVP Robert Carr rushed for 1,083 yards last year, averaging 4.6 per carry. Sophomore David Knox brings momentum gained from late-season success into 2003. Knox averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 58 attempts. Senior Pat Bydume figures to see his share of touches as well after compiling 240 yards on 40 carries (6.0) last fall.

Fullback The Elis are without their top two fullbacks from last season, but junior Alex Faherty was projected to start until a pre-season injury forced him to miss the entire 2002 campaign. Faherty is an explosive player who is a credible threat to run the ball. Fellow junior Tyson Crawford saw limited action at fullback in 2002, but was a key member of the Bulldogs' special teams. Senior Derek Caracciola will also see some time at fullback this spring, in addition to his contributions at tight end.

Quarterback Both signal-callers return, with senior Alvin Cowan faster and stronger than he was last spring. He missed the season's final eight games due to an injury he suffered on the second play from scrimmage against Cornell in the second week. Cowan set the modern record for touchdowns responsible for in a single game with six against San Diego in his debut as a starter, throwing and rushing for three scores each. Cowan's footwork and arm strength make him one of the league's most dangerous offensive weapons. With Cowan out for the majority of last season, the quarterbacking duties belonged to Jeff Mroz, who will compete with Cowan for the starting role this season. Mroz, a junior, is one of the league's top pocket passers. He threw 14 touchdown passes against only six interceptions in 244 attempts in 2002, amassing 1,731 yards in the air.

Wide Receiver The Bulldogs have nearly their entire receiving corps back. Junior Ralph Plumb hauled in 55 receptions for 592 yards, team-highs in both categories. Plumb is one of the toughest wide-outs in the league. Senior Ron Benigno's six touchdown catches were a team best. Benigno and classmate P.J. Collins combine to form one of the speediest tandems in the Ancient Eight. Collins missed half of last season due to injury, but had nine catches for 200 yards, including a team-long 66-yard reception. Sophomore Chandler Henley broke into the rotation in the middle of the season and contributed five receptions, including several drive-saving grabs.

Tight End The Elis have all three tight ends back for their senior campaigns. Senior Nate Lawrie tied the school record for receptions (41) by a tight end and was second on the team in yards (505) in 2002. Lawrie's classmate, Derek Caracciola, caught four passes last year and is an athletic blocker. Chad Almy is a strong blocker and a key special teams performer.

Special Teams Placekicking: John Troost, an unknown until last fall, tied an NCAA record by connecting on all 33 PATs. He made four of his seven field-goal attempts and was second on the team with 45 points. He handled all field-goal kicking chores, but junior Andrew Sullivan was the kickoff man and helped the Elis lead the Ivy League in kickoff coverage. Punting: Junior Ryan Allen (33.6) struggled in his first three games as the starter in 2002 and gave way to sophomore Chandler Henley (31.2) before the wide receiver suffered a leg injury. Allen returned for the final two games and averaged 35.2 yards on 17 punts.

Punt Returns: Four different Bulldogs returned punts last year and they are all back, including junior receiver Ralph Plumb, who led the team with 15 for 94 yards and a 6.3 average. Defensive back Barton Simmons and receiver P.J. Collins also have potential.

Kickoff Returns: Yale led the Ivy League in kick returns because David Knox may have been the most talented freshman offensive player in the league. Knox took his first kick 96 yards for a TD against Pennsylvania and then led the league with a 35.8 average. Junior back Robert Carr (19.6) was steady as the other deep man last year.

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