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Season Opens Saturday at Lehigh

Jack Warhola image
Jack Warhola image



Team 145 Begins With Non-League Challenge



NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The 145th season of Yale Football kicks off Saturday at Bethlehem, Pa., as the Bulldogs take on Lehigh (0-2, 0-0 Patriot) at Goodman Stadium. The 12:30 start airs live on the Patriot League Network (free) and on SE2 TV in Pennsylvania, while the action can be heard on WELI Radio (AM-960) as well as iHeart radio.

Yale, which took the first dozen meetings, leads the series with Lehigh 17-7. The first meeting was in 1890, while the initial contest at Bethlehem came 105 years later. The Bulldogs, who have taken two of the last three, are 4-3 at Lehigh and 13-4 at New Haven.

Yale, which had its first practice on Aug. 18, had a Sept. 1 scrimmage at Brown between a pair of Blue-White scrimmages – one in the Bowl and another on Clint Frank Field - to prepare for the season opener. There are 41 varsity lettermen, including seven All-Ivy players, returning to a Yale team that is coming off a win over Harvard.

Lehigh began 0-2 last year and then won nine straight to win a league title. It opened 2017 against No. 6 Villanova at Bethlehem and fell 38-35. The Mountain Hawks, the defending Patriot League champions who fell last week at Monmouth, have seven pre-season All-Patriot League picks including 2016 All-American receiver Troy Pelletier, the school's career receptions king. QB Brad Mayes threw for 400 yards and four TDs against the Wildcats two weeks ago. Lehigh claimed its league-leading 11th Patriot League football title in 2016, its first since 2011, and returned to the FCS playoffs for the first time in five seasons. The Mountain Hawks finished in the top 10 nationally in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense while ending the year ranked among the top 25 teams as well as the ECAC Team of the Year.

Yale and Lehigh combined for 98 points, one shy of the Yale Bowl record, in a 63-35 win by the visitors. Brad Mayes completed 33 of 46 passes for a Bowl and school-record 524 yards and six touchdowns as Lehigh jumped out to leads of 14-0 and 35-7. Quarterback Tre Moore, making the first start of his Yale career, notched his first collegiate scoring run and pass while junior defensive back Jason Alessi returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown to help the Bulldogs score three straight times to cut the margin to 35-28.

The Elis are 122-19-2 (.860) overall in season lid lifters, including a streak of nine straight wins that came to an end last fall against Colgate. The Bulldogs won their first 59 season openers before a scoreless tie with Bates in 1932. The first loss came two years later at the hands of Columbia.

Seven members of the 2017 team have earned all-league honors:
CB Spencer Rymiszewski '17 – First-Team 2015 *
DT Copache Tyler '17 – First-Team 2015 *
DB Jason Alessi '18 - Second-Team 2016
OL Karl Marback '18 - HM 2016
LB Matthew Oplinger '18 – HM 2015, 16
DE Kyle Mullen '19 - HM 2016
RB Alan Lamar '20 - Second-Team 2016      

*missed 2016 season and is a senior this fall

Spencer Rymiszewski, who was voted captain by his teammates despite missing last season, has started all 26 games (129 tackles, 6 interceptions) in the defensive backfield that he's been available for. He earned freshman MVP honors in 2013 and was team MVP and a first-team All-Ivy pick in 2015. An injury slowed him in 2014, and he elected to have surgery over competing in 2016. His busiest day was 11 solos and one interception vs. Dartmouth in 2014.

He's the only player in school history to return two punts for TDs of 80 yards or more. Jason Alessi, the dual-sport standout who has been a starter on defense for most of his career, has 123 career tackles and four interceptions over 28 games, while his 348 career punt return yards are 6th best at Yale. His work as a midfielder on the lacrosse team has helped the defending Ivy champs win three straight league tournament titles.

In addition to their talk about assignments, blocks and plays on the Yale offensive line, there's likely to be some chatter related to biology. Seniors Jon Bezney, Karl Marback and Anders Huizenga are all science guys.

BEZNEY, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major, worked in Yale's Bindra Laboratory this summer in the department of therapeutic radiology. The laboratory focuses on novel therapeutics for brain cancer and specifically focuses on the biology of DNA repair. His project aimed to distinguish how certain drugs react in the presence and absence of key proteins involved in DNA repair, hoping to translate the findings into a clinical setting. Bezney, a tackle who missed last year with an injury, plans to attend medical school and become a physician.

HUIZENGA, a guard, is a biomedical engineering major who spent 8 weeks last summer in the legal department at Mercy Health, a Catholic non-profit hospital system in Ohio. He also spent 4 weeks interning for The Cooper Law Group in Colorado Springs, Colo. Huizenga plans to intern with the firm again next year and then go to law school.

MARBACK, a biomedical engineering major and the team's rocket scientist, has been sending devices into space as part of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA). He helped build a rocket (sophomore year) that climbed to 10,000 feet and collected microbes from the air to learn more about what is living in the atmosphere. Marback moved from the defense as a sophomore and then started every game at center last year.

Bliksem, in South Africa, is slang for hitting, which is what Dieter Eiselen does very well on the Yale offensive line. The South African native, who played rugby from ages 7 to 16 before switching to Olympic weightlifting, was fascinated by the American gridiron and wanted to find a way to play after graduating from his local high school. He attended a football camp in Washington, D.C., and immediately garnered interest from colleges. He got in as a PG at Choate Rosemary Hall and then attended the Yale camp to get ready for his first season of football. Eiselen, who worked his way into the starting lineup as a rookie last fall, is the starter at guard this fall.
Sterling Strother, who earned a starting job at tackle last fall as a newcomer, is now Yale's center, playing the position for the first time. He learned to snap while staying at QB Kurt Rawlings' house the summer before their first season in New Haven. Rawlings' father is a high school football coach. Strother, who is considering a major in psychology, became a starter early in the 2016 campaign.

The name may remind you of baseball (gloves), and his brother his is a college baseball player, but Kurt Rawlings is all about the gridiron, having grown into the game as the son of a high school football coach. The sophomore from Bel Air, Md., got the last few starts of 2016, including a win at Harvard, and has been leading the first unit all pre-season camp. He has five TD passes in seven career games played.

The current roster includes the following:

87 High School football captains
53 High School captains of an additional sport
61 National Honor Society members
7 High School Class Presidents
3 High School Student Body Presidents
3 High School Valedictorians
2 High School Salutatorians

Yale players were surveyed about their teammates:

Most humorous: OL Anders Huizenga
Most intelligent: OL Jon Bezney
Most vocal leader (besides the captain): LB Matt Oplinger
Most interesting extracurricular activity: OL Karl Marback (rocket building)
Best singer: RB Kamsi Nwangwu
Strongest pound-for-pound: LB Matt Oplinger
Most involved in community outreach: QB Rafe Chapple

The 2017 Yale football team represents 24 states and 3 countries… California (14) has the most Bulldogs… Andrew Grinde is the first player from Montana since Greg Magee in 1998… Cameron Warfield is the first player from Washington, D.C. since John Kemp in 1990… Ross Drwal is the first player from Nebraska since Christopher Beutler in 1965… The heaviest player on the team is sophomore offensive lineman Sterling Strother at 310 pounds… The tallest player is freshman offensive lineman Grant Negali at 6-8… The Yale OL averages 6-4 and 280 pounds… The school with the most (6) players is Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn.

Sam Tuckerman and Jack Westafer did a 6-week, intensive Spanish immersion program through IES Madrid in order to test out of Yale's language requirement. They took two classes: a Spanish language course taught at El Colegio Mayor Universidad Guadalupe, and an art history class at the Prado Museum. Both tremendously improved their Spanish speaking skills and passed an exam to test out of remaining Spanish classes... Former Yale offensive lineman Cody Arledge, who is now a senior working with the team's football operations, spent part of last summer interning with the SMU Mustangs' football office.

There are three JV games slated for 1 p.m. at home this fall: Sept. 24 (Milford Academy); Oct. 15 (Brown) and Nov. 17 (Harvard).

The Cornell game is Youth Day at the Bowl… Health, fitness and sustainability is the focus for Oct. 14 with Holy Cross… Columbia is Hero's day… The Friday night Brown contest is Yale Employee and Community Game… Harvard is "Fill the Bowl" with the Connecticut Food Bank.

Next Saturday is the first birthday of Walter (a.k.a. Handsome Dan XVIII), who began his reign as The Yale Bulldog last November. The University has planned a special birthday celebration the day before the game on campus. The Yale Band will pay tribute to Walter on his official birth date at halftime of the Cornell game. There will also be a "passing of the leash" ceremony involving former mascot caretaker Chris Getman '64 and current keeper of the Dan Kevin Discepolo '09.


filed by Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD/Sports Publicity Director