August 8, 2006

Media Day Offers Early Preview of `06

Aug. 8, 2006

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Yale's players do not officially report back to campus until Aug. 21, but the first signs of football season came at the Yale Golf Course Tuesday morning. The eight Ivy League coaches gathered for the league's annual media day, which included the release of the preseason media poll. The Bulldogs were one of four teams to earn first-place votes (two) and were picked for fifth place overall with 77 points.

"Everybody looks at who's got the starting quarterback returning," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. He noted that Yale's starting quarterback from last year - Jeff Mroz '05 - is now pursuing an NFL career.

Harvard, the team that was picked to finish first (116 points, 9 first-place votes), features the leading returning passer in the league in junior Liam O'Hagan. O'Hagan's 200.5 yards per game last year placed him second behind Mroz.

Penn (99 points, 2 first-place votes) was picked to finish second. The Quakers are coming off their first sub-.500 finish in the league in eight years but return 10 of 13 All-Ivy honorees from a year ago.

Defending champion Brown (94 points, 3 first-place votes) was picked for third, while Cornell (79 points) edged out Yale for fourth. Princeton (62 points), Dartmouth (31 points) and Columbia (18 points) round out the field.

"Three times last year we were either in first place or tied for first place," Siedlecki said of Yale's 4-3 2005 campaign. After winning their first two league games, the Bulldogs alternated losses and wins for the final five. "We've got to find a way to win those games," Siedlecki said.

To that end, Siedlecki feels confident in an offense that returns 10 starters - every position except quarterback. Sophomore Ryan Fodor and Junior Matt Polhemus are currently the top candidates to take over for Mroz behind center.

"Matt is more along the lines of Alvin Cowan," Siedlecki said, comparing Polhemus to Yale's starter in 2003 and 2004. "We can move him around and run him. Ryan is more of a pocket passer like Jeff Mroz. We've had success with both styles."

Whoever plays quarterback for Yale benefits from a deep receiver corps headed by seniors Chandler Henley and Ashley Wright, two All-Ivy candidates. Siedlecki was also happy to note that junior D.J. Shooter, who was injured in the spring, has made tremendous progress in his recovery and is expected to be at full strength for the season.

"We return two high-end kids in Chandler and Ashley, and D.J. was a factor last year as well," Siedlecki said. "We're going to use Jordan Spence in both roles - tailback and receiver. So there are four very experienced kids in that group."

The Bulldogs also have Ivy League Rookie of the Year Mike McLeod back at tailback, and all five linemen - senior Brett Crandall, sophomore Darius Dale, senior Ed McCarthy, junior Jeff Monaco and junior Nick Wachtler - returning as well. Senior Dave Miller saw significant time at tight end in the spring game, and senior Taylor Craig is healthy again after an injury knocked him out of the starting fullback spot midway through last season.

Defensively, Siedlecki pointed to a front seven that he feels is among the best he's seen in his 10 years at Yale. He feels that linebackers Bobby Abare, a sophomore, and Lee Driftmier, a senior, are impact players along the lines of Peter Mazza, a key member of Yale's 1999 Ivy League championship squad. Up front, returning starter Brandt Hollander anchors the line at middle guard and is an imposing 6-3, 260 pounds.

"We can't block him," Siedlecki joked of the junior. "He's just worked so hard physically."

Junior defensive tackle Kirk Porter is another returning starter up front, as is end Brendan Sponheimer. The secondary is the lone area where the Elis do not have any players with starting experience, but Siedlecki expressed confidence in the projected starting safeties, sophomore Larry Abare and junior John Coombs, and projected starting cornerbacks sophomore Casey Gerald and senior Kevin Littleton.

The Bulldogs also return starting placekicker Alan Kimball, a junior, and Wright, who handled the punting chores last year.

Yale visits Princeton for a preseason scrimmage on Thu. Aug. 31, then opens the regular season at the Yale Bowl on Sat. Sept. 16 against San Diego.

NOTES: The league also released information on its TV package for the season. Yale is involved in two of the three games that will be televised by the YES Network, including the Bulldogs' game vs. Columbia on Oct. 28 and the game at Brown on Nov. 4. Yale is also one of only three teams in the league with a game on CSTV (Sept. 30 at Lafayette) ... Separately from the league package, Yale has games scheduled for Cn8 (Penn, Oct. 21), WFMZ (Lehigh, Oct. 14) and WLVI/WGN (Harvard, Nov. 18) ... The league also has a deal in place with Sirius Satellite Radio to broadcast a game of the week for football and men's basketball, with the schedule to be determined ... Media day also included a discussion of some of the rule changes for the 2006 season. Kicking tees have been shortened - from two inches to one inch - in an effort to generate longer kickoff returns. The most talked-about change, however, was the decision to start the game clock as soon as both teams are positioned on the field (rather than on the snap) after a change in possession. The rule is designed to speed up the game, though it could lead to coaches burning timeouts at the start of drives and fewer plays per game. "It will certainly affect strategy," said Cornell coach Jim Knowles, who chairs the coaches' committee. "It will take plays away from the game." ... Yale's non-league schedule includes Lafayette and Lehigh, who were picked second and third respectively in the Patriot League preseason poll, and San Diego, who won the Pioneer League last year and is the preseason favorite this year ... After reporting on Mon. Aug. 21, the Bulldogs take the field for on-field testing and their first practice on Tue. Aug. 22 at 2:00 p.m.

report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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