Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crowded backfield

After practices on Monday and Tuesday were called off because of the heavy rain, I was finally able to catch up with Yale coach Tom Williams at the end of Wednesday morning's practice to do a story on the tailback competition.

The loss of Mike McLeod, Yale's all-time leading rusher, left a huge hole at tailback. The feeling was that Ricky Galvez and Jordan Farrell would be the frontrunners to take over the No. 1 tailback slot unless former Ansonia High star Alex Thomas made a push in the spring and the fall.

While Galvez, Farrell and Thomas are still in contention to be the starting tailback, the first two names Williams cited when I asked about the tailbacks were rising seniors Rodney Reynolds and Brandon Scott who have 11 career rushing attempts between them so I spoke to Reynolds and Scott following practice and wrote a story on the tailback situation for Thursday's edition of the Register.

There's some interesting stuff from the duo which didn't make it in the story including Reynold's use of yoga to prepare him for football practice.

"I started yoga in high school and my yoga instructor actually works with the New York Giants and New York Yankees," Reynolds said. "I hadn’t done yoga in a long time and I started doing it again last fall. Everybody thought I looked crazy in the workout room but some people started joining in I guess."

I also asked Reynolds and Scott what they learned from McLeod.

"He basically had the team on his shoulders for all four years that he was here," Scott said. "He never cracked under pressure, with us coming in and taking his spot that is something we need to learn. Once we are the guys or the guy, we have to be able to keep that same mentality even though you are one of the premier players on the offense, you still have to have this confidence with you."

Speaking of McLeod, I asked defensive line coach Duane Brooks - who serves as the point man in the dealing with the NFL scouts, what teams have been expressing interest and he said McLeod did hear from the Detroit Lions recently. Brooks said he thinks McLeod, linebacker Bobby Abare and defensive linemen Joe Hathaway and Kyle Hawari will get themselves into NFL training camp even though none as expected to be draft this weekend. I asked Williams which current Yale players could be NFL draft prosects and he mentioned some predictable names (linebacker Paul Rice, defensive lineman Tom McCarthy and punter Tom Mante) but also threw out the name of tight end Chris Blohm so he's somebody to keep an eye on.

Speakig of tight ends, A.J. Haase is taking the spring semester off so he can receive an additional year of eligibility as is Southington's Matt Kelleher, a converted quarterback who should figure prominently in the defensive line rotation in the fall.

There haven't been too many position changes. The move of Rice from cornerback to linebacker has previously been reported and Matt Phelan, who was listed in the 2008 media guide as a linebacker before shifting to fullback is moving back to defense to play defensive line. Dawson Halliday, who split time at quarterback on last season's JV team, has been shifted to defensive back.

Defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe believes there could be little if any drop off on the defensive line even with the graduation of Hawari, Hathaway and defensive end Brady Hart. That speaks volumes of what he has seen out of rising junior Pat Moran, who is playing at 301 pounds, 36 more than he was listed as in the 2008 media guide, sophomore to be Jake Stoller and McCarthy.

The quarterback competition is not as cut and dry as it appeared it would be at season's end. Brook Hart is still the starter but he is being pushed by Rich Scudellari and Bryan Farris. Things could get interesting if Yale gets Patrick Witt, who played five games as a reserve quarterback at Nebraska in 2008 and was expected to compete for the Cornhuskers' starting position before making the decision to transfer. Yale is also in the running for an offensive lineman who played for a BCS program in '08.

The spring game is Saturday from 2-4 p.m. at the Yale Bowl. The offense and defense will likely square off with a point system rewarding defensive plays utilized since Yale doesn't have the numbers to field two teams for a scrimmage.

Among those in attendance at practice today was highly-touted recruit Brian Leffler who spurned scholarship offers from West Virginia and Stanford - among others - to commit to Yale. The incoming freshman class is expected to be announced on May 1. Word I have is that 29 players will be in the class (I have pieced together 27 of the names).

Look for a story on Yale's first-team offensive and defensive coordinators in Saturday's edition of the Register.

Last but certainly not least, Yale ranks first in the NCAA Division I Academic Progress Report (APR) ratings and the football program is one of 28 Yale programs to earn public recognition awards for academic excellence from the NCAA, a distinction given to the programs with APR figures in the top 10 percent of their respective sports.

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