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Yale may be known for its academic prowess, but its football program also has a storied history that includes national championships, numerous College Football Hall of Fame inductees and more. With such history, let’s dive into the top individual players in Yale history.
*The Ivy League schools, including Yale, moved down to the FCS level in 1982. This list looks at players since that season, taking into consideration things including, but not limited to, national awards won, championships won, and All-American accolades*
Mike McLeod has a great claim to being the best football player in Yale history, since joining the FCS. Yale’s all-time leading rusher was dominant over a three-year stretch that saw McLeod earn First-Team All-Ivy honors from 2006-08.
McLeod’s first year as Yale’s lead back in 2006 was full of big moments, none bigger than “The Game” against Harvard. McLeod ran for three touchdowns against his rival, beating Harvard 34-13 to win the Ivy League title.
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The next year, McLeod became a dominant force, rushing for a school-record 256 yards and five touchdowns against Holy Cross. Two weeks later, he broke his record with 276 rushing yards against Lehigh. McLeod finished the 2007 season as a First-Team AFCA All-American.
In McLeod’s final year, he pushed the Yale record books to its limits, finishing with 4,514 rushing yards, 5,320 all-purpose yards and 55 touchdowns.
Since Yale moved to the FCS level, only a few Bulldogs can say they’ve won multiple Ivy League titles; Quarterback Kurt Rawlings is one of those players. Rawlings led Yale to Ivy League titles in 2017 and 2019 behind remarkable passing seasons.
In 2017 he completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,320 yards and 19 touchdowns. In 2019 he completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 3,002 yards and 27 touchdowns.
In addition to the counting stats, Rawlings picked up wins against rival Harvard in 2017 and 2019 too.
Rawlings finished his career as Yale’s all-time leading passer, owning records for all-time passing yards, touchdowns, completions and attempts in addition to having the best all-time completion percentage and passer rating.
THE GAME: Memorable moments, all-time history from Harvard vs. Yale
In 1999, with the Ivy League title on the line against Harvard, Yale turned to wide receiver Eric Johnson, who was in the midst of a game for the ages. With 29 seconds to play, Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown, ending a 10-year conference championship drought. That catch was the icing on the cake of a historical game as Johnson set the new Yale single-game reception and receiving yards record with 21 grabs for 244 yards.
The next year, Johnson earned All-American honors in 2000. Johnson finished his career atop of every Yale receiving category. His 23 career touchdowns receptions remain the most in program history 21 years later.
When discussing the top defensive players in Yale football history, Jon Reese’s name must come up. Reese is the program’s all-time leading tackler, with 395 stops from 1987-89.
In 1989, Reese was named team captain. Under his leadership, Yale won its first Ivy League title as an FCS program. Reese also earned First-Team All-Ivy honors.
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Before Mike McLeod, there was running back Robert Carr. Carr set the Yale career record for rushing yards with 3,393 along with numerous other rushing records.
Carr’s most notable rushing record came in 2002 against Cornell. When star quarterback Alvin Cowan broke his leg, Cowan put the team on his back, rushing for a single-game record 235 yards and four touchdowns.
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Quarterback Alvin Cowan had a remarkable Yale career and was on the path to re-writing every Bulldog passing record if he didn’t break his leg in 2002 against Cornell. If not for that injury, it’s likely Cowan sits among the best of the best in Yale football history.
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Two running backs, Rashard Bartholomew and Tyler Varga, also missed the cut for the top-five. Both sit near the top of all Bulldog rushing categories, but Yale’s staple of backfield legends keep them off the list.
Rory Hennessey and Ed McCarthy are two elite offensive tackles who find themselves among the honorable mentions; each earned First-Team All-American during their careers.
🏈FCS FOOTBALL HISTORY🏈
🏆 Championships: Championship history | Winningest teams | Schools with the most titles
🥇 Awards: Walter Payton | Buck Buchanan | Jerry Rice
🔥 2021 award winners: Eric Barriere | Isaiah Land | Shedeur Sanders
🤯 FCS-over-FBS upsets: All-time history | Upset blueprint
👀 Top-5 all-time players: North Dakota State | Montana | Eastern Washington | Harvard
⚔️ Rivalries: Harvard/Yale | Lafayette/Lehigh | Montana/Montana State | Oldest rivalries
✊ HBCU: Championship history | Greatest individual players
🐐 Careers in review: Kupp | Wentz | Lance | Garappolo | Heinicke
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Stan Becton has been with NCAA.com since 2021 and has covered numerous NCAA championship events, including the FCS Championship and Men’s Frozen Four. He also covered HBCU football, highlighted by the 2021 Celebration Bowl. He is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University where he played football and earned a degree in Professional Writing. You can follow him on Twitter @stan_becton.
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👀 South Carolina leads the final women's hoops top-16 reveal