New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

It’s finally game day for Yale after hiatus

- By Michael Fornabaio

There is no substitute for game experience, practice time and team-building in person. But if you’re in a pandemic and lose a year like Yale football, just use whatever you have around the house, or your friend’s uncle’s house.

“Even in a situation unlike the one that we’ve faced over the past two years, our team is always challengin­g ourselves to focus on the day we have in front of us and not on the season or games we have coming up,” captain John Dean said this week.

“That mentality that we had in place over the course of my career here before corona hit, that really helped us thrive under the conditions.”

The Bulldogs will finally use what they learned on Saturday at Yale Bowl,

opening the 2021 season against Holy Cross at noon (ESPN+).

Their last game was the 2019 home game against Harvard that ended in twilight and clinched a share of the Ivy League title. Four months after that, the athletic department was shut down.

“Guys were at home sending videos of themselves working out to the whole team. I think some guys, if they didn’t have access to a gym, they’d just put as many rocks as they could in a backpack and be squatting that,” Dean said.

“Our team is definitely day-by-day focused, and I think we thrived under the tough situations we had to be under over the past two years.”

As things opened up over the past year, it got a bit easier, but coach Tony Reno said there were still six months where he didn’t have the whole team in front of him at the same time.

Dean said he and a halfdozen teammates spent about a month in Maine at the lake house belonging to teammate J.J. Howland’s uncle.

“We brought a squat rack, dumbbells, got some beach workouts in,” Dean said. “That was cool, and it was a nice bonding experience to quarantine with some teammates and still be able to work out hard over the quarantine.”

Technology still let them communicat­e. Dean said he’d FaceTime quarterbac­k Griffin O’Connor and find him throwing a football around on the beach in California.

This summer, O’Connor got to have some of the team’s receivers out to California to throw to them. But he also threw into a net, wearing holes in it.

“I’ve been eager to play for a while now, just as everybody else on the team has been,” O’Connor said.

“Through the pandemic, there’s a lot of time where it was just kind of a youversus-you mentality, being at home . ... Luckily, I had my dad at home to sling the football to for a while now.”

Yale’s sports performanc­e staff provided some structure, Reno said, and players leaped in to do all they could, whether throwing hay bales or flipping tires — sometimes getting bigger tires.

“Some went to Home Depot and filled cement pails up so they could do different things. One of the neat things about it is we continued a lot of that in our training now,” Reno said. “It’s great seeing the videos of guys pushing a Ram truck in the driveway or whatever it might be.

“The uniqueness of what the players have built is a group of guys who do things for each other.”

On Saturday, the group assembles for real again against a team that knocked off UConn in its opener but lost to Merrimack last week.

O’Connor said he thinks all those moments the past 18 months have actually built momentum for Yale.

“My sister had a great quote. She said, ‘Plow the fields now, your season of harvest will come.’ And I feel like the season of harvest for me and for the rest of the team is here now. We’re just excited to enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

 ?? Yale athletics / Contribute­d photo ?? Yale linebacker John Dean (43) is one of the Bulldogs captains.
Yale athletics / Contribute­d photo Yale linebacker John Dean (43) is one of the Bulldogs captains.

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