Kicking Off Dartmouth Football

Head Coach Buddy Teevens '79 takes the field with the Big Green squad in their Ivy opener against Penn

Head Coach Buddy Teevens ’79 takes the field with the Big Green squad in their Ivy opener against Penn

The rain has begun to dry and the summer air is gone. Leaves will change colors and the winds will begin to pick up. Autumn has arrived, and so has Dartmouth football.

Coming off a second place finish in the Ivy League last year, the 2015 Big Green have raised expectations and fully believe they can take their eighteenth Ivy League Championship. Fortunately, nearly all offensive starters return to the lineup. Star dual-threat quarterback and team captain Dalyn Williams looks to make his senior season a memorable one. He will definitely build on his tremendous All-Ivy League junior season where he threw for 2,119 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions. Williams also finished second on the team in rushing with 444 yards and led the team with 6 rushing touchdowns. Among the offensive returners is Williams’ stellar supporting cast. Top receiver Ryan McManus returns for his fifth season and will be the dangerous go-to guy. A team captain this year, McManus aims to add to his team leading 879 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns which garnered First Team All-Ivy Honors last year. Opposite McManus is senior receiver Victor Williams. Williams brings extreme quickness and explosive which helped him catch 36 balls for 358 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. Also returning for his senior year is leading rusher Kyle Bramble. Bramble (Second team All-Ivy last year) led the team with 655 yards rushing and had 5 touchdowns on the ground. He was third on the team in receiving with 307 yards and 5 scores. Lately, he has had to sit out with a torn ACL and a heel injury but should be ready to play soon. The team still has great depth with senior running back Brian Grove and sophomore running back Ryder Stone. Both have some experience from last year, with Grove rushing for 227 yards and a score and Stone with 175 yards and 4 scores. Although the offensive line has lost some starters, the Big Green have retained their All-Ivy League Second Team left tackle in Jacob Flores. Flores has been the starting left tackle since his sophomore year and hopes to continue that streak. Opposite Flores on the right side is junior tackle Dave Morrison. He played in nine games last season, starting the first two. This year, he hopes to establish himself as the new starting right tackle. A new addition to this high powered offense is sophomore receiver Charles Mack. Mack played on the Junior Varsity team last year but is expected to make a huge impact this season. Another exciting addition is freshman quarterback Vito Penza. As a high school senior, Penza ran for 979 yards and 12 touchdowns and passed for 736 yards and 5 scores. Coach Teevens calls him “Tim Tebowish, but throws the ball better.” For right now, Penza is included in some wildcat sub-packages, but come next year, he could be the main event for Dartmouth’s spread offense.

More big names also return to the defense. The Big Green brings back its All-Ivy defensive line in seniors A.J. Zuttah, Cody Fulleton, and Sawyer Whalen. Zuttah, the First Team All-Ivy nose tackle, finished third in tackle among all conference linemen with 48 total tackles. With a sack and 3 tackles for loss (TFLs), Zuttah was awarded the Gordon P. Bennett Award as Dartmouth’s most outstanding lineman. Cody Fulleton was an All-Ivy second teamer as the defensive end and finished last year with 23 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 5.5 TFLs. While both Zuttah and Fulleton have started since their sophomore year, Sawyer Whalen hopes to make a big impact as the new starting defensive end. Whalen finished last season with 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 1.5 TFLs. The middle of the field is patrolled by 4 stand-out linebackers: team captain Will McNamara, Eric Wickham, Zach Slafsky, and Folarin Orimolade. McNamara, known by all as “Willie Mac”, was a unanimous All-Ivy League First Team middle linebacker after tying for the conference lead in tackles with 87. He certainly didn’t disappoint as a first time starter with 4 TFLs and 2 interceptions. He earned Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Columbia (11 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 interception). Now a senior, Willie Mac will be looked upon to line up the defense and make sure everyone does their job to perfection. Senior middle linebacker Zach Slafsky is anything but a second fiddle. In 2014, Slafsky was an All-Ivy League honorable mention and finished second on the team with 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 TFLs.  Also suiting up at linebacker is fifith year senior Eric Wickham. Wickham played in 7 games last year and made his presence felt with 33 tackles and a huge TFL that resulted in a goal-line stand against Central Connecticut. Last, but certainly not least, is junior outside linebacker Folarin “Flo” Orimolade. As a starter last year, Flo monstrously led the team with 6.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. This Dartmouth front seven will definitely look to shake up opposing quarterbacks. The back end of the defense is guarded by four quality defensive backs. The secondary is led by fifth year senior safety Troy Donohue. Donohue tied for the league lead with 4 interceptions (3 of which came in consecutive weeks) and had 46 tackles and 6 passes defended earning him All-Ivy League First Team honors. Troy’s partner in crime at free safety is senior David Caldwell. Caldwell has some big shoes to fill, as he is replacing last year’s captain Stephen Dazzo. However, he should fit in just fine as he recorded 30 tackles and a pass break up as the backup. Manning the outside of the field once again are senior corners Chai Reece, Vernon Harris, and Frankie Hernandez. Reece is a fifth year senior and led the team last year with 8 pass breakups. He finished the year with 38 tackles and a TFL. His partner in crime on the opposite side is First Team All-Ivy League corner Vernon Harris. Harris also had 8 pass breakups and tied for third on the team with 50 tackles and third in the Ivy League with 3 interceptions. In the nickel back position is electric senior Frankie Hernandez. Last season, he also finished with 50 tackles and added on 2 sacks, 3.5 TFL, a pick, and blocked field goal. He earned 2 Defensive Ivy League Player of the Week awards in wins against Penn and Holy Cross.

Rounding out the squad is the special teams unit. All-Ivv League second teamer Alex “Gak” Gakenheimer comes back from a great sophomore season, in which he was the third leading scorer in the conference with 73 points. His field goal percentage of 80% was second in the league as he booted 12 of 15 field goals and 27 of 30 extra points. Also returning is junior punter Ben Kepley. The Second Team All-Ivy punter averaged 38.9 yards per punt (good for second in the league) and was able to down 10 of his 39 punts inside the 20 yard line. Last year he had 4 punts of 50+ yards including a career-long 59-yard punt against Princeton. All-Ivy Second Team long snapper Graydon Peterson also comes back to continue to be a key cog in this special teams unit.

There is so much talent on the 2015 roster and people are taking notice. Dartmouth leads the Ivy League with 16 players on 17 positions in the College Sports Madness (CSM) All-Ivy League Preseason Football Teams. 9 players make up the first team with Dalyn Williams (QB), Ryan McManus (WR/PR), Jacob Flores (LT), A.J. Zuttah (DT), Cody Fulleton (DE), Will McNamara (ILB), Zach Slafsky (LB), Vernon Harris (CB), and Troy Donohue (SS). In addition, Dalyn Williams and Will McNamara were selected as Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively. Kyle Bramble (RB), Victor Williams (WR), and Alex Gakenheimer (K) were selected for the second team. Chai Reece (CB), Ben Kepley (P), Dave Morrison (RT), and Flo Orimolade (OLB) were selected for the third team.

McNamara and Zuttah were also on CSM’s FCS Preseason All-American Third Team joining Princeton’s Dré Nelson as the only three Ivy League players on the list.

The media also acknowledged this great team as the Ivy League voted Dartmouth to finish second in league behind Harvard. Although the Big Green did get four first place votes, the team will be determined to change the voters mind and earn first place.

Although the roster is full of talent and the team certainly stacks up against the other Ivy League competition, Dartmouth is not exactly the face of College Football. In fact, football is rarely the first thought when discussing the words “Ivy League”. Modern fans usually think about teams like Louisiana State University (LSU), Alabama, or Ohio State. The Ivy League does not have national icons like Leonard Fournette (LSU running back 2014-), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M quarterback 2012-2013), or Tim Tebow (Florida Quarterback 2006-2009). However, what most fans do not know is that in the very beginning, the Ivy League dominated as the best in College Football. The first ever National Champion was Princeton in 1869. For 32 years, the national champions were only Ivy League schools. The first non-Ivy League team to be crowned National Champions was Michigan in 1901. Even then, the Ivy League still won championships with Cornell winning the last one in 1922. After that, Ivy League football suffered some drop offs. Since 1923, no Ivy League team has won an outright national championship. The League has not played any postseason games since 1956 due to concerns that athletes could not perform academically with the extra games. The League was reclassified from Division I Football Bowl Series (FBS) to Division II Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in 1981 and has stuck to a strict 10 game schedule since.

In terms of individual recognition, the Ivy League has groomed numerous big names in football. National Football League Hall of Fame center and linebacker Chuck Bednarik played at the University of Pennsylvania. Bednarik was known as one of the meanest and toughest players in the history of the game as he played both offense and defense in his entire career for the Philadelphia Eagles (1949-1962). Since 1995, the Chuck Bednarik Trophy has been awarded to the best defensive player in college football. Dartmouth also has an NFL name to be proud of in Jay Fiedler. He currently holds the school record in career touchdown passes (58), passing yards (6,684), and total offense (7,249). He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 1994 to the Philadelphia Eagles, but his best years came with the Miami Dolphins from 2000 to 2004. Tasked with replacing Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, Fielder led the Dolphins to three 10+ win seasons, an AFC East Division Title, and two postseason appearances. In his 10 year NFL career, Fielder passed for 11,844 yards, 69 touchdowns, 66 interceptions, and finished with a career quarterback rating of 77.1.

For the 2015 NFL season, 16 former Ivy League players are signed to active rosters. Major names include Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB), James Develin (FB), and Tyler Varga (RB). Fitzpatrick is the most famous of the trio. The former Ivy League MVP from Harvard has been in the NFL for ten years and is known as a generally solid and steady starter. He is currently the starting quarterback for the New York Jets and has 19,979 career passing yards and a touchdown to interception ratio of 129-106. James Develin of Brown University is the starting fullback of the defending Super Bowl Champs: the New England Patriots. In 2012, Develin paved the way for Stevan Ridley (starting running back at the time) to accumulate 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tyler Varga is the most recent of the bunch. The former Yale running back was invited to the 2015 Senior Bowl where he showcased his skills and talent to NFL scouts. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent and made the final 53-man roster. Despite these great talents, many of the 16 players are backups. Not only that, while the entire Ivy League has 16 players in the league, LSU, a single university, proudly has 40 former players on active NFL rosters (the most among all colleges).

One could say the Ivy League gave up prominent sports in pursuit of greater academic promise. Obviously, such an act is not a bad one – universities are first and foremost institutions of learning. However, modern recruiting processes such as financial aid have allowed the Ivy League to not only admit good students, but also great athletes. Dartmouth students don’t need to look any farther than their very own Ryan McManus to realize that it is possible to be a successful student-athlete. McManus’s talent on the grid iron is quite evident. Entering this season, he is eighth in school history in career receptions (125) and 7th in receiving yards (1,670). Off the field and in the classroom, McManus is a history major with a 3.4 GPA. Those kind of “stats” has put him on the 2015 FCS Academic All-Star Team and as a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame (NFF) William V. Campbell Trophy which could award him up to $25,000 in postgraduate scholarships.

Although the general impression of Ivy League universities consists of tough academic institutions that provide quality education is completely true, the athletic culture around and within the schools is changing. With more amazing athletes coming to the Ivy League to perform in their sports, the students and alumni have teams they can be proud of. As the teams continue to succeed, students become more excited and pay more attention to the sport. Since Dartmouth’s second place finish in 2014, more conversations about the team’s expectations, make up, the schedule, and even about how football works have popped up among students. Cynical thoughts about having a bad team are long gone. Dartmouth football may not a big deal around the country, but it will continue to grow into huge deal among students and alumni, and right now, we want Ivy League Championship number eighteen.