Sporting Life

Three vie for QB spot

Alex Goldberger ’08, an Olympics research assistant at NBC, does play-by-play for Yale sports.

Scott Bruhn

Scott Bruhn

Patrick Witt ’12 played for Nebraska before transferring to Yale. View full image

At the team banquet in late January, two weeks after being hired as the new coach of Yale football, Tom Williams was asked if he had spoken yet with his starting quarterback, Brook Hart ’11.

Hart had ended last season in the starting role, so it was hardly unreasonable to presume he would be keeping his job. Williams, however, refused to tip his hand. “I've spoken to all of my quarterbacks,” he said. “Brook is one of them.”

Eight months later, it appears Williams wasn't merely being coy. Hart enters the season besieged from within by Bryan Farris ’12, the junior varsity quarterback last fall, and from without by Patrick Witt ’12, a late transfer from the University of Nebraska who was a decorated high school star in Texas.

The seeds of the battle were sown shortly after Williams arrived at Yale. With the new coach also came a sophisticated new West Coast offense -- think multiple receivers, with short pass plays sometimes used instead of runs. While Hart struggled to learn the new playbook this spring (in the midst of battling strep throat and walking pneumonia), Farris was fast approaching fluency in Williams's offensive language.

Farris, the dark horse in this race, is giving himself every possible chance to succeed. Even on summer vacation, he carved out time to run passing drills with a group of receivers from the University of Hawaii. Hart, for his part, says he has completely recovered from his spring ailments -- physical and otherwise. “I definitely feel a lot more comfortable with what we're doing now after spending the summer looking everything over,” he says.

If for Hart this summer meant redemption, for Witt it was catharsis. Two years ago, Witt arrived in Lincoln as a nationally recognized recruit, poised to inherit coach Bill Callahan's celebrated offense. But Callahan was fired following Witt's redshirt season in 2007. And Witt, who had a 4.0 GPA and a brother who played quarterback at Harvard, struggled to suppress his desire for an Ivy League education. Against his better judgment, he says, he stayed on for another season, serving as the backup quarterback under new coach Bo Pelini. Then, in February, with the starting job at Nebraska likely his, Witt said he was leaving. “Obviously, college football is a business. Everyone says that,” he says. “But until you live it, you don't understand. There are fans out there in Nebraska who can't really comprehend why someone would walk away from the starting position at what is basically their professional team.”

Williams's offense will still demand much of its quarterback, who can no longer lean on Mike McLeod ’09, who carried the ball 1,063 times in his four seasons. “In this offense, there's a lot of plays that the quarterback needs to call at the line of scrimmage,” Farris says. “And we're going to be passing the ball a lot more, so the quarterback is going to play a much more important role.”

The next couple of years for Yale could belong to any of the three. But each must prepare for the reality that he may not get to play a down. Some have a sunnier outlook than others: asked what he would do if he didn't get the job, Witt smiled. “Then I'll be a backup quarterback and a Yale student,” he says. “And that's okay with me.”  

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