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Before Yale's season opener, Elis transfer Rashad Bartholomew huddled with the offensive linemen on the grass of Brown Stadium. The tailback offered a prayer with his protectors, asking that the bond forged between him and the offensive line would prove strong enough to break Yale's losing ways. Bartholomew had recently freed himself from a trying, two-year experience at the Air Force academy, and like a jovial newlywed on his second honeymoon, vowed this time to make things work. The message was a simple quid pro quo -- if the linemen blocked for him, he promised to run the Elis out of the cellar. Six weeks into the season, Bartholomew has been a man of his words as Yale sits in a four-way tie for the Ivy League lead at 2-1. · In Bartholomew's September 19 debut, the Elis broke a 13-game Ivy League losing streak. Since then, Yale has also snapped streaks of two straight winless seasons at home and of four consecutive losses to Columbia. At 3-3 overall, the team owes much thanks to Bartholomew and the offensive line. "It is one of the closest relationships I've seen between positions," said Yale sophomore lineman Eric Lee, who also blocked for Bartholomew at Peninsula High School in southern California. Upon arriving in New Haven, Conn., this September as a last-minute transfer, Bartholomew was introduced by Lee to the offensive linemen and they quickly accepted him as an their leader on and off the field. He's been a total, turnaround player for a team that had become mocked as the East Coast's Prairie View. Second-year coach Jack Siedlecki made a gutsy move naming Bartholomew the starting tailback despite not joining the team until September, but it has proved an ingenious vote of confidence for the transfer, as Bartholomew ran for 140 yards against Brown -- even without knowing many plays in the book. "I guess we're dealing with the new Yale," Bears coach Phil Estes said after the game, alluding to the difference from last season when Siedlecki called on wide receiver Derek Bentley to play tailback, and 1995-96, when Carm Cozza played the ineffective Jabbar Craigwell. Possessing the Ivy's best average yards per carry among backs at 5.13, and on a pace to break 1,000yards rushing, Bartholomew uses his blazing speed (4.49 40-yard dash), extraordinary power and a Terrell Davis-sized vertical leap to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. "He's got the best leaping ability I've seen," Siedlecki said. · The turf warrior, however, had childhood dreams of leading air raids -- not a ground attack. Rashad's father, Ronald, has served in the United States Air Force for over 20 years and is currently ranked a colonel and stationed in San Antonio, Texas. When Rashad was a high school senior, his father encouraged him to accept free tuition to the Air Force Academy, since it was an affordable option and Rashad had an interest in flying. "At the time, it was the logical choice," Rashad said. It didn't work out. "When he went to [Air Force], he hoped and dreamed to be a pilot," said Brava Bartholomew, Rashad's mom. "But he washed out before he even left the ground -- he didn't qualify." With a sub-par score on his flight aptitude test, Rashad found himself prohibited from flight. He felt alone on the Colorado campus, unable to partake in the activity that prompted him to attend Air Force. A damper on his dream drained him emotionally, as building new friendships in the intense environment proved difficult. "Going to Air Force required a lot of commitment," Bartholomew said. "I wanted to have a little more happiness." As far as football, Rashad had been a high school star at both schools he attended -- O'Fallon and Peninsula. Air Force coach Fisher DeBarry, in addition to others, heavily recruited him. But Bartholomew struggled to gain yards for the Falcons against Western Athletic Conference defenses, and was quickly moved to the bench. He watched from the sidelines as then-Falcons junior Jemal Singleton emerged as the ball carrier out of the halfback and freshman Qualario Brown played occasionally as two-deep. "He wasn't too happy at Air Force," Lee said. "He's a very sociable kid, but going to Air Force depressed him." · If Bartholomew stayed in school for a third year, he would have been obliged to serve in the military upon graduation -- a task that two years at the academy led him to dread. While he went through the motions of studying for his sophomore courses and improving his football game in spring practice, Bartholomew devoted most of his energy to filling out transfer applications. He received quick acceptances from Division I-A football schools Virginia and Northwestern and the Ivy League's Penn and Yale. This was the start to a new beginning. Once completing his sophomore year at Air Force, Bartholomew finally confronted his father about the decision he was prepared to make. "He kind of expected it," Rashad said. "After two years, I realized things were not going the way I wanted. He was a little taken at first but he accepted it." While Bartholomew liked the Quakers because of their strong Ivy League football reputation, he was most interested in Yale because Lee often raved about the Elis' new head coach, Jack Siedlecki. "We talked through the school year," Lee said. "He asked how school was for me and I said I loved it." Bartholomew went that June to visit Yale and meet with Siedlecki -- a visit that proved decisive in his joining the Elis. Not only did he reunite face-to-face with Lee, but he also had a pleasant conversation with the Yale second-year coach. Unlike at Penn, where coach Al Bagnoli indicated a commitment to start Jim Finn at tailback, Siedlecki made it clear that a starting position was available. He even gave the Palos Verdes, Ca., native reason to believe the program was going to rebound from its collapse in the mid-1990s. "He's very talented and came in at a position where we had tremendous need," Siedlecki said. "Our defensive back, Josh Phillips, came out of spring practice as our No. 1 [running back], and we really needed to find someone who would make a difference." Since accepting admission to Yale, things have changed for the political science major. · "We've been making things work. But from the economic point of view, it has been a [big] transition," Bartholomew's mom said, noting the family now must pay for him to attend school. Even his depressed social life has turned around, as roommate David Smith said, "everyone around here -- even outside football -- seems to know who he is," and according to Lee, "he can finally have fun and talk to girls again." With his spirits raised, Bartholomew's football game has taken off at Yale like the proverbial jet. After he was tackled by the last Brown defensive back to deny him a touchdown on his first play from scrimmage, Bartholomew continued to run for a marathon of yards in week one -- carrying the football 31 times for 140 yards, including a nine-yard, third-quarter touchdown. His teammate, quarterback Joe Walland, earned Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance. But with his rushing totals, Bartholomew couldn't have been far behind in the voting. Over the next few weeks, Yale beat Holy Cross for its first home win since 1996 and then fell to Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., 22-19. Defenses began focusing on Bartholomew, and it appeared the magic was wearing thin. Last week, however, the former Falcon made a 180-degree reversal, rushing the football 17 times for 192 yards -- an incredible 11.3 yards per carry -- against Columbia. Until then, the Lions had the best rush-defense in the Ivy League. What made Bartholomew's performance so impressive was that Columbia's eight-man front succeeded at limiting Finn, the Ivy's leading rushing, to 77 yards on 27 carries. Bartholomew more than doubled Finn's totals, with 36 percent of the yards coming on a fourth-quarter playbreaker. On that play, he ran through the Lions defensive line and beat the Columbia right cornerback into the endzone 70-yards downfield. "Ivy League competition compared to Division I-A teams is more lumpy," Bartholomew said. "It's not spread evenly. So, a team might have one good guard and not another to go with it." The Columbia game was the first time Bartholomew really concentrated on attacking the weakness, rather than just running at holes. The approach proved effective, as he showed that even with leading defenses focusing on him, he would find open holes. · Excited to play for the first time since high school, the most important task down the home stretch of Bartholomew's first Ivy season is to remain focused. Even as a two-year veteran of Air Force, however, that may prove difficult this weekend. Penn's homecoming is also a homecoming of sorts for the Bartholomew family, as Ronald flies from San Antonio, Texas, to his new home in West Virginia on Friday night, and will then drive with Rashad's mom to Penn for the game. In addition, Bartholomew will also have friends in the opposing stands, as for the first time, his compatriots can travel from school to school to watch him play. "People say it takes a lot of discipline to make it through Air Force," Bartholomew said. "But here it's much tougher to manage my time. Before, it was choosing between things I disliked. Now, there are things I like to do -- fun distractions." When Bartholomew kneels down with the offensive line in prayer -- which has become the Elis' routine before game time -- he has reason give thanks, beyond just Yale's 2-1 conference record. While he may never fly in a combat mission, Yale has returned football, friends and fun to Bartholomew's daily routine. Even if Siedlecki's crew falls to Penn on Franklin Field -- and the odds predict they will -- an element of smile will remain on the junior tailback's face. Once again, he's playing ball and having fun.

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