Instinct Is Key to Line Play, Says Coach Kopp
Knowledge of Fundamentals and Quickness Determine Victory, Line Mentor States
If Harvard beats Boston University today, chances are that the victory will he at least partly due to the efforts of a willing group of athletes who have spent the better part of the past week hitting each other around. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not the greatest fun in the world, but according to 'Harold Kopp, who supervises the mayhem, it is absolutely necessary. As the Varsity line coach, Hal has the job of molding this group of eager but largely inexperienced athletes into a forward wall capable of holding its own in Ivy League competition.
Like most good line coaches, Hal has a definite idea of the way his job should be done. "The only way to develop linemen is by rough work. To be efficient, a man must learn the fundamentals early and then practice them again and again. Repetition is the key: a lineman is a creature of habit. The way to develop the right habits is to make a daily repetition of the conditions that make the habit necessary."
Kopp believes that this daily practice is indispensable if his boys are to master football fundamentals. He believes that football games are won or lost on the team's command of the basic facts of football life. "After all," he says, "by the time any two teams play each other, they both have pretty good ideas of what the other can do. But if one team has a superior knowledge of fundamentals and the necessary quickness, it will win."
Lineman Must Be Fast
When Kopp uses the term "fundamentals" in discussing linemen, he has several points in mind. A well trained offensive lineman, for example, must be fast, he must be able to charge forward under control, and above all, he must always have his feet under him. On the defense, the lineman must be able to use his hands, keep on his feet, and be able to shift direction quickly to meet enemy plays.
When this has been said, little remains to the Kopp system except hard work-lots of it. But for all his theory, any coach-and Kopp is no exception-must still depend on his material and its performance in play. So for the 1947 line is largely untested, but Kopp nevertheless holds out great hopes for it. "If we show good line work in the B.U. game, we will probably be able to hold our own later. We do, in fact, hold high hopes for this squad. They have come along very well, and have cooperated splendidly-but the B.U. scrap is crucial. If the boys come through in this one, we can look forward to a good season with them."
Although Hal's qualities as a prophet remain to be tested, the Crimson's football fans can be assured that he has done all that is possible to make his prophecies realize themselves. In doing so, he is drawing on the experiences gained in more than 15 years in college football and coaching.
Like many of the country's leading coaches or assistants, Kopp learned his football under the master himself, when he played three years of Varsity football with Dick Harlow at Western Maryland, from 1930 to 1932. A fullback and left halfback in his first two years, Hal switched to running guard in 1932, when he also served the team as captain. In that year, the then-Harlowmen had a brilliant season, as Kopp led them to win over every opponent except Bucknell.
Following graduation, Kopp left the gridiron for three years, returning to the gridiron only in 1937 to assume a coaching job at Northeastern. He stayed with the Huskies three years, but when his friend and former coach at Western Maryland, Skip Stahley, went to Brown as head coach, Kopp went to Providence with him. This job he held until 1942, when he was called from the reserves into the army as a lieutenant.
In the army till 1946, Hal served most of his time with the First Infantry Division of the Regular Army, a job which carried him into North Africa as the platoon leader in a machine gun company. After receiving and recovering from, an injury in Tunisia, Kopp was sent back to the states to serve as R.O.T.C. Commandant at the University of Connecticut.
Besides atendting to his duties in the army, Kopp naturally spent a good part of his time around the football field, where he turned his attention to the U-Conn line. He was to regret this somewhat on his release when, having been mustered out, and having joined Dick Harlow, he found himself face to face with a tough U-Conn forward wall in the 1946 Harvard opener. The Kopp-trained Connecticut line gave the Kopp-trained Crimson line quite a tussle that day, as Crimson fans will remember.
Most Recruits Untested
Now, after a year at Harvard, Kopp finds himself faced with problems as difficult as he faced in 1946. Most of his material is untested, and few of his line combinations have worked together before. On top of that, Kopp has had the gigantic task of developing replacements for his outstanding line trio of Ned Dewey, Eddie Davis, and Jack Fisher-the latter being rated by many as New England's top center last year.
As he himself is ready to admit, it will be difficult to tell how well he has succeeded until the outcome of today's game is well set into the book of football history. But he thinks he has had good material to work with. Especially satisfactory to him has been the work of Ned Dewey's replacement, Howie Houston, although Howie is comparatively fragile as linemen go-weighing in at a mere 200 pounds. He also had high praise for Bob Drennan, Emil Drvaric's replacement at guard last year. According to Kopp, Drennan is the "most improved player on the squad."