One of the saddest reports to come from this year's pre-season football camp was the news that Ron Jellison, the fleet California-born running back who sat out last year after fracturing his skull in a 1978 intrasquad scrimmage, had been advised by team doctors not to attempt a comeback.
A leading candidate for a position in the Harvard backfield, Jellison remembers leaping for a pass, feeling his legs knocked from beneath him, and finally landing on his head. Not wanting to make something out of nothing, he left the field for only a minute. The next day the team learned that Jellison had fractured his skull.
Despite dizziness and constant headaches which plagued him for three months, the talented speedster wasted no time moping around, returning almost immediately to the football program as receiver coach for the freshman squad.
"As soon as I knew for sure that Ron would not be able to play the season I invited him to work with the freshmen," freshman football coach Mac Singleton said recently. "He proved himself as a coach right away and this year when he was told not to play again we put him on the payroll."
Jellison's total varsity playing time consisted of two minutes against Penn sophomore year, but an amazing performance for the yardlings three years ago against the Boston College J.V. earned him a place in the heart of every dedicated Crimson football fan.
Trailing 11-0 just one minute into the second half, J.V. Coach Loyal Park sent in the starting backfield for the first time. Quarterback Burke St. John wasted no time, hitting Jellison with a 35-yard pass. The swift Jellison then turned and sped 30 yards for the touchdown. Minutes later he took the ball on a sweep and scored again from the Harvard 40. The St. John to Jellison connection carried the younger smaller squad to a 22-11 victory.
"People I don't even know are still congratulating me for the B.C. game," Jellison said recently. "I hate to live in the past but that was one of my biggest thrills here. The only thing that comes even close is when my older brother flew out to see me play in the freshmen game against Yale." If he had never played sports again--which is not the case since he is now the star of the Leverett House basketball team--Jellison would still have plenty of good memories to look back on, including an impressive high school career.
Like many Californians he got his athletic start in competitive swimming. At age ten he left the pools to twin brother Don and settled in as a Little League shortstop. A few years later he starred for the El Segundo High School varsity team.
Southern California takes the production of baseball players very seriously, and when the Pittsburgh Pirates sent the scouts to see Jellison his neighbors were sure he would go pro.
Ignoring baseball scouts and scholarships, the "California Flash" came east to Harvard because he didn't want his future to depend on his athletic ability. After his decision was made, Jellison found out his father had once been accepted to Harvard but chose to stay in California and get married instead.
"I just couldn't see going to a school where I would receive half the education and be forced to play sports," Jellison says. "What if I had hurt myself and lost a scholarship--then where would I be now?"
Harvard never complained when Jellison decided to try his hand at Ivy League academics and athletics. Jellison was a hot commodity after having received All-State honors in football as a defensive back.
"The All-This and All-That awards are nice but one I am most proud of personally is one I received senior year: the Football Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award," Jellison says.
Last week Jellison added two more thrills to his memory collection. The team he started with three years ago finally beat Yale, but more importantly his team, the freshmen, also won.
"The freshmen are my team now, not the varsity," Jellison says. "I was glad for all of my old buddies but since I never actually played on a team that beat Yale, helping to coach the younger guys to a win there was the next best thing."