Although the Harvard football team's lack of "incentives" might dissuade the amateur football fan of any similarities to the SMU Mustangs of the early 1980s. Crimson running backs Kweli "The Human Melee" Thompson and Eion "Prime Time" Hu beg the comparison.
The vaunted ground attack of the Mustangs featured the "Pony Express" of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, arguably the best college one-two rushing punch ever. Junior Thompson and Sophomore Hu, although not threatening all-time greatness yet, are positioned to establish themselves as one of the best running duos in the Ivy League.
And the similarities don't end there. Dickerson was the floating butterfly to James' stinging bee; Thompson is the speed to Hu's power. This past Saturday against Holy Cross, Thompson, the fastest player on the team, scampered for 171 yards, while Hu powered for 154 in Harvard's 27-17 win. So far this year, Thompson ranks 20th nationally and first in the Ivy League with 117.7 rushing yards per game, while Hu is third in the Ivies with 113.5 yards per game on the ground.
They spearhead the effort to reinvigorate the Crimson football program under first year coach Tim Murphy. With a 2-1 (1-0 Ivy) record after three games, Harvard faces Cornell 3-0 (1-0) this Saturday to decide first place in the Ivies.
Murphy has installed a pro-set offense that accentuates the skills of Thompson and Hu. Thompson, who also runs back kicks, is eighth in the Ivies with 10 receptions and 10th in Division I-AA with 184 all-purpose yards per game. Hu, who last year led the freshman team in rushing, prefers this year's I-black formation to last year's multi-flex.
"I didn't really know where I'd fit in in last year's offense," Hu said.
Almost like Walter Payton and William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Thompson and Hu don't mind sharing time. They feel that by always keeping fresh, they beat down defense. Moreover, Harvard often runs a fatigue-inducing no-huddle offense.
"I was out of shape against Cornell because a hip-pointer limited my practice time (and also caused him to miss the second game of the season). When I was tired, Kweli came right in, and vice versa," Hu said. "Two backs really wear down the defense, and with out no-huddle offense, this system is best for the team. What's amazing is that our lineman are in for every play. They must be in better shape than me."
In the long tradition of Harvard student-athletes, both Thompson and Hu juggle an almost impossible schedule of practice and classes.
Thompson is concentrating in chemistry, and is fulfilling pre-med requirements. He hopes to attend medical school and become an orthopedic surgeon (or, alternately, play in the NFL for a few years and then pursue medicine). There are no University of Miami surfing classes for this varsity football player.
"Coming out of high school, I thought playing football and school would be manageable," Thompson said. "But it really is difficult. You have to be really efficient managing your time."
Hu, an economics concentrator who made the Dean's List as a freshman, is no less serious about school than his running mate. Although not sure about his post-college plans, ("I don't even want to think about life after Harvard"), school is his priority.
"After Saturday's win, I didn't even go out and party," Hu said. "I went and hit the books."
Against Holy Cross, Thompson and Hu became the first Harvard running backs to run for more than 150 yards in the same game. Although the Crimson do not expect to run as much against Cornell's more aggressive defense, the tandem figure to play key roles in that game and throughout the remainder of the year.
While the SMU of Dickerson and James disregarded fair play in its efforts to win, the Harvard of Thompson and Hu don't have that luxury. Still, the Crimson's young duo have the talent to keep the alumni happy. And Harvard alums might even be harder to please than football-breathing Texas boosters.