Murphy Previews Incoming Freshmen

It’s called “National Signing Day,” and in southern-fried football states, it’s a national holiday. Yesterday—under intense scrutiny and a glaring media spotlight—the best prep football players in the country signed binding contracts to play for their chosen colleges.

But while coaches at virtually every Division I school eagerly crowded around fax machines, Harvard coach Tim Murphy had little to do. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno know their futures, but Murphy will discover his at the same time as thousands of high school seniors – April 3, the day Harvard sends out admissions decisions.

In the first year since the Ivy Presidents slashed the number of football recruits permitted per year from 35 to 30, each athlete matters more than ever. Still, only 11 spots in the football team’s Class of 2007 were filled by early-action admits, leaving Harvard with question marks where big time programs placed exclamation points yesterday.

Though history usually is a good indicator of which football recruits will be accepted to Harvard, according to Murphy only a select few potential athletes reecive any assurances from the admissions committee prior to regular decision dates.

“In some circumstances, if a kid is in a position where he has a scholarship offer [from another school], admissions will usually give some indication,” Murphy said. “That’s called a ‘squeeze,’ but it’s an extremely rare situation.”

But while Murphy waits and wishes for his remaining recruits to clear admissions, he is extremely excited about those that already have—especially high-profile recruits Corey Mazza and Ryan Tully.

Mazza, a 6’4 wide receiver from Thousand Oaks High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif., chose Harvard over full scholarships from Division I-A schools Boise St., Hawaii and Colorado St., as well as Princeton. Despite the distance, it was a decision firmly supported by his parents, Jerry and Donna Mazza.

“We think it’s an excellent opportunity,” said Jerry, whose son gathered with about 15 other prep stars at a local restaurant to sign his letter-of-intent yesterday. “He was teased by some of the football guys, but he just told them, ‘Hey, you’ll be working for me one day.’”

A superb athlete, Mazza had 43 receptions for 943 yards as a senior (for an average of 22.1 yards per catch), and also picked off a conference record 14 passes while doubling as a defensive back. According to the recruiting network rivals.com, Mazza runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.

“We wanted to not only bring in a big receiver, but someone to replace [All-American] Carl Morris,” Murphy said. “That being said, he isn’t going to be Carl. No one is. Carl is a talent that comes along once every 20 years in the Ivy League. But he’s a big, aggressive, physical receiver, and at least in that way is like Carl.”

Mazza also expects to make an impact.

“I know there’s an opportunity because the top wide receivers are graduating,” Mazza told his local paper, The Ventura County Star, in January. “I’ll do everything I can to be ready to play.”

Mazza has experience playing with the nation’s best. As a junior, Mazza caught balls from the nation’s No. 1 prep quarterback Ben Olson, now at BYU.

Tully has also tasted success, but his came quite a bit closer to Cambridge. A 6’, 205 lbs. running back from Bishop Feehan High School in Attlesboro, Mass., Tully has the type of ability that makes Murphy excited.

Tully led the Shamrocks to back-to-back Division 4 Super Bowl championships in 2001 and 2002. In the two title games, Tully rushed for a combined 324 yards on 66 carries. “We had a great two years,” Tully bragged. “I actually have a 25-game unbeaten streak.”

Murphy thinks Tully could help Harvard build another winning-streak like its 11-gamer that was snapped at Lehigh early last season.

“He’s an exceptional student-athlete and one of the few kids in our recruiting class that really has the chance to come in and play right away,” Murphy said.

Murphy wasn’t the only one impressed by Tully. According to the Boston Globe, Tully received initial interset from Michigan, Georgia Tech and Kentucky. After a senior season in which he rushed for almost 1500 yards and 21 TD, Tully said he chose Harvard over Brown and Yale, as well as Atlantic 10 scholarship teams Richmond and William and Mary.

“[I chose Harvard for] obviously a combination of great academics and the athletic program, and also a great location right in Boston,” said Tully “It just seemed like a good place.”

Harvard has seemed like a good place for many highly-coveted Ivy recruits since the arrival of Murphy, whose staff is known for consistently luring recruiting classes that are the best, or near-best, in the league.

Now Murphy has to wait and hope the admissions office decides Harvard is a good place for his recruits.

—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at spottsw@fas.harvard.edu.