It has become almost a given in Ivy football. When you look at the top defenders in the league, a Harvard linebacker is likely to top the list.
The trend started with Isaiah Kacyvenski ’00, who holds Crimson’s career tackles record and now plays for the Seattle Seahawks. Then Dante Balestracci ’04 became the first player in league history to be chosen first team All-Ivy four straight years.
Bobby Everett ’05 assumed the role of linebacker leader following Balestracci’s graduation, and now senior Matt Thomas has emerged as arguably the most feared defender in the league.
This lofty tradition of excellence is what freshmen linebackers Eric Schultz and Sean Hayes are hoping to continue. If their performances in their first career games last Saturday against Holy Cross are any indication, they should fit in just fine.
“The linebackers that have come through here have obviously been outstanding,” Shultz said. “We have great linebacker coaches and great defensive coaches and that helps a lot.”
Schultz started off his Harvard career by leading the team in tackles—with six—and making two big stops for a loss.
At 5’11” and 215 lbs., the Alpharetta, Ga., native was considered too small by many of the top-flight Division I-A programs.
Still, he garnered enough attention to receive offers from Ball State, Middle Tennessee State, and Air Force, along with interest from a number of Division I-AA schools.
Ultimately, the decision to come to Cambridge became one of comfort.
“As soon as I came on campus I knew this was the place I fit in best,” Schultz said. “Throughout last fall I became very aware of Harvard football. By the time I came for my visit I knew all about the tradition.”
Schultz showed up at camp this summer believing he could contribute, but aware that substantial playing time might not come right away. He set a series of goals that began with making the travel squad, then starting on special teams, and then cracking the two-deep depth chart at linebacker.
“I set short term goals,” he said, “and just tried to work towards those.”
By the time camp finished, Schultz had earned his spot in the linebacker rotation along with his classmate, Hayes.
“They’re very similar in terms of their passion for football,” said defensive coordinator Kevin Doherty of the two freshmen. “They have tremendous intensity.”
Hayes didn’t see the field as much as Schultz against the Crusaders, but had one tackle for a loss and looked confident in the defensive scheme. Both were singled out by Harvard coach Tim Murphy after the game for playing well.
Schultz and Hayes are part of the freshmen class that may prove to be one of the strongest in Crimson history.
During the preseason mini-camp—when coaches are accustomed to seeing five or six freshmen quit the squad—this year’s class surprised everyone when not one freshman abandoned the team.
Schultz and Hayes were joined by freshman cornerback Andrew Berry—who came to camp as a quarterback—as first-year contributors on defense.
Berry started the game in place of the injured senior cornerback Gary Sonkur and responded with six tackles and a fumble recovery.
“It’s a great recruiting class,” Doherty said. “And there’s a lot of talent that’s not even playing yet.”
Added Schultz: “Everyone I think is pretty pumped up about this freshman class.”
—Staff writer David H. Stearns can be reached at email@example.com.