Liam O’Hagan. Chris Pizzotti. Jeff Witt. Richard Irvin.
This jumble of names at the quarterback position ultimately led to three different starting signal-callers for Harvard last season, and if not for a surprise start by Pizzotti on a battered leg in Week 3, it could have been four.
But lucky for the Crimson offense, this year looks to be a more stable one. Senior Liam O’Hagan has emerged from the pack in a quarterback battle that was all but over by the beginning of the summer.
“He has been as committed as any one of our players,” head coach Tim Murphy says. “His attitude has been tremendous, his leadership has been tremendous in winter workouts, spring football, and during his summer workouts.”
“He’s done everything we could ask of him,” Murphy adds. “He’s done a phenomenal job...We have high expectations for Liam.”
Earning his coach’s confidence is not something that O’Hagan accomplished instantly. Instead, it’s something that he developed throughout his tough junior season and over the past summer.
“On my own I did a lot of film work, film review—I basically learned,” O’Hagan says. “My football knowledge got a lot better. It was something I needed to do, and I really put a lot into that—if not more, as much as I did into strengthening and conditioning and running and everything.”
And the poise and confidence showed in the season opener.
In last Saturday’s loss at Holy Cross, the Minnetonka, Minn., native completed 19-of-30 passes for 264 yards, while posting three touchdowns—two through the air, one on the ground—and no turnovers. In addition to his throwing prowess, O’Hagan looked comfortable on the move, running 11 times for 65 yards.
“I thought Liam O’Hagan did a great job,” Murphy said following the game. “To come out here in our first game and have zero turnovers against a very good football team, I thought was a major accomplishment. I thought he made great decisions today. Probably in terms of field generalship, [it’s] arguably the best game he’s played.”
Up to this point, putting up strong numbers on a consistent basis has not been O’Hagan’s forte.
After being suspended for the first five games of the 2006 season for an undisclosed violation of team rules, a cold O’Hagan came off the bench in the sixth game at Princeton.
He had sat out spring and early fall workouts and was playing on just a few days’ worth of practice. He completed 13-of-27 passes and threw two interceptions in his first meaningful action in almost a year’s time, as the Tigers eked out a 31-28 win.
“When I came into that game I was just all adrenaline,” O’Hagan says. “At the end, I didn’t slow down enough and I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was just out there almost being reckless in some sense and wasn’t patient enough last year, and that’s where I got into a lot of trouble.”
In Harvard’s three losses on the season, he completed just over 49 percent of his passes for two scores and had a total of five interceptions.
The early numbers in 2007 are more reminiscent of O’Hagan’s promising sophomore campaign.
O’Hagan started nine games in 2005 and led the Ivy League in total offense. In the final six games, he posted 12 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions.
With another year of life—and football—experience, the quarterback feels even more ready to step up to the challenge of being Harvard’s starter.
“I just feel like I’m much better prepared,” O’Hagan says. “I’m older, more mature, more experienced. I’ve played a lot more games, everything just feels slower. I feel a lot more comfortable on the field.”
And with a deep and talented receiving corps to throw to, O’Hagan will not be at a loss for wideouts and tight ends to make plays.
“The thing about our guys is that they’re all great route runners and they’re all smart,” O’Hagan says. “They’re all smart out there. When you’re out there playing with guys like that, Corey [Mazza] and the rest, it’s a lot easier to make plays.”
In addition to his arm, the senior’s legs have also been known to carry the offense. He has nearly 600 rushing yards during his career, and the quarterback attributes some of his run skills to important childhood experience as a running back.
“It’s all instinctual,” he says. “I just kind of take off when I feel it’s open. If it’s there, I’m going to take it.
“Instead of trying to complete a five-yard pass it’s just as easy to run five yards, get down, keep the offense on schedule. I feel like it’s a valuable part of my game—it buys time if a guy’s not open yet.”
And with fellow senior Pizzotti and Witt, a junior, in line should anything go wrong, the Crimson should be able to keep the quarterback position in order in 2007.
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.