Hatch, a junior quarterback, has started all three games this season for Louisiana State, ranked No. 5 in this week’s Associated Press poll. Tiger Stadium, where Hatch made his first two starts, seats 92,400 fans, and that number is almost always present for a home game. Last season, the Tigers won the BCS national championship, taking the title in college football’s highest division by downing Ohio State 38-24.
By way of contrast, Harvard Stadium has a capacity of 30,323, a number that is only reached for the biennial Cambridge edition of The Game.
The Crimson cannot compete in the playoffs due to Ivy League rules, and Ivy contests are a far cry from the gauntlet that typifies a season in the Southeastern Conference, LSU’s league, which includes traditional powerhouses Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and Auburn.
These are two worlds of college football, worlds that never meet. Except, of course, in the case of Hatch, who has become something of a sensational story in his second year on the LSU squad. His story has been repeated countless times and is usually met with amazement: Hatch was invited to join the Tigers after spending a season in Cambridge, where he was a backup quarterback who never played a down.
“We happened to have the TV on in the locker room when they were playing their opener against Appalachian State, and everybody’s just standing there shaking their heads,” head coach Tim Murphy says. “It’s unbelievable, it’s great.”
It was personal connections that led Hatch to Harvard, and those same connections eventually led him to LSU. He was recruited out of high school by Gary Crowton, then the head coach at Brigham Young University. When Crowton was fired, Hatch lost interest in BYU, and Crowton made a call to Murphy suggesting that he take a look at Hatch. A few months later, Hatch was a Harvard student and spent his year in Cambridge practicing with the JV squad.
Following his freshman year, Hatch took a leave of absence to go on his Mormon mission, traveling to Chile. While playing in a pickup soccer game there, Hatch tore ligaments in his knee, which forced him to cut short his trip and return to the U.S. for surgery. While rehabbing at home, he re-established contact with Crowton, who had gotten a job as the offensive coordinator at LSU. After rehab and a tryout, Hatch became a scholarship quarterback at one of the nation’s premier football schools. When 2007 starter Matt Flynn graduated and presumed successor Ryan Perilloux was kicked off the team for disciplinary issues, it was suddenly Hatch’s job to lose.
“I’ve definitely felt grateful for the opportunity,” Hatch says. “It’s definitely been really exciting.”
Hatch has made the most of it thus far. Despite being knocked out of last week’s game against Auburn with a concussion, Hatch has thrown for 218 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, and is 3-0 as a starter.
To many, however, the surprise is not that Hatch is a Harvard transfer, but the fact that he actually starts for the defending national champions.
“People in the South, God love them, they just think it’s an aberration,” Murphy says.
A better question might be to ask why they’re so surprised. The last two senior Crimson starters at quarterback—Neil Rose ’02 and Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05—were starting quarterbacks in the Hula Bowl, a showcase game for college seniors before the NFL draft. Fitzpatrick is still in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals, one of several ex-Crimson stars playing professional football. Hatch’s playing time amounts to a pretty significant endorsement of the talent present at the Ivy level.
“I think that’s kind of been obvious with how there’ve been guys who went on and had success in the NFL,” Hatch says of the quality of Ivy football. “There’re awesome football players out there at Harvard. I think it’s kind of under-recognized, but that’s not the program’s fault.”
“We feel like we’ve done a very good job of recruiting and developing quarterbacks in our system for a lot of years,” Murphy says. “I think anyone who’s familiar with our program knows we’ve got two really good quarterbacks [this year]. Imagine if Hatch was here too. Can you imagine that?”
For now, however, Hatch will stick to LSU, though he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to Harvard to finish his degree.
“I definitely have some great memories about my time there,” Hatch says. “I don’t really know. I kind of don’t really plan so much in the future.”
No matter what the future holds, it will be a while before Hatch and his story are forgotten by football fans nationwide.
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.