As Harvard took to the field for its Spring Game on Saturday night, the Crimson faithful got its first look at a team that is coming off the end of an era or two.
Saturday’s scrimmage marked the first time that Harvard took the field without members of a pair of incredibly influential and successful classes of players.
On the one hand, the absence of fifth-year players like Chris Pizzotti, Liam O’Hagan, Desmond Bryant, and several offensive linemen—guys who were the last holdovers from the 2004 squad that went 10-0—was most obvious, as the biggest questions on this year’s team lie at quarterback and at defensive end.
There’s no question that group was talented—Pizzotti signed with the New York Jets after the draft, and Bryant with the Oakland Raiders.
Less noticeable—oddly—was the absence of one of the best recruiting classes in Crimson history, a batch of freshmen who entered in the fall of 2005 after being recruited during the magical 2004 campaign.
It leaves as a senior class that went 31-9, won back-to-back Ivy titles in 2007 and 2008, and came within a missed extra point of an undefeated 2008 campaign. It produced no fewer than seven All-Ivy selections this season, including three First Team defensive selections in Eric Schultz, Glenn Dorris, and Andrew Berry. There are a few holdovers, to be sure, some whom will play huge roles this season.
Captain Carl Ehrlich is back for a fifth year, along with Sean Hayes—a promising linebacker who started six games his sophomore season before an injury took him off the field.
Fortunately for the Crimson, the losses of that 2005 class will be less noticeable thanks to a crop of talented upperclassmen waiting in the wings—players like rising seniors Nick Hasselberg, Jon Takamura, J.B. Monu, and Connor Murphy, who will join Hayes in replacing the departed senior starters from the linebacking corps.
But, ironically, the Crimson’s attempt to find a solution to its most pressing current problem—the quarterback spot—may well involve looking backwards, to a player who was once a blockmate of Pizzotti and a member of the 2004 squad. With a pair of juniors, Matt Simpson and Collier Winters, struggling somewhat in the Spring Game, the best case for Harvard may be the return of Andrew Hatch, the well-traveled former Crimson quarterback who started two games for Louisiana State last season. Hatch is attempting to get back to Cambridge to finish his career in a Harvard uniform, although the jury is still out on his return.
“We’re okay with the guys we have,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “There’s usually a small chance that when you transfer and then come back to the same school, I’m sure someone’s been made eligible for it, but most times it never happens.”
In all likelihood, Winters and Simpson will get one year to prove themselves, as NCAA transfer rules will likely prevent any immediate return by Hatch. That would set up an entertaining battle for the starting spot in 2010, when Hatch, Winters, and Simpson could all be in the mix for the starting job as seniors.
The legacy of the 2004 team, quite simply the greatest team in the modern era of Harvard football, will live on with Hatch’s return. In a way, it will be that the Crimson has traveled full circle with an era of extremely successful players. A series of guys who practiced with Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05, the greatest Harvard quarterback of the modern era, continue to carry his legacy—O’Hagan, Pizzotti, and now, perhaps, Hatch.
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.