Hot off back-to-back Ivy League championship seasons, Harvard football is sitting before a plate piled high with expectations. The 2009 Ivy League preseason media poll gave Harvard a decisive 10 first-place votes, while Penn took four and Brown three. Harvard is also the only Ivy League team to crack the Football Championship Series (FCS, formerly Division 1-AA) Top-25 poll—earning the No. 25 spot. With the bar set so high, the Crimson is again the team to beat in 2009.
“We seem to have a bull’s-eye on our back and our front,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy says. “[We] seem to be everybody’s big game, and everybody is all jacked up to play us.”
But according to captain and defensive lineman Carl Ehrlich, while the expectations may be the same as last year, the Harvard squad that must live up to them is not.
“The thing that we’ve talked about on the team is winning an Ivy League Championship,” Ehrlich says. “There was a lot of feel that last year, when we had so many people coming back, we had [quarterback Chris] Pizzotti [’08-’09] coming back, all those people were coming back, that we were going to defend an Ivy League Championship. I think this year more than ever, new faces, new feel, completely new team, we’re really focused on winning our own. We’re not defending. It’s not the third championship we’re going to win. It’s a new team, we’re winning one championship.”
The Crimson will get a good sense of its “new” team in its early contests, which feature two of its tougher opponents: Holy Cross in Week 1 and Brown in Week 2.
No. 23 Holy Cross returns its two-time Patriot League Player of the Year quarterback, Dominic Randolph, who will likely be a top candidate to receive the conference honors for the third consecutive year.
“Holy Cross, they may have their best team in the past 20 years,” Murphy says. “Obviously you have a quarterback who’s going for his third straight—these are unheard-of statistics—conference player of the year award…I’ve never heard of anything like that at any level.”
As for Brown, it lost its star quarterback Michael Dougherty, but retains 10 of its regular starters, including six All-Ivy players—among them the feared wide receiver duo of Buddy Farnham and Bobby Sewall.
“Brown’s good every year,” Murphy says. “They’re returning the nucleus of their football team, other than quarterback. They have more people returning than any other team I think in our league.”
Harvard’s biggest question mark heading into tomorrow’s season opener at Holy Cross is unarguably at quarterback. But Murphy seems confident in his play callers, namely junior Collier Winters, who will be taking snaps in the opening drive.
“Collier’s a natural athlete, a natural runner,” Murphy says, likening Winters to 2009 graduate Liam O’Hagan, who was the running counterpart to Pizzotti’s arm. “And he can throw the football.”
Assisting Winters will be a deep veteran corps of receivers—led by senior Matt Luft—which will include a healthy senior Mike Cook, juniors Marco Iannuzzi and Chris Lorditch, and sophomore Adam Chrissis. With those targets, Murphy’s confident that Winters and the other quarterbacks will have no problem spreading the field.
“On one hand, your offense goes as your quarterback goes, but your quarterback also only goes as good as his supporting cast,” Murphy says. “I think by having a relatively experienced offensive line group and receiving group, it’s going to make the transition a lot easier.”
Providing a balance on the offense is the deep running back position. Junior Gino Gordon is looking to build on his superb sophomore season and, according to Murphy, is only getting better in preseason. Joining him is a healthy senior Cheng Ho, giving the Crimson no shortage of run options. To cap things off, Harvard has a true freshman that Ehrlich and Murphy believe will make waves from the get-go, Treavor Scales.
“He has been outstanding, quite frankly, this preseason,” Murphy admits. “He is a kid who will play for us from day one.”
“He came in, ran an unbelievable 40 time,” Ehrlich echoes. “He’s been doing a really good job, and he’ll definitely be getting time.”
Defensively, the Crimson will inevitably miss the production it got from such talented 2009 graduates as Eric Schultz, Glenn Dorris, and Desmond Bryant, who is now with the Oakland Raiders. But according to Ehrlich, Harvard has plenty of players who have been waiting for their day to step in.
“The timing works out perfectly,” Ehrlich says. “We graduated some guys, we have a pretty young team, but the way things are coming along…the way things have progressed from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage to the Dartmouth scrimmage, we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
And despite losing stud cornerback Andrew Berry ’09 to graduation, the Crimson believes the combination of last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year Matthew Hanson, fifth-year senior Ryan Barnes, senior Derrick Barker, and junior Collin Zych should stack up against the league’s top receivers.
“We have a really talented secondary, so if we can stop the run and force [opponents] to throw the ball, I’m really confident,” says senior defensive end Ryan Burkhead.
But above all, this year’s Crimson squad is out to prove that it is its own team. Having lost its core of seniors to graduation, Murphy says the next group is ready to hit the ground running.
“I have very high hopes,” Murphy says. “We’re setting the bar high…I think they’re talented guys. It’s just their time now.”
—Staff writer Dixon McPhillips can be reached at email@example.com.