The winner of this year’s Game will earn the distinction at Harvard Stadium, but the outcome of future Harvard-Yale contests could be decided across the South in places like Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Last year, the Crimson football team dominated the Bulldogs, 45-7, with two of the squad’s top three rushers, its kickoff returner, and its second-leading tackler all hailing from the Southeast.
This year, the South will play an even bigger factor in The Game. Harvard’s backfield of senior quarterback Colton Chapple and senior running back Treavor Scales hails from Georgia, as does team sack leader Zach Hodges. Fifth-year senior John Lyon, who is second on the team with 7.5 sacks, calls North Carolina home.
In total, a dozen significant contributors on this year’s team were recruited from Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Several of them were recruited by current Yale coach Tony Reno and might not be here if it were not for him.
“[Reno] was my recruiting coach,” Hodges says. “He was my sole contact with Harvard for a long part of my recruiting process.”
Current seniors from the area were recruited before Reno joined the team in 2009, but the former defensive secondary and special teams coach is responsible for bringing in underclassmen like Hodges and week one starters Norman Hayes and Seitu Smith II to Cambridge.
But in the longer term, things may be changing as Reno now recruits for Yale, leaving Harvard to attempt to maintain its preeminence. The best way to see the effects of that struggle is to take a trip to North Broward Preparatory in South Florida, where Reno went two years ago in an attempt to get Smith to commit to Harvard.
The Smith family was taken with Reno immediately.
“Who can’t like Coach Reno?” Smith’s mom, Mari Smith, asks. “He always communicated, and he was upfront with us…. He was just really, really nice.”
For the remainder of the recruiting period, Reno remained in contact with Smith, even coming to the family’s house for dinner three times in addition to talking to Smith at school.
“Coach Reno is probably the best recruiter in the Ivy League,” Mari says. “He just really kept in touch.”
All of the hard work eventually paid off when Smith committed to the Crimson.
Once Smith got to Cambridge, he and his family remained close with Reno. When his mom couldn’t get in touch with Smith by phone, she called Reno, who returned the call and helped. But Reno didn’t call when he decided to bolt for Yale last January, taking three other Harvard coaches with him.
“We found out [for] the first time on ESPN,” Mari says. “The reason why I was upset was that, with Seitu, we finally got close with Coach Reno. I mean, I see his wife at the games, we talk to her, [and] see his kids. Coach Reno was personable, and he was approachable. I was upset at the fact that he left and disappointed at the fact that we had to find out that way.”
But that wasn’t the end of Reno’s relationship with the Smith family.