An air of confidence surrounds the members of Harvard’s revamped receiving corps. The unproven trio of juniors Andrew Berg and Ricky Zorn and sophomore Seitu Smith II say they’re ready to show Crimson fans and the Ivy League what they’re made of.
“I don’t want to say we’re better than last year’s receiving corps,” Smith says. “But our technique is sound, and we look really good right now.”
The Crimson graduated all three starting wide receivers after Harvard’s passing offense set a slew of program records. Adam Chrissis ’12 and Chris Lorditch ’11 litter the career record books, and Alex Sarkisian ’12 scored in six of 10 games last year. Smith’s 12 career receptions give him the most of any returning wide receiver.
“As far as accepting the challenge, we don’t see ourselves as new and upcoming and unproven,” Smith says. “We know what we’re capable of, and we’ve put in the work. Now it’s our chance to show what we can do.”
After a stellar freshman season returning kicks—he averaged almost 30 yards per return and took one to the house—Smith was named a preseason All-American by College Sports Madness. Smith’s speed and elusiveness are respected around the Ancient Eight, but less known are the talents of Zorn and Berg, who are getting a shot with the starting team after two years of nearly zero reps with the first squad.
“I think Ricky Zorn and [Andrew] Berg are really going to surprise people,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy says. “And I think that’s the characteristic of a quality program. All of a sudden you got two juniors that nobody’s ever heard of—really have never played a snap—and these guys can really play.”
Much of the credit for the rapid rise of the Crimson’s new wideouts can be attributed to new wide receivers coach Joe Villapiano and a summer spent in Cambridge working out with senior quarterback Colton Chapple.
Villapiano, who spent the last four seasons working with the running backs, emphasized running crisp routes and high attention to detail in the film room—both of which have proven beneficial to the group’s progress.
“I just think [Villapiano’s] been an incredible asset,” Berg says. “He’s always finding little things on film that he’s made us better at. I would give all the credit [for our route running] to him.”
While Berg and Smith work to polish their skills, Zorn has had to learn an entirely new position. A 5A all-state high school quarterback from Texas, Zorn transitioned to cornerback his freshman year, then injured his shoulder and eventually wound up at wide receiver.
“I’ve really had to persevere through some tough times, especially with [a] shoulder injury freshman year,” Zorn says. “Now it’s just fun to be out there and playing football again. It’s really just a joy and a blessing.”
Though Chapple enters the season as the Crimson’s starter for the first time, he is far from an unknown talent. In four starts in the stead of injured starter Collier Winters ’11, Chapple threw for 918 yards and 12 touchdowns. But his time practicing with the second team last year means the transition to a new group of receivers will be less volatile than one may otherwise think.
“Colton’s a great leader,” Berg said. “I think, even last year, we built up a pretty good rapport because I was a [second-team] receiver and he was a [second-team] quarterback, so there’s definitely a history there between us.”
Members of the offense made an effort to stay in Cambridge over the summer in order to stay in shape and foster chemistry. Three times a week for eight weeks, Chapple and his receivers met up to throw the ball, giving everyone a level of familiarity that should mitigate the problems usually associated with newcomers in an offensive system.
“I knew that they were talented; I knew they were good enough to play. It’s just they never had the opportunity,” Chapple says. “They’re new coming to the scene, so they’ll be able to catch a lot of people by surprise. [But] there’s no dip at all in the talent level.”
—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.