The Harvard football team unleashed one of its most dominant performances in program history in 2011, rolling unscathed through league play en route to an Ivy League title. In the process, the Crimson scored 374 points, tops for any Harvard team in the modern era.
Unsurprisingly, the Crimson enters the 2012 season as the heavy favorite to repeat. And that begs the question: Will 2012 be an encore performance?
“Every team is different,” senior quarterback Colton Chapple says. “Coach Murphy reminds us of that every year at the first team meeting: ‘The team of 2011 is dead and gone. Those seniors have graduated. What are you guys going to do?’”
Some of those departed seniors played critical roles in last year’s Ivy title run. The team must grapple with losses of All-Ivy players such as quarterback Collier Winters ’11, linebacker Alex Gedeon ‘12, and Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Josue Ortiz ’11.
Players on the team have also said that the Crimson is expecting to lose at least one projected major contributor who was implicated in the Government 1310 cheating scandal.
But Harvard returns many pieces from its championship team a season ago, and Crimson coach Tim Murphy told the Boston Herald that “all 24 projected starters coming out of spring ball are in good academic standing, healthy, and ready to go on Saturday.”
Chapple will lead the offense in 2012 after filling in much of last season following Winters’ injury in the first week. In his time behind center in 2011, the relatively unheralded Chapple led the Crimson to four straight wins and reeled off perhaps the best two-game stretch of any Harvard quarterback in history.
And as he did last season, Chapple will have two weapons at his disposal at tight end: senior Kyle Juszczyk, a preseason All-American, and junior Cam Brate. Opposing defenses struggled all season to handle the duo, which combined for 14 touchdown catches.
“They’re as good as we’re going to get at this level,” Murphy says. “I think they’re both legitimate NFL prospects.”
In the backfield, Chapple will be joined by a familiar face in senior running back Treavor Scales, who ran for a team-best 816 yards a season ago. Senior Rich Zajeski and freshman Paul Stanton are also expected to see time at the position. According to Murphy, sophomore Zach Boden is out with a short-term injury.
At wide receiver, juniors Andrew Berg and Ricky Zorn—neither of whom started a year ago—fill in following the graduation of Chris Lorditch ’11, Adam Chrissis ’12, and Alex Sarkisian ’12. But according to teammates, neither Berg nor Zorn has missed a beat.
“Some might critique them that they’re not the prototypical 6’3”, 6’4” wide receivers that we’ve had in the past, but for them, it doesn’t matter,” Chapple says. “They’ll go get any ball. They both are extremely athletic, and they’re not afraid to go across the middle, which is something I love [in] wide receivers.”
According to Murphy, junior Matt Brown has a shoulder injury and therefore will not be a factor for most of this season. In the spring, Murphy had expected Brown—who is also a member of the men’s basketball team—to play a key role offensively.
On the defensive side, senior Nnamdi Obukwelu and fifth-year senior John Lyon—both of whom received preseason All-Ivy nods—led a defensive line that dominated the Ivy League a season ago. In 2011, the Crimson allowed just 89.7 rushing yards per game, nearly 25 percent less than the second-best squad.
The biggest question marks defensively arise in the secondary. Perhaps the team’s biggest liability in the 2011 season, this year’s defensive backs lack much game-day experience.