The graduation of free safety Collin Zych ’11 leaves a definite hole in the Crimson defensive backfield. But despite the loss of the 2010 team captain, it has become increasingly apparent that the “PBP” may still be among the strongest secondaries in the Ivy League.
“We pride ourselves in the secondary on being a family, known— ‘PBP’—and we are going to do whatever it takes, ‘Play By Play,’ to be successful,” said junior strong safety Jonathan Mason.
In recent seasons, Zych was the undeniable backbone of the secondary—and more than just the Harvard squad noticed his impressive play.
In addition to his many other accolades, last year Zych was placed on the Consensus Draft Services Preseason All-America team and named the Ivy League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. At the end of the season, Zych earned first-team All-Ivy accolades and a contract from the Dallas Cowboys. He was among the Cowboys’ final cuts.
“Collin Zych is a big void. He was a great quarterback of our defense,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “He was athletic enough to play corner; he was a tremendous tackler. And he was extremely savvy and [had a] high IQ as a defensive player. Do we have another Collin Zych right now? Doesn’t look like it.”
While there may not be an individual capable of replacing Zych, it seems the Harvard secondary as a whole has the capability to compensate.
“Losing a player like Collin Zych is always hard,” Mason said. “I was able to learn a lot about preparation, intensity, and what it takes to win simply by playing next to him. But it is going to be a group effort this year.”
Additionally, though the secondary loses one defensive back, it gains two. Early in the 2010 season, the Crimson lost projected starters D.J. Monroe and Brian Owusu to injury. But Murphy expects that both juniors will return for the 2011 season ready to play.
“Fast, athletic, natural, physical, aggressive. Monroe and Owusu are just natural football players,” he said. “They were very good in high school—very good the minute they got here—and even though they’ve been hurt, they’re really good right now.”
Monroe and Owusu join established players like seniors Dan Minamide and Matt Hanson. The free safety and cornerback, respectively, each boast three seasons of experience, highlighted by stellar performances in 2010. In addition, Minamide, the direct replacement for Zych at free safety, returns to the field with an offseason of rigorous training under his belt.
“I spent the summer here in Cambridge training to improve my speed and strength as well as putting on some extra weight,” Minamide said. “I wanted to be able to physically compete with anyone in the Ivy League.”
Minamide was not alone in his efforts. Intensive off-season training in the secondary by Hanson and impressive efforts in the preseason by sophomore defensive backs Rey Kirton and Jaron Wilson demonstrate the potential for a more physical Harvard secondary than ever before.
While the Crimson defensive backs made significant strides towards success in the off-season, many still lack game-day experience.
“I think the athleticism is there—there’s a relative void in terms of experience,” Murphy said. “But those guys are good enough to be very good players in our league. It’s just—do they play to their potential?”
But the members of the secondary express extreme confidence and solidarity in their younger and less experienced teammates, who will have significant roles for the first time this season.