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Last year the Boston Patriots drafted two players out of Harvard's most successful football team in over 25 years--halfback Bobby Leo and defensive tackle Dave Davis. Other Ivy League schools have representatives in the professional ranks, but for Harvard the possibility that Leo or Davis might make it was something unique.
A 175-pound shifty sprinter, Leo has long been the darling of every local sportswriter; he lives right here in Everett, Mass., and no one who has watched him can remember anyone quite so dazzling in this area of the country. He is small, but plenty fast enough to make the pros as a runner or flanker or defensive back. But alas, the Army got a hold of Bobby shortly before the Patriots did, and so the Wonder Boy must serve a six-month stint in the Reserves before folks can see whether he's got what it takes.
Davis, on the other hand, was a standout, but no superstar at Harvard. And yet he is a better pro prospect than Leo. At six-feet-six and 235 pounds, Davis was the quickest, though possibly not the strongest, of Harvard's interior linemen. Because it uses a pursuing style of defense, Harvard depended almost entirely on Davis for an occasional big pass rush.
Davis knew, and the Patriots knew, that defensive tackle was no place for him in the American Football League. By professional standards, Davis would be considered lanky and fast--and better suited at defensive end.
After two weeks of practice, Davis' fate with the Pats is still unknown. He had the misfortune of suffering a severe muscle pull in his back during the first week of practice (the injury is not related to the vertebrae fracture he suffered at Harvard, however). He consequently was laid out in a hospital for the next five days, missing vital practice days and the rookies' first scrimmage. "He was right in there with the rest of them until his injury," said defensive line coach Jesse Richardson Saturday. "He was quick, had good moves, and grasped fundamentals soundly, but I just can't judge him at all until I see him in combat."
The Patriots rookies scrimmage the Lowell Giants tonight, but the team trainer does not yet know whether Davis will play in it.
Davis himself realizes his plight. "First cuts are next week," he said Saturday, "and I have yet to prove myself. The thing that counts is my one-on-one showing under game conditions. A player's showing in practice means almost nothing to the coaches."
For Davis, practices have been enjoyable--much more so than in college. "We train for speed and agility. There is very little scrimmage, and not nearly so much hitting the offense or dummies in practice. The coaches concentrate on developing new moves and finesse and just assume that we know the fundamentals." He added that his Harvard coaches--especially defensive line specialist Limmy Lentz, prepared him as well, and often better, than the other rookies. "The Harvard coaches could coach anywhere in the country," he said.
The Patriots practice sessions are no heavier than early fall practice at colleges. The players run through exercises, drills, and patterns twice a day for an hour and a half each time. In the evening, the players do their schoolwork with the coaches.
Otherwise, players are on their own. Violations, such as tardiness to practice or bed (11 p.m.) are handled in the professional way; $100 or $200 fines are slapped down.
For the rookies like Davis, life at the Andover training camp can be pretty lonely. The older, established players tend to be cliquey, partly from habit and familiarity, and partly to perpetuate their established positions. None of the rookies, however, find anybody not friendly. It's just business. Some of the linemen, for example, could not say who their defensive coach was. "We were never introduced, so I just call him 'coach,' says Melvin Witt, a 6-3, 265-pound tackle from Arlington State in Texas.
Davis actually has it better than most rookies. He doesn't need the money; and if he is cut, he has a place waiting for him at graduate school. For others, this is the scary part of the game.
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