LAST FALL, when coach John Yovicsin was faced with the most urgent reconstruction task of his 11-year tenure, the Crimson surprised him by going undefeated and sharing the Ivy title with Yale. This year, there'll be no surprise. Harvard has all the ingredients of another championship team-powerful offense, solid defense, superb kicking game--and only injuries or failures to jell should keep the Crimson from the top again in Ivy football.
Twenty-four lettermen, including eight defensive starters, are gone: Vic Gatto, one of the greatest halfbacks in Harvard History, is gone. So are regular quarterback George Lalich and three-quarters of the Crimson's talented defensive backfield. But the Crimson's high-scoring offense of last year has indirectly produced what may be this year's strength--experienced reserves who can step into staring positions. Harvard's explosiveness early in its games last fall often produced sizeable half-time leads, and Yovicsin took advantage of them to give second and third team players prolonged and valuable game-time. The reserves are back now, and graduation has opened holes that they'll be able to fill more than adequately. The sophomores, fortunately, are providing help where the Crimson needs it most--on defense.
Captain John Cramer, cornerback Rick Frisbie and linebacker Gary Farnetti are the only starters returning on defense, but Yovicsin has four other proven lettermen--Seniors Rick Berne Ed Sadler, Dale Neal, and Neil Hurley--that he can use with the utmost confidence. Berne and Sadler, who between them saw 221 minutes of action as reserves last season, can ably handle the two defensive tackle spots, getting back-up strength from junior larry Kram, a JV performer last year.
Cramer has clinched a spot at one end, and juniors Duncan McCrann, Chris Doyle and Ed Lukawski, along with sophomore Dave Kibbe will compete for the other berth.
Middle guard, usually a Harvard strongpoint, is empty this year, and Vic Piotrowski and Eliot Nierman, both up from the JV's, are fighting it out for the regular slot.
Linebacking has been superior for several years at Cambridge, and it will stay that way this fall. Farneti and Neal will play the two spots, and sophomore Frank Veteran should play a great deal, too. Frisbie joins Hurley to form a solid cornerback tandem, but at safety, the Crimson is hurting.
Tom Wynne and Pat Conway were two superb safeties, and their loss could make the Crimson susceptible to the bomb. Junior Bill Kelly, whom Yovicsin had counted upon to move in at one spot, is sidelined for the season while he recuperates from a knee operation. The four other leading candidates--juniors Fred Mattucci, Dick Manny, and Walter Johnson, and sophomore Ron Suduiko--have but 32 minutes of varisty time among them, and unless backfield coach Loyal Park can make them into a solid unit, Harvard will have trouble where it has rarely experienced it before.
BUT ALL FOUR prospects are fine atheletes, and if Park can work some of his traditional cohesive magic on them, safety could become an asset.
On offense, Harvard will have one of its most powerful machines in many years. Senior Frank Champi, the hero of last fall's Yale game, has come back to Cambridge as the top-ranked candidate at quarterback, but he'll be pushed by classmate Dave Smith, transfer student Joe Roda (a junior from Villanova) and sophomore George Crace.
Good quarterbacking has only recently become available in any consistent form at Cambridge, and even at that, the Crimson still cannot offer a sold all-round performer at that position. Champi has the best throwing arm of any quarterback in Harvard history, but despite his Yale game performance, he has not yet proven his ability to provide stable technical leadership. Roda is an unknown quantity, although in two freshman games at Villanova he threw seven touchdown passes. Smith has most of the ingredients but has not yet used them together, and Crace faces a problem in a system that seldom starts sophomores at quarterback.
But Harvard had worse problems last year, and Yovicsin came up with Lalich, a JV quarterback who supplied excellent leadership and running ability at the varsity level despite early doubts. Perhaps the same situation will occur in September.
Running backs have been talented and plentiful in recent years, but this fall Yovicsin will be able to employ two different backfields of first-string quality. Senior Ray Hornblower, Gatto's shifty running mate last year, may team with sophomore Steve Harrison, a hard-running halfback who scored 48 points for the freshmen last fall, to form one of the most dangerous pairs in the East. Senior lettermen John Ballantyne and Jim Reynolds, who confirmed their quality with fine second-half performances as juniors, are definitely capable of strong backup support, and juniors Richie Szaro, Scotty Guild, Skip Vaccarello, are all talented performers, Szaro, one of the most heralded prospects in Harvard history two seasons ago, has been plagued by a foot injury for over a year, back is questionable, his soccer style placekicking is without a doubt exceptional.
Gus Crim, lsat year's starter at fullback, should retain the top spot again, but he'll be pressed by bruising junior Tom Miller.
Varney and junior Skip Freeman were starters at offensive end last fall, and their clutch performances throughout the season and in the Yale game, in which they scored 14 of Harvard's 29 points, mark them as a threat equally as strong as the Crimson's ground game.
Seniors Fritz Reed and Bob Dowd return to starting assignments at the two tackle slots, and sophomore John Ferullo is capable of pushing them both. Seniors Bob Teske, Drew Czulewicz and John Casis will compose the interior offensive line, with Teske centering, but behind them there is little depth. An injury to any of the three, especially Cassis, could hamper the Crimson's inside running game, but if they stay healthy, Harvard could have its best complete offensive unit of Yovicsin's tenure.