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He waits patiently, cautiously targeting his prey, waiting for the moment to strike. Without warning he disappears into the shadow of an offensive lineman, reemerging on the other side as he lowers his shoulders and moves in for the kill.
The crushing impact jars the quarterback’s body and sends him to the ground in a heap, and sophomore defensive end Erik Grimm stands to inspect his victim.
Quick, silent and efficient. Maybe the comparisons to the Grim Reaper have more substance to them than just a pun on his last name.
“Even the announcers back in my high school used to call me ‘Grim Reaper,’” Grimm said. “I’m kind of used to it.”
His teammates certainly won’t let him forget about it.
“In my book, he’s the Grimm Reaper,” junior right defensive end Doug Bennett said.
Though his teammates kid, the man behind the face mask has a much more humble human side to him.
“He’s definitely a quiet guy, he’s a great guy, he’s one of the nicest guys on the team,” senior right tackle Jon Berrier said. “On the field, he’s not dirty at all, but he does his job and he does it right. He doesn’t really talk trash, he’ll let his play speak for itself.”
When Harvard traveled to Ithaca to do battle with Cornell three weeks ago, the Crimson gained the early advantage, going up 27-0 before the end of the third quarter. But no matter what the Harvard defense tried, the Big Red simply would not go away.
Several times Cornell rose from the mat, dusted itself off and came at the Crimson again.
Enter the Reaper.
With 9:34 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Big Red took the ball on its own 16-yard line and marched 76 yards downfield to the Harvard eight-yard line. After a third down incompletion, the stage was set for fourth-and-goal—and for the sickle to finally drop.
Cornell quarterback Mick Razzano faded back in the pocket, desperately looking for an open man in the end zone. Instead, he saw only Grimm.
“I think when there’s a crucial point during the game, the whole team steps up,” Grimm said. “Someone’s bound to break free and I’ve been occasionally lucky enough to be that guy.”
Grimm tore through the offensive line and leveled the Big Red signal caller for an 11-yard sack, effectively ending the game. Cornell never pushed the ball inside Crimson territory again—another untimely “death” at Grimm’s hands.
“Yeah, he did lay a lick on the QB in that game,” Berrier said. “He’s had quite a few sacks. We were bringing so many guys that game…. [Razzano] really didn’t want to continue that game.”
But while Grimm has turned punishing opponents into an art form—his four sacks on the year are third-best for Harvard, and the average of seven yards lost per sack is second-best—it has been the sophomore’s ability to breathe life into an defensive line that would otherwise be wearied and overworked.
The only thing that is better than having one outstanding set of defensive lineman is having a second pair waiting to rush in and plug the gaps when the line begins to break. And that is exactly what Grimm has been able to do this season.
With an offense that spends little time on the field—either scoring on lightning strikes or struggling to find its rhythm—the Harvard defense has seen a tremendous amount of playing time this season. But it probably doesn’t feel as bad as it might have for senior left end Brian Garcia.
“It’s key to be able to have three or four guys that can come in at any time and be comfortable with them,” Berrier said. “Without him it’d be really tough on [senior Brad Payne] and Brian.”
Against a multifaceted Northeastern running attack, which had pounded opponents to smithereens in the preceding weeks, Crimson Coach Tim Murphy’s strategy to frequently plug in Grimm—who made four tackles on the afternoon—for Garcia forced the Huskies to the air, and the game was Harvard’s from there.
Grimm has risen to prominence on the defensive depth charts despite his relative youth—as a sophomore, he’s the youngest on the two-deep.
But it was his ability to turn in consistently strong performances on special teams, and not his defensive work, that earned him his initial playing time.
Though most freshmen struggled to win playing time, Grimm was--—and still is—Harvard’s number one long-snapper, guaranteeing his chance to prove his mettle in other areas.
“As a freshman it was great to be able to get on the field as a long-snapper and just be on the traveling team,” Grimm said.
With opportunity in hand, Grimm ran wild, using each trip out on the field as an audition for a larger stage.
“He made a few tackles on some punts when he long-snapped and he showed his aggressiveness and ability to play,” Bennett said.
After impressing the coaching staff with solid open field tackling and his energy—on multiple occasions, he snapped the ball on the punt, performed the requisite block, avoided a defender’s block and still made his way to the ball first, according to teammates—it was only a matter of time.
And as the season wears on, Grimm is only getting better and stronger.
“At the beginning the season, he started to come along real well,” Berrier said. “He’s gotten stronger as the season goes on, which is difficult.”
And like all underclassmen, the weight training is starting to take full effect on Grimm, already a tremendously strong lineman.
“Your body needs time to develop,” Berrier said. “But he’s a giant.”
And the more he sows, the more teams will cower when it comes time for him to reap.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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