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Off the field, Harvard defensive ends Brian Garcia and Brad Payne may not have a lot in common.
Garcia is from Florida. Payne is from Arizona.
Garcia changed positions after his sophomore year. Payne changed schools.
Garcia lives with teammates in one of Harvard’s most notorious party suites. Payne lives off-campus with his wife. Yeah, wife.
“He definitely has a very different situation,” Garcia said with a chuckle.
But despite all their off-field differences, Garcia and Payne are the same on the field—scary.
After seeing extensive playing time last season as the second unit in Harvard’s defensive end rotation, the pair of seniors will use their uncanny mix of strength, size and speed to lead Harvard’s pass rush this season.
“I think [their athleticism] allows us to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” said Harvard defensive line coach Eric Westerfield.
The 6’2 Garcia, who started his Crimson career as a tight end, squats 500 lbs. But he also has a 35” vertical leap that he routinely uses to dunk on opponents in pick-up basketball games.
Payne—an inch taller and about 25 lbs. lighter than Garcia—benches 380 lbs., but ran sprints for his high school track team. Their versatility almost seems unfair.
“We don’t have to substitute for those guys in a lot of situations,” Westerfield said. “We can put them into pass coverage, which will allow us to not give things away because of personnel changes.”
When Payne transferred to Harvard from Mesa Community College in Arizona before his junior season, Garcia was assigned as his roommate during camp. The two became good friends, and now have lockers next to each other.
“I’m always asking him questions,” Garcia said. “Whether it’s, ‘What’s it like to be married?’ or ‘What do you want to do on this play?’ We’re always trying to help each other out throughout games and drive each other to excel, because we both know we can be very good.”
“I consider Brian to be one of my closest friends on the team,” Payne said. “Although we are very different, our goals on the field are the same and that helps us push each other. That ‘push’ involves lots of jokes and good-natured competition, but I think our friendship is the biggest push because we don’t want to let each other down.”
Now both have the opportunity to push their back-ups as well each other. Behind Garcia and Payne on the depth chart are sophomores Doug Bennett and Erik Grimm.
“I think right now our ultimate goal would be to [rotate defensive ends the same way] we did in the past [last year, four players saw almost equal playing time], but probably in the beginning we won’t be able to,” Westerfield said. “But both Erik Grimm and Doug Bennett have shown a lot of potential, and we expect them to be big contributors this year.”
Given the Ivy League’s affinity for the pass—many teams routinely throw 35-45 times per game—pressuring the quarterback is critical. But with Payne and Garcia teaming with a veteran group of defensive tackles—led by juniors Matt McBurney and Coesen Ngwun and seniors Jon Berrier and Brendan McCafferty—the front four should be able to do its part.
“I think the pass rush is going to be very good,” Garcia said. “Everyone’s a good pass rusher, all eight of us. We should get pressure up front.”
And they should have a lot of fun doing it.
“Any defensive end will tell you that the opportunity to rush the QB a lot is much better than playing against a team that runs the football all the time,” Payne said.
“I like rushing the passer,” Garcia added. “It’s not always a lot of fun going up against 300-lb offensive lineman [on running plays], but rushing the passer and getting to hit the other team’s quarterback is the best part.”
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at email@example.com.
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