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In the Harvard football team’s game against Dartmouth last weekend, tailback Nick Carrington knew that he probably wouldn’t be seeing action until the fourth quarter, if at all. As the backup to sophomore Clifton Dawson, one of the top players in the Ivy League and the holder of several Crimson records, Carrington has grown used to waiting his turn to take the field. If Harvard was up by a considerable margin, if the starters were pulled, if Crimson coach Tim Murphy needed someone to reliably run out the clock, then the senior would get his chance. Until then, he waited.
And in the fourth quarter of Harvard’s eventual 13-12 win, Carrington got the call. But it wasn’t for the usual reason.
Dawson took a hit while blocking for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with just under a quarter remaining and went down hard. He hunched over on all fours while trainers anxiously rushed out to examine him and help him off the field. Later, the diagnosis was a strained muscle in his side.
The ball was given to Carrington to finish it out, like he had so many other games. Like so many other games, he did his fourth-quarter duty.
But this Saturday, with Dawson most likely still out, Carrington won’t have to wait for the fourth quarter to take the field.
“We’re hoping to get an MRI back on [Clifton],” Murphy says. “But realistically his chances of playing this weekend are very slim. If he’s not able to go, Columbia is probably going to be pretty excited not to see number 33 back there. If we don’t establish the run, we’re going to have a tough day, but I think both Nick and the rest of our team will step up.”
STANDING ON THE SIDELINES
Carrington will lead the Crimson’s running game against the Lions in his first start since last season’s Ivy opener against Brown, and only the second of his career. Starting so few games certainly wasn’t what Carrington envisioned when he came to Harvard four years ago. On the contrary, his high school numbers suggested that he would be the one to rewrite the Crimson record books. In his senior season at McDonough High School in Pomfret, MD, Carrington ran for 1,200 yards and racked up 22 touchdowns. That year, he was named County Player of the Year in addition to being voted First Team All-Southern Maryland Athletic Conference. Why shouldn’t he have dominated on the college level?
“Originally my expectations were really high,” Carrington says. “I knew that there were a lot of great players here, but when I first got here, I figured, why can’t I start right away?”
What Carrington didn’t know was that, when he arrived at Harvard, he would be stuck playing permanent second fiddle. Despite his worthy high school accomplishments, his top-10 speed on the squad and his impressive strength as exhibited by his IPA National Powerlifting Championship, Carrington has had the misfortune to share a depth chart with some truly stellar players.
“Nick is a good football player and a tough, classy kid,” Murphy says. “He’s never been anything but positive and enthusiastic in a situation that would be tough for some people.”
During his freshman and sophomore seasons, a veteran backfield led by Nick Palazzo ’03 relegated Carrington to playing mostly on special teams. Nevertheless, Carrington relished the opportunity to learn from the grizzled veterans of the Harvard backfield.
“I learned so much from the older players when I was a freshman and a sophomore,” Carrington says. “I learned how to be patient, how to put in the work and just how to get accustomed to the system.”
But just when it looked as if Carrington would finally get a chance to start in his junior season, he was struck a tough personal blow that turned out to be an unbelievable boon for Crimson football. Dawson transferred from Division I-A Northwestern to Harvard, effectively ending any chances Carrington ever had of being the number one back for the Crimson.
“Hey, it’s all about the team,” Carrington says. “[Dawson] is just a stud. He’s a great player and I just want to win.”
A ROLE TO PLAY
Dawson is, in many ways, the player that Carrington once hoped he could be, shattering the single-season touchdown mark in only seven games this season.
But Carrington has never complained about his situation. In fact, Dawson credits Carrington with helping him the same way Palazzo and other older players helped Carrington when he was a freshman.
“During my first season, Nick definitely aided my transition and integration into the program,” Dawson says. “He was always there to answer any questions I had about the offense. As a freshman, it was very comforting to have an upperclassman like Nick around to make things easier.”
And the coaches obviously felt strongly enough about his ability as a running back to not switch Carrington to a position in the defensive backfield, a change they have not hesitated to make for many former star high school running backs, including two All-Ivy players—safety Chris Raftery ’04 and cornerback Benny Butler ’04.
“Switching to defense was never really an option,” Carrington says. “The coaches always felt I was a good back, a reliable back, and that’s why I’ve always stayed at running back.”
That’s just what Carrington has been for the Crimson this year—a reliable change of pace from Dawson to help the Crimson offense run out the clock on opposing defenses. This season he has gained 147 yards on 39 carries for a solid 3.5 yards-per-carry average. In addition, many of the times that Carrington has been given the ball has been behind a second-string offensive line, without the threat of the passing game to keep defenses honest. What he can do playing behind the first-team Crimson offense for a full four quarters remains to be seen.
While no one on the Harvard football team is looking forward to playing without Dawson, for Carrington, the chance to start for a team that he has so long helped only in garbage time or when Dawson needed a breather will be extra special.
“Being able to contribute and help finish off my senior season right would mean everything,” Carrington says. “Of course I never want anyone to get hurt, and if Clifton is able to come back I will be happy to be the backup and help out however I can, but I’d love to help my teammates go for another title.”
If Carrington is able to help his teammates defeat Columbia, and possibly Penn and Yale, Harvard will have only its second sole Ivy League championship during Murphy’s ten-year tenure. And despite the disappointment of not starting more, or not making his own dent in the record books, who could really be upset at book-ending his career with Ivy League championships?
—Staff writer Robert C. Boutwell can be reached at email@example.com.
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