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He was destined to be a Nebraska Cornhusker, if there is such a thing as fate.
He played high school football in Lincoln. He was heavily recruited by the Cornhuskers. His teammates are headed to Nebraska. His former teammates are already there. He’s a 6’5, 300-pound behemoth who you could easily see as a Blackshirt.
But defensive tackle Zach Copple—the sixth-ranked high school prospect in the state of Nebraska according to rivals.com—was stolen right out from under the Huskers’ nose.
Which football powerhouse had the recruiting power to come into Lincoln and snag a star recruit from Nebraska’s grasp-—on its home turf no less?
That school would be Harvard.
Was it the dream of playing in a half-full Harvard Stadium? Was it the desire to have epic tales of Harvard-Yale games past to pass along to the grandchildren? Or was it the hope of participating in and winning the I-AA playoffs?
(Actually, hold off on that one for a little while, the Presidents haven’t gotten around to changing that rule yet.)
In the end, it wasn’t any of those enticing options. According to Harvard coach Tim Murphy, Copple’s decision to contact a Harvard football alum sealed the deal in bringing him to Cambridge.
“Alumni aren’t allowed to get in touch with prospects, but prospects can call them up,” Murphy said. “We encouraged Zach to give [Chris Eitzmann ’00] a call. He and his dad took Chris out to lunch. A lot of it for him was to find out what Harvard was all about. He had been under the impression that Harvard was just a school for geniuses and millionaires.”
I can’t fathom what they talked about at lunch or how Eitzmann talked Copple into passing on playing at Nebraska.
Oh, Nebraska has promised you that you’ll get to play on TV. Don’t worry, Harvard has TV games too.
Oh, they said you’d probably be on ABC at least six or seven times a year. Come on, ABC can’t shake a stick at the media outlets that pick up Ivy games. We’re talking heavyweights like YES and CN8.
Regardless of the means, landing Copple along with Minnesota quarterback recruit Liam O’ Hagan puts Harvard’s recruiting class at the top of the Ivy League.
But O’Hagan and Copple weren’t the only recruits that the Crimson was able to snatch away from Division I-A programs.
Desmond Bryant—a 6’6, 225 pound recruit from North Carolina—got an offer from Duke, but passed it up in favor of the Crimson. And I know that Duke may not be what one would consider a “power program,” but it’s an ACC school that has the TV contracts that could help a player springboard into national exposure.
Quenton Craddock visited South Carolina and was considering Stanford before deciding that Harvard was the right place for him.
Throw in quarterback Joe Murt from Colorado—the 24th-best high school prospect coming out of that state. Add 270-pound nose guard Matt Drazba from California—a stellar high school wrestler as well as menace at the line of scrimmage. Tack on Massachusetts All-State defensive end David Paine.
Now that recruiting class which was tops in the Ivies becomes one of the best in all of Division I-AA.
Put those recruits on a squad which already returns six skill position players from a team that went 7-3 and you’ve got enough talent to push Harvard into the top-10 in Division I-AA and keep it there for the immediate future.
Even further, if Murphy can keep bringing in recruiting classes like this one, Harvard might make it to the top of Division I-AA someday soon.
But for now, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy this off-season victory and dream of the day that it may be joined with a postseason one as well.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org./
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