Sonkur to Complete Celebrated Duo

After long wait, the Ivy League's most veteran corner combo reunites

Joseph L. Abel

Senior Gary Sonkur, who was predicted to be one of the league’s prime shutdown defensive backs, returns to the Crimson defense for the first time since suffering an aggravated hamstring in fall camp.

It has taken some time for what was expected to be the most experienced duo of cornerbacks in the Ivy League to take the field at once. But this weekend, the Harvard football team will finally get a glimpse of the veteran foundation of its defensive secondary.

Senior cornerback Gary Sonkur will likely see his first substantive action of the season on Saturday against Penn. He dressed last week against Columbia for the first time this year.

Entering the fall season, observers predicted that Sonkur and fellow senior corner Keith Howell would create the best cornerback tandem in the league. But Sonkur battled hamstring problems throughout fall camp and was unable to shake the injury until last week.

“He’s a very experienced kid,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “He’s a fifth-year kid. Coming into this year he was probably the best returning corner in the league. Just from a morale standpoint and an experience standpoint it’s a great situation to be in. He’ll certainly get his fair share of snaps.”

Sonkur’s absence paved the way for the emergence of freshman Andrew Berry and sophomore Steven Williams, both of whom filled in for the injured senior quite capably. Berry held his own in the early season when opposing offenses targeted his side of the field. Williams has come on strong in recent games—he registered two interceptions against Dartmouth on October 29.

“All of a sudden we have great depth in the secondary,” Murphy said. “We have four very experienced corners, and we’re in the best shape we’ve been in with the secondary in a long time.”

Senior Swan Song

Tomorrow’s match-up against Penn will mark the last home game for Harvard’s senior class. As is tradition, a pregame ceremony will honor the seniors and their families.

This year’s group of Crimson seniors does not boast the big name of a Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 or a Dante Balestracci ’04, but it did contribute to one of the most successful four-year periods in Harvard history. Entering the Penn game, the Crimson has a 29-9 record over the past four years—including the historic 10-0 season of a year ago.

“It’s been a great senior class,” Murphy said. “We’ve obviously had a tremendous amount of success in terms of wins while they’ve been here.”

The Crimson will most severely miss the seniors when it comes to run blocking and pass protection. Starting offensive linemen Will Johnson, Brian Lapham, and Adam Kulczycky—as well as starting tight end Jason O’Neil and starting fullback Kelly Widman—will all be playing their final home game.

Thomas, Sobic, Lucas

Sticking Around

Three players who will not be participating in the senior day ceremonies with their classmates will be linebacker Matt Thomas, offensive lineman Nik Sobic, and fullback Mike Lucas.

Despite their senior status, the three veterans hope to play for Harvard again next year. All three lost significant portions of their sophomore years to injuries and are planning to petition the league for a fifth-year medical eligibility year when the season concludes.

Over the past two years, Thomas has distinguished himself as one of the premier defenders in the league and could enter next season as the favorite to earn Ivy defensive player of the year honors.

Sobic and junior center Frank Fernandez will be the only two returning starting offensive linemen next year. And Mike Lucas will be the favorite to take over Widman’s spot at fullback.

“They all decided they wanted to play more football,” Murphy said.

Fourth and Three

Senior wide receiver Rodney Byrnes is no longer with the team and will not participate in the pregame festivities. Murphy said he and Byrnes decided that the injured receiver would be better served concentrating on academics rather than attempting to get back on the field…This year’s game between Harvard and Penn marks the first time since 1999 that the two teams have met without one of the two in first place…Penn has won 10 of its last 13 meetings with Harvard.

—Staff writer David H. Stearns can be reached at