The former Ivy League Player of the Year may be gone, but the offensive front line that protected him remains entirely intact. Teams can groom quarterbacks and overcome some growing pains behind center. Inexperience on the offensive line, however, means aches and pains for both the backfield and the win-loss record.
The fortuitous Crimson returns four starters from last year’s offensive line, including three All-Ivy selections.
“We’re going to be tested in every phase—running and passing the ball,” said junior running back Clifton Dawson. “At least earlier on, our quarterback and our passing game should feel comfort and be able to rest on a solid, great running game and that starts up front.”
That offensive line boasts senior Brian Lapham, a 6’5, 300-lb. right tackle considered one of the best in the country.
Lapham, who redshirted with a broken ankle as a sophomore, is a rare fifth-year senior in the Ivy League and Harvard’s biggest body up front.
Both Lapham and senior right guard Will Johnson were both first team All-Ivy selections a year ago, and junior center Frank Fernandez received an honorable mention.
The fruits of their labor in 2004? Dawson sprinted for a school-record 1,302 yards and 17 touchdowns and is a preseason candidate for the Walter Payton Award.
“It’s nice to know that if you make a block, Clifton is going to use it and do real well,” Lapham said. “If we get six yards or so and he makes some moves, a five- to six-yard line surge will open up a lot.”
The Crimson has a question behind center that only time can answer, but the offensive line is undeniably one of the finest in the Ivy League. The line’s role in the running game, coupled with excellent pass protection for Fitzpatrick, was a crucial if rarely mentioned component of a prolific offense that averaged 33.8 points a season ago.
“We just all happen to share the same personality that we’re going to go out and do our job and we’re going to do it well,” Lapham said. “We don’t have stats and we don’t get the glory, but we like to win games and doing our job well lets us win games. We’re going to keep on doing it.”
Seniors Bennett Kowalk and Adam Kulczycky are likely to plug the left side of the offensive line. Both saw significant playing time a year ago. Kelly Widman, a senior fullback and tight end, will also see duty up front for the Crimson.
The entire offensive line—starters and reserves—has previous varsity experience.
A year removed from the perfection of 2004, the front line is as talented and hungry as ever, even after Fitzpatrick moved on.
“As an offensive line, whoever’s back there doesn’t change your approach,” Lapham said. “You play perfectly anyway. If you don’t play perfectly, you’re pissed.”
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at email@example.com.