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Going into Saturday’s non-league game against Bucknell, Harvard has yet to announce whether junior Colton Chapple or senior Collier Winters will start at quarterback.
Winters suffered a hamstring injury during the first game of the season. At the time, Winters suggested that he would only miss one or two games.
But Chapple, Winters’ backup at the beginning of the year, has started all three games since.
Both quarterbacks now appear to be healthy. But after Chapple’s stellar performance last week at Cornell—his 414 passing yards are the second-highest single-game total in program history—he might not be the backup anymore.
“It’s a great problem to have,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said of having to choose between the two. “The alternative is that we don’t have the chance to be as successful as we might want to be when a guy goes down.”
Both Chapple and Murphy noted that practices this week have run differently. Normally, the starter for the upcoming weekend will take most of the number-one reps in practice, meaning that they take the majority of the snaps. But this week, Winters and Chapple have been splitting the snaps.
“Both Collier and I have played and won games for the program,” Chapple said. “We’re each getting a shot at starting this Saturday against Bucknell ... We played completely evenly during both practices, so whoever gets the nod on Saturday is going to be ready.”
Winters had an up-and-down game in his only start of the season. Against Holy Cross on Sept. 17, he threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns but also had two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown that gave Holy Cross a 16-point lead.
Murphy said in an interview before last Saturday’s game at Cornell that Winters would start as soon as he recovered from the injury. But since Chapple’s impressive performance, Murphy has indicated that the starting job is up in the air.
Winters has been Harvard’s starter since 2009, and it was widely assumed that he would continue to do so when he returned as a fifth-year senior in his final year of eligibility.
But even in the preseason, Chapple was on the radar to start, though Winters was a clear favorite.
“There’s been a lot of competition at the position, both in preseason and now during the season, and Colton’s just been very steady,” senior wide receiver Alex Sarkisian said in an interview earlier this week. “He’s really taken command of the offense. He’s been making great decisions and making big plays.”
In 2010, then the third-string quarterback, Chapple filled in for an injured Winters early in the season as well, starting three games and going 2-1. Chapple is 5-1 in his career as a starter going into the weekend.
Chapple said the ongoing uncertainty has not had a significant impact on the dynamic of team practices, nor has it affected his relationship with Winters.
“You’ve got to respect [the coaches’] decision,” Chapple said. “They’re in the interest of winning, just like I am, just like I know Collier is ... I don’t believe it’s the cause of that much conflict between the team.”
Winters could not be reached for comment.
Murphy has discussed the possibility of using both Winters and Chapple, though he did not specify the roles they would play.
“It’s not outside the realm of possibility that we use two quarterbacks,” he said. “How and when depends on a lot of factors that you’re not going to really know about until you’re in the game.”
Harvard’s head coach has confronted situations in the past like the one he faces now. In 2002, Murphy had to choose between starting then-captain Neil Rose ’03 and Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05—two of the best quarterbacks in program history.
Murphy decided to start the sophomore in a number of the games that year, benching the team’s captain. Fitzpatrick is now the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.
“There’s always decisions you have to make [and] you just can’t necessarily foresee them,” Murphy said. “I’ve been a head coach for 25 years—you do what’s best for the team, and you do what your gut tells you to do. And is your gut always right? No, but 80 percent of the time your gut gives you a chance.”
—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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