On any given day, a pedestrian walking down Cowperthwaite Street will likely hear the sweet voice of Luke Combs pouring out of the fourth-story windows of Leverett House’s G Tower. While Combs is an unknown artist to the majority of the Harvard student body, for a squad of Southern football players, the rising North Carolinian country music star is a reminder of where they are from.
Nearly half of the Crimson’s starting defense spends its off days in the towers. Linebackers Chase Guillory, Alex White, Peter Graves, and captain Luke Hutton room with safety Tanner Lee, defensive end Scott Evans, defensive tackle Stuart Johnson, and the lone offensive player, Jack Stansell.
While it’s not rare for athletes to block together, particularly athletes from the same sport, what is rare is the relationship that this group has developed, the leadership that they’ve acquired, and the mentality they share. For most of the group, it begins with faith.
“Coming from a Christian household myself, having those guys to lean on, having our weekly meetings, devotion groups,” White said. “You know, this place can be tough. Having external sources to lean on and get through these things, it’s huge.”
White, Hutton, and Stansell lead what the team calls Iron Man, a Bible study for the Christian members of the team. They’re also involved members of Harvard’s Christian Impact and Athletes in Action groups on campus. Through both, the group has established a strong community of faith among the teammates.
Accountability for these athletes is more than just spiritual, especially for those that compete on opposite sides of the ball.
“I’m the only offensive player, and when we get home from practice, I’m usually hearing it from those guys, especially if they have a good day at the end of practice,” Stansell said. “They’re always giving me crap like, ‘Why weren’t y’all able to get a touchdown on that particular play?’”
Calling themselves the “Southern Gents,” the blocking group ultimately began with simple geography and culture. All of the seniors, except for Graves and Evans, hail from a Southern state.
“We’ve just bonded together since day one,” Stansell said. “Tanner [Lee] and I played against each other in high school, so we knew one another coming from Alabama. I met Alex [White] on my official visit. The other guys were just right there with us from day one. We went to get meals together the first few days of freshman preseason, and we’ve been there ever since.”
Besides religion and geography, group members share an impressive list of accomplishments. Together, they competed in 17 sports and achieved 10 captaincies. The group contains a valedictorian, a Mr. Teen Fiesta, a DECA vice president, an NHS president, a three-term class president, and a representative on an honor council.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Since arriving at Harvard, the players have continued an upward trajectory. Hutton is the team’s captain, and several other players have earned starting roles. Two blockmates concentrate in biomedical engineering, two in economics, and the rest in bioengineering, applied math, statistics, and government.
“Of course we goof around whenever we’re home, and we crank out p-sets together because [many] of us study biomedical engineering,” Guillory said. “But when we come out [to the field], it’s like that chemistry that was developed off the field transpires onto the field.”
The natural brotherhood that has resulted from the group’s religious relationships and proximity to each other is very tangible in the defensive numbers the Crimson have put up this season. The starting 11 has allowed 17 points in the season’s first two games and proved especially effective against Brown. In that game, the Bears did not earn a first down until the second quarter. The offense did not score until the fourth.
In the first two games of the season, the Harvard football team has made 145 tackles. This single blocking group in Leverett can claim responsibility for over a fourth of them.
“They have great personal qualities,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “They’re guys that are certainly talented, but they become really outstanding players because they love the game so much, they work hard at it, and they never lose an opportunity to find a way to improve. It’s really a great group of kids.
Sitting across the table from this group in the Leverett dining hall would give you a startlingly similar view to that of the quarterback playing Harvard. Nearly every person is a starter in his respective position.
“We’re a very tight-knit group,” White said. “Bringing that aspect to college and to a college football team has been huge because it truly is a family out here. Having a tight-knit blocking group like that is so huge and instrumental for getting through everything.”
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.