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Hero of Harvard-Yale: Inside Kym Wimberly's Decision to Run it Back

Junior wide receiver Kym Wimberly produces a 42-yard catch and run that would set up his game-winning touchdown against Yale on Nov. 20, 2021. Wimberly will return to Harvard for his senior season.
Junior wide receiver Kym Wimberly produces a 42-yard catch and run that would set up his game-winning touchdown against Yale on Nov. 20, 2021. Wimberly will return to Harvard for his senior season. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Griffin Wong, Crimson Staff Writer

According to Kym Wimberly, it was just a normal play. Yet as the football landed in his arms, the wide receiver came down in the back of the end zone, and as the precious final 22 seconds ticked off the clock at the Yale Bowl, the redshirt junior from Slidell, La., landed a critical blow in one of the country’s most storied college football rivalries. Permanently etched into the history books, Wimberly showed no signs of being overwhelmed by the moment.

“I don’t think it sunk in until after I caught it and after the game was over and everyone was storming the field,” he said.

After the game, Harvard head coach Tim Murphy, the winningest coach in Ivy League football history, praised Wimberly’s resilience. In the weeks leading up to the contest, he had missed multiple practices due to a nagging knee injury, leaving his participation in doubt. But his mother was sure her son would play. He had rebounded from a much more serious injury before, tearing his ACL in his first game as the Crimson’s top receiver, at San Diego on Sept. 21, 2019. Bolstered by his tenacity and his faith, Wimberly recorded three catches for 81 yards, including a 42-yard catch and run to set up the score that would make him a legend in Cambridge.

“I was saying I didn’t know if I was going to play, and [Wimberly’s mother] was saying, ‘Trust in God and you’re going to be fine,’” he recalled. “She sent me a video, basically reiterating all the things she was saying, and I watched the video on the bus when we were going back to Harvard, and I don’t think it really sunk in until that moment.”

It was fitting, perhaps, that it was only on the bus back to campus that Wimberly realized just how much his catch meant for legions of Harvard fans. Slated to graduate with a Government degree in May 2022, he could have transferred to a school with a more illustrious football program and chased his dream of playing in the National Football League. He could have played closer to his family in Louisiana. Because of the season that he lost to the Covid-19 pandemic, he would have had two years of football eligibility left, more than enough time to make a lasting impression on professional scouts.

By doing so, Wimberly would have been following in the footsteps of previous Crimson players. His former teammate Devin Darrington, who racked up 259 carries, 1,117 yards, 12 touchdowns and an All-Ivy Second Team nod between 2017 and 2019, transferred to the University of Virginia for the 2021 season. Darrington added 32 carries, 237 yards, and a pair of scores in 12 games for the Cavaliers before declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft on Dec. 31, 2021. Former Harvard offensive lineman Liam Shanahan played every snap at center in 2020 and 2021 for Louisiana State University. Shanahan is also eligible for the draft in 2022.

“I have been talking to [Darrington] a little bit. He also gave me some advice,” Wimberly said. “Just make the best decision for you. … Knowing what’s the best decision for you, whether it’s coming back or whether it’s going to another school, and to just make the best decision that helps you get to the NFL. That’s probably the biggest advice he has for me, and I’ve had that in the back of my mind the whole time.”

Wimberly was far from the only Crimson player to enter the transfer portal. Multiple redshirt juniors who were expected to graduate in May sought opportunities at other colleges, and some hung up their Harvard jerseys to pursue another offer. Cornerback Khalid Thomas, who recorded three interceptions throughout the course of the season, opted for Samford University. The Crimson also lost its punter, Jon Sot, who had garnered All-Ivy First Team honors in each of his first two seasons before being named to the third team in 2021. Sot chose Notre Dame despite the Fighting Irish landing one of the top high school punters in the 2022 high school class, Bryce McFerson. Defensive lineman Chris Smith, an All-Ivy League First Teamer in 2021, will be suiting up for the University of Minnesota in 2022.

“It hasn’t really had a huge impact on my decision to return, because I know everyone’s situation is different and making the best decision for you is the road that everyone has been taking,” said Wimberly of his teammates’ status in the transfer portal. “But I’m super proud of those guys for locking their decisions in and going to the next level. It’d be great seeing those boys on TV.”

Throughout the process, Wimberly leaned on his coaches, joining Zoom meetings with Murphy and wide receivers coach/offensive coordinator Mickey Fein. Over the phone, the coaches pitched their visions: for him to again be the team’s preferred target. Murphy even called Wimberly’s parents to discuss his plans with them. Eventually, on January 12, Wimberly announced on Instagram that he planned to return for his senior season in 2022.

“Kym came to the conclusion that his best option for being … the number one receiver and have a chance to really have an outstanding season and still leave his options open for a grad transfer after the [2022] season … was back to Harvard,” Murphy explained.

Junior wide receiver Kym Wimberly evades defenders in a 49-21 victory over Columbia on Nov. 6, 2021. He torched the Lions for 7 catches, 111 yards, and a touchdown.
Junior wide receiver Kym Wimberly evades defenders in a 49-21 victory over Columbia on Nov. 6, 2021. He torched the Lions for 7 catches, 111 yards, and a touchdown. By Owen A. Berger

As the Crimson chases its 18th Ivy League championship after falling a controversial call short in 2021, it has already scored a pivotal victory in 2022. Wimberly’s return ensures that junior quarterback Charlie Dean, who started five games in 2021 before suffering an injury in the Oct. 23 loss to Princeton, will be able to throw to a wide receiver who racked up 34 catches, 453 yards, and four touchdowns in his junior season despite being hampered by nagging injuries. Murphy is hopeful that if his star receiver stays healthy, he will be able to produce even better statistics in 2022.

“If he can stay healthy, he’s going to have a chance to really perfect his craft,” he said. “[He should] be able to really put up some good numbers to help our football team and to be the best wide receiver in the Ivy League. If he can regain his health, I absolutely think that those are legitimate goals that he can accomplish.”

In order to play during the fall season in 2022, Wimberly will have to take the spring 2022 academic semester off and push his graduation back to December. During his time away from Harvard, he plans to live in Cambridge and work for a small law firm in Boston. Meanwhile, he intends to partake in unofficial throwing sessions with his teammates on campus, including Dean.

“I’m going to be doing a lot of work with Charlie over this spring semester, whenever I’m around, just getting those unofficial throwing sessions in,” he said. “After this semester, a lot of our work [will] definitely be done this summer, as summer dogs in training, so that is the plan, to get as many reps as possible.”

Along with sophomore wide receiver Kaedyn Odermann, who flashed plenty of talent before missing the last six games of his freshman season after suffering an injury, Wimberly will play a key role in a potent wide receiving corps for a hungry Harvard squad. With sure hands, speed, strength, and steady route-running, he offers a complement to Odermann’s vertical game. The six-foot-three Odermann came down with an impressive jump ball touchdown in the Oct. 2 victory over Holy Cross, and should return to full health for 2022. After the controversial loss to Princeton cost the Crimson a share of the 2021 Ivy League championship, Wimberly has circled the Tigers matchup on his calendar.

“Next year, we actually have to turn up,” he said. “So I think it’ll definitely be a bigger game, … so that is a big one in mind, is to beat [Princeton] outright.”

After the 2022 season, Wimberly will still have one season of football eligibility remaining, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He could opt to re-enter his name in the transfer portal and play out a postgraduate year at a different university. He considered schools closer to his hometown of New Orleans before ultimately choosing to return to Harvard, and playing for a Louisiana school would be near the top of his priority list if he were to enter the transfer portal again in the winter. Alternatively, he could decide to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft. Still, regardless of his path, Wimberly envisions himself playing football at the next level.

“Just having the opportunity to play in the NFL is great,” he said. “That’s something I’m going to do in the future.”

-Staff writer Griffin Wong can be reached at griffin.wong@thecrimson.com.

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