There are two things to consider as Harvard begins its 146th season of football Saturday with a road excursion to San Diego.
Harvard graduated 30 seniors, which may be the most at any one time in program history. However, the Crimson return their top receiver (Jack Cook), top rusher (Devin Darrington), kicker (Jake McIntryre) and top three tacklers (Cameron Kline, Jordan Hill, Wesley Ogsbury) from their memorable 45-27 upset victory over Yale in last November’s 135th playing of “The Game” at Fenway Park.
“Well, we have a 6:30 a.m. practice scheduled for Thursday and then we jump on an airplane. We’re looking forward to getting on a field,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who enters his 26th campaign on the Crimson sideline with a record of 174-75, the most wins in program history. “It seems like everybody has played. Even the NESCAC, which traditionally is the last conference to open up, has played some games. San Diego has already played two games and has had a month more than us to prepare.”
Harvard is a stunning 119-24-2 in season-opening games.
“We’re excited about the potential of the football team. It’s a challenging schedule. There’s a lot of challenges starting with the San Diego game but we’re confident we’ll accept those challenges. The reality of it is that we have to take it one game at a time,” said Murphy, who is 18-7 on opening day with Harvard, and 3-0 against San Diego. “As long as I’ve been here, our goal is to try and win an Ivy League championship and our other goal is to reach our full potential, which is yet to be determined. We have to develop depth. We have to develop strength.
“One thing going into the 2019 season in our league is that there has never been more parity. Over the last five years five different teams have won an Ivy League championship, so everybody has access to great players and are well-coached,” said Murphy, who has guided the Crimson to nine Ivy titles during his tenure. “We’re definitely going to be young.”
The key losses are quarterback Tom Stewart, who threw for 312 yards and three scores against Yale and now is playing a post-grad year at Rice, and all-purpose standout Justice Shelton-Mosley, who is performing at wide receiver and return specialist for Vanderbilt.
“Those kids were great players and we’re happy to see them have an opportunity for a fifth year of college eligibility. We certainly take pride in their accomplishments,” Murphy said.
As for this season, the key to the offense will be junior quarterback Jake Smith, who has completed 164-of-281 passes during his career.
“The guy who has a chance to take the next step is our quarterback, Jake Smith. If he can take that next step, we should be OK,” Murphy said.
Smith will be working behind a talented line that features James Lee (6-foot-6, 270), junior Eric Wilson (6-4, 280), senior Jackson Ward (6-3, 270), sophomore Spencer Rolland (6-6, 275), senior Liam Shanahan (6-5, 270), and senior Jon Goettsch (6-5, 290).
“We have a saying in our program, “It’s what’s up front that counts’, and if you look at any of the top teams around the country, Alabama, Clemson, they are very good on both sides of the ball, especially in the trenches,” Murphy said. “But, we feel this group has a chance to be special.”
The running back group is led by Darrington with help from sophomores DeMarkes Stradford, Daniel Abraham of Randolph, freshman Aidan Borguet and Sone Ntoh. The H-back contingent is highlighted by junior Ryan Reagan of Duxbury, who Murphy believes is capable of having a breakout season. Cook and sophomore Kim Wimberly, Jr. spearhead the receiving corps.
Youth will be served on the defensive line where sophomores Truman Jones (6-3, 215), Jacob Sykes (6-3, 275), Chris Smith (6-2, 260), and junior Doug Henze (6-2, 270) figure to have prominent roles. The linebackers are a deep group, led by Kline, Hill, and junior Jack McGowan (6-1, 220). Senior captain Ogsbury, junior Bennett Bay, and sophomore Khalid Thomas bolster a strong secondary.
The biggest boost for the program is having Ben Abercrombie, who was tragically paralyzed in the season-opener at Rhode Island two years ago, back attending classes.
“It’s tremendous. He can’t be down there (at practice) every day because of academic classes and logistics, but he’s been down there as much as he can and we see him around campus,” Murphy said. “He’ll always be part of the team, part of the family. It’s hard to measure how much we’ve been bouyed by having him around.”