Football: The 2022 Preview

Harvard Magazine’s gridiron guru on the Crimson’s 148th season

Running back Aidan Borguet runs up field through Columbia defenders.

Mercifully, the annual 42-week interlude between Harvard football games will end this Friday evening when the Crimson begins its 148th season by taking on Merrimack at Harvard Stadium. (Kickoff: 7 p.m.) When we left you at the Yale Bowl last November 20, we still had not exhaled following the pulsating 34-31 victory in The Game. It was a satisfying end to a bittersweet season that saw the Crimson finish 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League, behind Dartmouth and Princeton at 6-1. We resumed normal breathing sometime in mid-March.

Here is a thumbnail guide to get you ready for the 2022 kickoff. 

THE RECORD. Harvard’s all-time mark is 887-405-50. The win total is tenth in college football. 

THE COACH. Beginning his twenty-ninth season in Cambridge (with 2020 scrubbed because of the pandemic), Stephenson Family head coach for Harvard football Tim Murphy is 186-83 overall and 129-60 in Ivy play. On October 9, he will turn 66.

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THE CAPTAIN. Defensive tackle Truman Jones ’23, a biomedical concentrator out of Atlanta and a resident of Kirkland House, is the 148th captain of Harvard football. One of the stars of a staunch defensive line, Jones in 2021 amassed 25 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and 2.5 quarterback sacks, plus a team-high six quarterback hurries. He is the seventeenth consecutive captain from the defense; the last captain from the offense was Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05, in 2004. (Linebacker Jordan Hill ’20 served as captain in 2020 and ’21.)

THE DEPARTED. Due to graduation or graduate transfer, Harvard will be without several mainstays from ’21. Hill, a first-team All-Ivy selection, finally has finished his Crimson career after becoming the league’s first six-year player. First-team All Ivy running back Aaron Shampklin ’21 (’22) was one of the last cuts by the Dallas Cowboys. Among the grad transfers, Notre Dame lured punter Jon Sot and defensive lineman Chris Smith. Defensive lineman Jacob Sykes decamped for UCLA and his running mate Anthony Nelson for Duke. Offensive lineman Spencer Rolland now is blocking for North Carolina.

THE TARGET ON THE BACK. In the Ivy League Football Preseason Media Poll, Harvard was chosen first, tying with Dartmouth with 108 points but tallying eight first-place votes to the Big Green’s four.

THE REASON? THE DEFENSE.  Other schools might not be able to sustain losing the likes of Hill, Smith, and Sykes, but the Crimson returns much of the unit that was the Football Championship Subdivision’s top-ranked rushing defense (64.6 yards per game). Besides captain Jones, the line features junior Nate Leskovec and sophomore Thor Griffith, who became a fan favorite as a freshman. The Mighty Thor, all 6’2”, 310 pounds of him, also was spotlighted by the online publication The Athletic as one of college football’s physical freaks—a good thing. 

Hill’s savvy at linebacker will be missed but senior Jack McGowan furnishes ferocious hitting, as does senior safety James Herring. Junior defensive back Alex Washington, a top-notch cover man, was first-team All-Ivy as a sophomore. Ball hawking senior Max Jones rounds out the secondary. It is a formidable aggregation—and perhaps the main reason that so many voters tabbed the Crimson to take the title.

THE QB? Charlie Dean, last year’s early-season starter, returns as a senior. He showed considerable promise as a passer but was injured in the sixth game against Princeton and did not play thereafter. Luke Emge, last year’s late-season, late-blooming starter (and hero of the Yale victory by engineering a late touchdown drive), also returns, despite reports that he was headed for medical school. Dean is listed to start against Merrimack. Both probably will get playing time.

THE REST OF THE OFFENSE. With Shampklin gone, junior Aidan Borguet becomes the lead back. He has apprenticed brilliantly: In 2019, Borguet scored four touchdowns and ran for 269 yards against Yale; in ’21, he was named second-team All-Ivy after averaging 5.2 yards per carry and scoring eight touchdowns. Borguet will be the so-called home-run hitter, called on to break long gainers. Senior Sone Ntoh, a 229-pound bruiser, will supply power. Whoever the quarterback is, he will have an experienced receiving corps led by senior Kym Wimberly (who caught the game-winning pass against Yale). Junior Kaeden Odermann, who is returning from injury, and sophomore Ledger Hatch are elusive deep threats. At tight end, a Crimson signature position, junior Haven Montefalco has received some pre-season recognition; he averaged 15.4 yards a catch in ’21.  Senior Alec Bank, a 285-pounder, will anchor the offensive line.

THE KICKER. Senior Jonah Lipel, last season’s first-team, All-Ivy placekicker, returns. Lipel booted a Harvard record 15 field goals last season, including two clutch 47-yarders against Yale.

THE OPENER. This will be the first meeting between the Crimson and the Warriors from nearby North Andover, Massachusetts. Merrimack is a member of the Northeast Conference. In ’22 the Warriors already are 1-1 and have a respectable loss, 31-17, to a good Holy Cross team that Harvard will face on October 1. The opening game will be streamed on ESPN+ (subscription required). This will be the first of three night games for the Crimson; the others are October 7 against Cornell and October 21 against Princeton (see below, The Grudge Game). 

THE GAME. On November 19, it will be back at Harvard Stadium for the first time since 2016. (In 2018, Harvard-Yale was played at Fenway Park; in 2020, along with the rest of the Ivy season, it was canceled because of the pandemic.) The Harvard side already is sold out. Yale leads the series 68-61-8. 

THE GRUDGE GAME.  On Friday night, October 21, Princeton will invade the Stadium. On the Crimson side, feelings remain raw after last year’s five-overtime defeat in which the officials, by allowing an illegal Tiger timeout, negated a winning Harvard score in the third overtime. Though Harvard finished with a 5-2 record, Coach Murphy pointedly declares that his team “was only outscored once all year.” Rancor aside, this contest could decide the championship.

THE ODDITY. All eight Ivy League coaches from last year are returning. This is exceedingly rare in any sports conference, but it bespeaks first the parity that enables a decided underdog to upset a heavily favored foe (see last season: Columbia 19, Dartmouth 0); and second, the competence, even excellence, of this group of coaches. 

THE LANDSCAPE. Before we leave you, we feel compelled to take note of the sweeping changes in college football (and basketball). Relaxed transfer rules; deals involving payments to players for Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL); and a flood of new TV money essentially have scrambled conference allegiances and turned the Football Bowl Subdivision—i.e., big-time college football—into professional football. Longtime PAC-12 members USC and UCLA are planning to bolt for the Big Ten in 2024. That means that the Trojans and Bruins will be flying cross-country to play conference games against Rutgers and Maryland. Madness!

Our favorite NIL deal involves an endorsement of a local heating-and-cooling company by a Nebraska player named (believe it or not) DeColdest Crawford. (DeColdest…cooling…get it?) 

For the moment, except for the graduate transfers noted above, Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League have been touched but lightly. One way Ivy schools might be affected is in recruiting, especially when they compete against schools offering sweet NIL deals to prospective student-athletes. Will a prospective Harvard or Yale degree be sufficient defense against such blandishments? Moreover, Ivy schools will be vulnerable to having their best players poached by bigger football (or basketball) schools. Because of the Ivies’ academic standards, this largely will be a one-way street. Being an Ivy coach, never easy, now will be that much harder.

We are relieved that the Ancient Eight is an oasis of sanity and stability. But the moment that Harvard, Yale, and/or Princeton decide to skedaddle for the Big Ten or Atlantic Coast Conference, we will let you know.

Read more articles by: Dick Friedman

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