After narrowly missing out on an Ivy League title in 2021 with an 8-2 campaign, a season of redemption soon begins for Harvard football. In just over a month, the Crimson will return to the field for a Sept. 16 clash at Harvard Stadium against Merrimack. Expectations for the coming season are sky-high; in the 2022 Ivy League Football Preseason Media Poll, Harvard was tabbed to win the conference, tied with Dartmouth with 108 points. Furthermore, 12 Crimson athletes were named to Phil Steele’s Preseason All-Ivy Team, pacing the conference.
“The biggest thing for us is…knowing what we have in our locker room and upholding a standard of excellence,” said junior running back Aidan Borguet, who earned Preseason Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Recognition. “That’s something that we keep hold of year round, so by the time the polls come out with who they think will be the best teams in the Ivy League and stuff like that, that’s our expectation in the winter and in the spring, to practice like it so we can play like it.”
In 2022, Harvard can expect to receive significant contributions by athletes from all classes. The senior class contains established stars like wide receiver Kym Wimberly, who led the team with 453 yards and four touchdowns on 44 catches, and linebacker Jack McGowan, who recorded 50 tackles and two interceptions in an All-Ivy First Team campaign. In addition to Borguet’s accolade, junior defensive back Alex Washington was named to the Second Team FCS Preseason All-America. Defensive tackle Thor Griffith, in addition to being the only sophomore on the Preseason All-Ivy First Team, was honored by The Athletic on its annual College Football Freaks List. The Crimson will also welcome a strong class of 25 incoming first-years, led by wide receiver Cooper Barkate. 247Sports ranked the six-foot Barkate as the 31st-best California recruit in his high school class after a storied career at Mater Dei, where he led the team to a national title in his senior season.
These athletes will have to replace a strong class of seniors who graduated and either transferred to other Division I schools or are attempting to play professionally. One of the most valuable losses among transferring students was defensive lineman Jacob Sykes, who led the team with seven sacks en route to an All-Ivy First Team selection and will suit up this season for UCLA. The offense’s most significant departure was running back Aaron Shampklin, who became the ninth Harvard back to amass 2,000 career rushing yards before signing with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. The Crimson also lost its defensive anchor and 2021 captain, linebacker Jordan Hill, who passed current defensive coordinator Scott Larkee ’99 in his final game to move into fourth in the school’s all-time tackles list. The two-time All-Ivy First Teamer led the team in tackles in three of his four seasons and is currently in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles, an NFC East rival of Shampklin’s Cowboys.
“[Hill] was an unbelievable leader, day in and day out, for a couple of years,” said head coach Tim Murphy, who enters his 29th campaign in Cambridge as the winningest coach in Ivy League history. “You don’t just replace the Jordan Hills of the world, but if you look at our defense altogether, we’re really bullish on our defense.”
The onus to replace Hill’s contributions in the locker room will fall on the shoulders of senior defensive lineman Truman Jones, who was named the 148th Captain of Harvard Football last fall. The Atlanta native will lead a talented defensive unit that racked up national top-ten marks in rushing defense (64.6 yards per game, first), third down conversion percentage (28.2%, sixth), fourth down conversion percentage (25%, second), first downs allowed (174, sixth), interceptions (17, tied for eighth), red zone defense (69.2%, eighth), scoring defense (14.9 points per game, fifth), team passing efficiency defense (102.46, fourth), sacks (38, second), tackles for loss (80, tied for fifth), and turnover margin (11, second) in 2021.
In addition to Jones, the defensive line will be led by Griffith, who was an FCS Freshman All-America Second Teamer last season, and junior defensive lineman Nate Leskovec, whose 6.5 sacks in 2021 was good enough for second on the team. Despite losing Hill, Larkee’s linebacker corps still boasts plenty of talent, led by McGowan, senior Jake Brown, and sophomore Matt Hudson, the latter two of whom saw limited action in 2021 but appear poised for breakouts this upcoming season. The secondary returns a trio of strong starters from the previous season, with Washington aiming to build on his stellar sophomore campaign and junior defensive back Khalil Dawsey, who had long interception returns in two consecutive games early last season, lining up opposite him. Senior safety James Herring was mostly a special teams ace in his sophomore season before breaking out in 2021 with three interceptions and 69 tackles, good for second on the team. Together, Washington, Dawsey, and Herring put the Crimson in great position to replace the contributions of Khalid Thomas, who had six pass breakups and three interceptions in 2021 before committing to play his final season at Samford.
“I think it really comes down to the mentality,” said Jones when asked about the keys to building on the defense’s strong 2021 campaign. “Keeping the defense simple enough that we’re able to play fast, but also complicated to keep offenses on their toes and add some variety and add some variability. I think, between linebackers and defensive linemen, we have great communication and are always on the same page to understand when we can play off each other.”
After a stellar season in 2021, led by the talented running back trio of Shampklin, Borguet, and sophomore Sone Ntoh, the offense will be bolstered this season by fresh faces, returning stars, and familiar names who hope to be even better in bigger roles. Last season, Murphy turned to three different signal-callers, two of whom will return in 2022. Junior Charlie Dean started for three games early in the 2021 season before suffering an injury in the loss to Princeton, while senior Luke Emge started the final three contests. Whether Dean or Emge ultimately lines up under center on Sept. 16, he will have a wide array of targets to choose from, as Wimberly opted to suit up for his senior season and sophomore wide receiver Kaedyn Odermann will return from an injury that ended his freshman campaign prematurely. Additionally, Harvard rosters young talents like Barkate and Ledger Hatch, who broke out late last season with a touchdown catch in the final game against Yale.
The Crimson has a history of producing talented tight ends, including alumni Kyle Juszczyk ’13 – the highest-paid fullback in NFL history – and Cameron Brate ’14, who won a Super Bowl title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021. This year’s crop is no exception, with junior Haven Montefalco having enjoyed a strong breakout season in 2021 and sophomore Tyler Neville making a clutch catch to open the game-winning drive against Yale on Nov. 20. The offensive line rebounds from the departure of Spencer Rolland, an All-Ivy First Teamer who will be playing for the University of North Carolina this season, with Alec Bank, who is projected to earn conference First Team honors himself. But for offensive coordinator Mickey Fein’s unit, it all starts with Borguet, who took his 115 carries for 602 yards and eight touchdowns as a complementary back to Shampklin last season.
“We have pieces all around. It’s not just about the running back, it’s about our offensive line, it’s about our quarterback play, our wide receivers as well,” Borguet explained. “We’re all going to be better. With an increased workload and increased carries, that just means you have to work harder in the offseason and expect more of yourself in-season. And so with that being said, our whole offense will be expecting more of ourselves for this entire season.”
No less valuable to Harvard’s hopes of earning an 18th Ivy League title is the special teams unit. Although the Crimson lost two-time All-Ivy First Team punter Jon Sot to Notre Dame, it will return 2021 First Team honoree Jonah Lipel, whose pair of 47-yard field goals were integral in the victory over Yale. After blocking three kicks in 2019, Herring deflected two more in 2021 and will lead Harvard’s special teams once more this upcoming season.
In a month’s time, the Crimson’s best and brightest football players will once again shine under the lights, as the Merrimack contest marks the first of three Friday night games that Harvard will play this year, the most of any Ivy League school. After welcoming the Warriors, the Crimson will travel to play Brown on Sept. 24, return home for a meeting with Holy Cross on Oct. 1, and battle Cornell under the lights in Ithaca, N.Y., on Oct. 7. Eight days later, it will travel to the nation’s capital to face Howard on Audi Field, a rematch that the Bison surely hope to be more prepared for after falling, 62-17, in 2019.
Then, in one of the most hotly anticipated matchups of 2022, Princeton will travel to Cambridge for a Friday night contest on Oct. 21. Harvard will then seek revenge against the Big Green in Hanover, N.H. on Oct. 29, welcome Columbia on Nov. 5, and head back on the road for a battle against Penn on Nov. 12. Finally, on Nov. 19, the Crimson will conclude its season with the 138th edition of The Game, the first matchup between Harvard and Yale in Cambridge since 2016. The clash against the Bulldogs will mark the Crimson’s third nationally televised game of the season, following the Cornell and Princeton games. Literally or figuratively, Harvard promises to be under the spotlight more than any other Ivy League team in 2022.
“It’s going to be great to have [The Game] at home,” Murphy said. “All the tickets for the Harvard side sold out in three days, so that gives you an idea of the appetite to get back in Harvard Stadium for the Harvard-Yale game. It’s going to be rocking.”
–Staff writer Griffin Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.