Murphy, Harvard thrilled to have Lee's Ben Harding as part of recruiting class
When Lee's Ben Harding announced in December that he would play football at Harvard, the former Wildcat sounded excited to be going. Now that the Crimson has officially announced its incoming Class of 2024, Harvard coach Tim Murphy seems to be just as excited.
"The bottom line is he obviously had a great year at prep school," Murphy said, "and at the end of the day, is a big, fast, athletic and very versatile linebacker, who can play multiple positions."
Harvard posted its 32-player recruiting class officially on May. 1. Harding, who graduated from Lee and then spent a post-graduate year at Phillips Exeter in Exeter, N.H., was one of four linebackers recruited in the 32-player group.
Harding, listed in the Harvard release as being 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, was a second-team All-League linebacker at Exeter. There is a fifth linebacker listed, but he is also listed as a long snapper.
"I think the thing that they all share is, to play at this level, they've got to be able to run. They've got to have athletic ability. They have to be fluid athletes," said Murphy, who will begin his 27th year at the helm of the Crimson in the fall. "The guys you project as, let's say the Mike linebacker or the inside linebacker, those kids may not be as tall and they may be thicker-type kids, the stereotypical inside linebacker at the Division I level is going to be somewhere between 6-foot-1 and 6-3, and 215 and 240 pounds. That's where our guys are at. Then you have hybrids, and Ben is a bit of a hybrid. He will be able to play, probably, field inside linebacker and obviously, field outside linebacker as he comes down from being a defensive back."
Exeter head coach Bill Glennon had converted Harding from the receiver/defensive back he was in high school to outside linebacker.
"I think it was a good decision for him to seek out a grad year in prep school," Murphy said, in a phone interview with The Eagle. "It gave him an opportunity to physically mature, to get on our radar and to ultimately end up in our recruiting class."
Twenty-three states are represented in the Harvard football Class of 2024. Massachusetts has four players, including Harding and fellow linebacker recruit Mitch Gonser of Medfield, listed. There are three Texans, while Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona have two recruits each.
"I think if you take the body type Ben had in high school, it wouldn't necessarily make sense" to move Harding from receiver/defensive back to linebacker, the veteran Harvard head coach said. "Where he's at now, he projects in a Division I strength and conditioning program, he projects more as a 6-4, 235-pound inside or outside linebacker.
"He's obviously a tall, athletic kid. There's no reason he shouldn't be able to play at 230-235 pounds — and even as a better, more explosive athlete."
A quick look at last year's Harvard roster showed that there were nine returning linebackers for the Crimson. Only middle linebacker Jordan Hall, a senior, is a returning starter while senior Andrew Irwin is the only other returner from the Harvard two-deep.
"We expect all kids to have the attitude that they're going to find a way to make the travel squad as freshmen. One good example is our captain, Jordan Hill out of Maryland," Murphy said. "Jordan is a four-year starter. He will have started 40 games at linebacker at the end of next year. That's an exception at any level, whether it's at Harvard or Alabama or someplace in between. In Ben's case, having had sort of a fifth year as you will, a redshirt year at prep school, we would expect him to definitely compete to make that travel squad, to get on special teams, to learn the linebacker position or positions, and be in a position to provide definitely back up and help."
Harding won't be the only member of the Harvard football team with a Berkshire County connection. Murphy went to Springfield College, where he was a classmate of former Berkshire School head coach and St. Joseph High School offensive coordinator Jack Quinn. Harvard's offensive coordinator Joel Lamb is the son of Hall of Fame high school coach Tom Lamb, an Adams native who got his coaching start at Hoosac Valley. Jon Poppe, who coaches the secondary and special teams for Harvard, played for Mike Whalen at Williams.
"Being in Boston and having all the opportunities around me that I'm going to have, is something at the end of the day, I couldn't pass up," Harding said when he announced he would attend Harvard. "I'm there for the athletics and I'm there for the football, but there's so much other stuff that goes with it. To use football as a gateway to get to all those other opportunities was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
Last year, the Crimson was 4-6 and 2-5 in the Ivy League. It marked the first time in the 21st Century that Harvard had finished the season with a losing record. Four of those five losses in Ivy League play were by one score, and two of them were in overtime. One was a classic Harvard-Yale game, where Yale scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, a game the Bulldogs eventually won 50-43 in double overtime.
The Crimson will open the 2020 season at home against Georgetown on Sept. 19. This year, "The Game" between Harvard and Yale will be played on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Harvard Stadium.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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