Quarterback competitions are common in college football. But they typically involve two candidates. Harvard finds itself with a legitimate three-way battle.
Coach Tim Murphy said junior Conor Easthope, sophomore Jaden Craig, and junior Charles Deprima will compete for the starting job during preseason camp, which begins this weekend. The Crimson have 32 days to pick a starter ahead of the season opener Sept. 16 against St. Thomas at home.
“Believe it or not, we’re really excited about the quarterback situation,” Murphy said at Monday’s Ivy League Football Media Day. “We really believe over the next three to four weeks we’re going to develop a couple of good quarterbacks. I’m convinced the quarterback position is going to be a strong position for us.”
Last year, Harvard finished 6-4 and senior Charlie Dean was the mainstay under center, starting nine games and throwing for 2,101 yards with 18 touchdowns. Dean graduated, as did backups Luke Emge and Curt Casteel, leaving the Crimson to enter the season with a blank slate at the position.
Easthope, Craig, and Deprima have not attempted a pass at the collegiate level, and only Deprima has seen game action, rushing three times for 14 yards last season.
Murphy isn’t too concerned.
He said the trio earned valuable repetitions during spring practices, and believes fall camp will provide another window for development. Entering his 30th season at Harvard, Murphy suggested perhaps all three will earn time this season, depending on matchups, game situations, and who has the hot hand.
“On one hand, you can have the ‘woe is me, we graduated our top three quarterbacks’ card,” said Murphy. “But we look at it differently. We’re excited, and now more than ever, you have to have standout quarterback play to succeed.”
Picked fourth in the Ivy League preseason poll, Harvard feels its strength will be on defense — particularly on the line. Standout Thor Griffith is returning after recording 46 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks last season.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 305-pound Griffith, from Portsmouth, N.H., was named the Preseason Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll be joined up front by defensive end Nate Leskovec, a Preseason First Team All-Ivy selection, forming a powerful duo in the trenches.
“I think on the defensive line we all make each other better,” said Leskovec. “We just open up opportunities for one another. As for Thor, he is a phenomenal player. He’s a wrecking ball. It’s been fun playing alongside him.”
Tight end Tyler Neville, offensive linemen Austin Gentle and Jacob Rizy, and punter Sebastien Tasko were also named to the Preseason First Team.
Harvard is faced with a challenging nonleague schedule, one Murphy thinks may be the toughest he’s ever had. After the opener with St. Thomas — which finished 10-1 last season — the Crimson play Holy Cross at Polar Park before a matchup with an upstart Howard program. And there is the seven-game Ivy League slate, capped by the season-ending showdown with Yale, the preseason Ivy favorite.
“Our league is more balanced now than it has ever been in my 30 years,” said Murphy. “Because of that, every game is a grind. We have a lot of work to do but we’re really excited.”
▪ Sammy McCorkle will serve as Dartmouth’s interim coach while Buddy Teevens recovers from a bicycle accident last March that resulted in the amputation of his right leg. Teevens, the program’s all-time wins leader (117) in 23 seasons, was riding his bike in Augustine, Fla., when he was struck by a pickup truck.
McCorkle, who has worked under Teevens for 18 years, provided an update on Teevens.
“He’s in Boston right now and he’s surrounded by close friends and family,” said McCorkle. “He’s working hard every day to get better. The support has been phenomenal. We all know Coach Teevens is a fighter and he’s going to improve on a daily basis.”
Murphy, a close friend of Teevens’s, opened his press conference with remarks about Teevens and his wife, Kirsten, who was riding with Buddy when the accident occurred.
“They are doing as well as expected,” said Murphy. “It’s a long road back, but Buddy’s the toughest guy I know. I do appreciate all the thoughts and prayers people have sent their way.”
▪ Brown will be led by a pair of locals. Senior quarterback Jake Wilcox was a star at Everett High and Milton Academy, and will be the starter for coach James Perry. Wilcox threw for 1,786 yards with 12 touchdowns in seven games last season.
His top target is receiver Wes Rockett, a Marblehead resident and the Globe’s 2018 Division 1 Player of the Year at St. John’s Prep. Rockett hauled in 48 catches for 554 yards last season, earning Second Team All-Ivy honors for the second straight year.
Ivy League preseason poll
(first-place votes in parentheses)
1. Yale — 122 (13)
2. Princeton — 103 (1)
3. Penn — 90
4. Harvard — 84 (1)
5. Columbia —62 (1)
6. Dartmouth — 54
7. Cornell — 37
8. Brown — 24