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Harvard Searches for New Offensive Leader
In the wake senior Colton Chapple’s departure, the Harvard football team is in the process of filling the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year’s big shoes. Sophomore Connor Hempel is currently the top candidate to lead the Crimson offense next season, according to coach Tim Murphy.
It may be the offseason, but it doesn’t seem that way for the Harvard football team.
Players have risen early for morning practice four days a week to prepare themselves for the upcoming season, and coaches have been working to assess the state of the team following a second-place finish in the Ivy League in the fall.
Perhaps the most glaring departure from that squad is senior quarterback Colton Chapple. With Chapple at the helm, the Harvard offense had a record-setting 2012 season, finishing fourth in the country with 487 yards per game.
Chapple, who was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year his senior season, set Harvard records in both touchdowns and total yards.
Although the cornerstone of the Crimson’s offense will no longer be behind center, Harvard coach Tim Murphy believes he has two capable replacements in rising senior Michael Pruneau and rising junior Conner Hempel. The starting quarterback position remains up for grabs, and the two have competed for the job and will continue to do so throughout the summer.
Both players have received little playing time in their Harvard football careers. Hempel appeared in only three games last year, after the outcomes were all but decided. In those games, he went a combined 15-for-24 in the air with no touchdowns and one interception.
Pruneau has not taken a snap since 2011, having suffered an ACL injury that sidelined him for the entirety of the fall season. In two games as a sophomore, Pruneau went 4-for-11 with a touchdown and one interception.
“I think we have two really good quarterbacks,” Murphy said. “I’ll preface that by saying [that] realistically neither guy’s really ever taken a snap. So that’s based upon ability. I mean, those kids can do all the things we ask our quarterbacks to do. They’re dual threats, they’ve got live arms, [and] they’re bigger, athletic guys. So potentially we’ve got two really solid quarterbacks.”
Hempel saw considerable playing time during the annual spring game last Saturday, leading his Crimson team on 11 individual drives. The rising junior finished 13-for-22 for 113 yards, spreading the ball around to several different receivers. His best throw came on a 23-yard completion down the sideline to rising junior receiver Seitu Smith.
“[In the spring game] you have real fans; you’re actually having real drives,” Hempel said. “Practices are normally scripted, so you know what plays you’re going to be running, but this is all purely a game situation. So the more experience you can get, the better.”
Pruneau, still recovering from his ACL injury, did not appear in the spring game, but instead remained on the sideline next to Murphy and occasionally relayed plays in. The rising senior has been rehabbing throughout the entire spring semester, and he has avoided full contact drills.
“[The recovery has] come along great,” Pruneau said. “I’m feeling almost 100 percent. At this point, I’m trying to gain full strength back in my leg. The rehab process is coming to an end here…. At some point during the summer I’ll be back to full health.”
Although Pruneau has not been able to practice at full speed in 11-on-11 situations, he has certainly worked hard throughout the spring season. Both he and Hempel have repeatedly shown up early for morning practice to watch film and get in extra reps.
In the end, both QBs agree that the competition for the starting job can only help the team in the months leading up to the fall.
“We feed off of each other; we motivate each other,” Hempel said. “Mike’s a great quarterback, and I really enjoy being around him and in meetings with him. We study film together with [offensive coordinator Joel] Lamb. It’s a healthy competition, and it’s making the team better.”
“Ever since I’ve been here, there’s always been a good relationship among the QBs, and I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon,” Pruneau added. “Me and Conner are friends, and I see us feeding off each other. I think ultimately it’ll be beneficial to the team.”
Harvard has three other quarterbacks on its active roster. Rising sophomore Tanner Wrisley played extensively during the spring game, and classmates Jimmy Meyer and Scott Hosch also received several snaps.
But Hempel and Pruneau stand out to Murphy as the top candidates for the starting job. Although Pruneau’s injury has made evaluations difficult, the head coach lists Hempel at the top of the depth chart, crediting his performance in spring ball.
“It’s an open competition, but having said that, somebody’s one, somebody’s two, and somebody’s three,” Murphy said. “And Conner, coming out of spring football, has earned number one. Michael has earned number two because that’s where he was, but based upon limited reps, that’s how it’s going to start off.”
Murphy says he hopes to have named a starting quarterback ten days before the first game of the year against San Diego.
But whoever takes the field for the first snap on September 21—regardless of whether it is Hempel or Pruneau—will be tasked with leading the Crimson on its quest for a fourth Ivy League title in seven years.
“Talentwise, I think we have everything it takes, but the key ingredient is everyone coming together as a team,” Hempel said. “Leaders start to emerge, and the leadership and how we play together and the chemistry on the team are what’s ultimately going to decide how successful we’ll be in the upcoming season.”
By DAVID STEINBACH, HARVARD CRIMSON