Coming into this year, senior running back Aidan Borguet and senior wide receiver Kym Wimberly were both expected to be major contributors to the Harvard (4-1, 2-0) offense and help make up for the handful of dynamic playmakers who graduated after last season. The two flashed potential throughout the Crimson’s 8-2 campaign last season, with Borguet toting the rock 115 times and Wimberly leading the team with more than 450 yards receiving. Pair that high-flying duo with a healthy Charlie Dean, the team’s senior signal-caller who missed the last four games of last season due to injury, and Harvard seemed to have a wealth of experience and talent at the major offensive skill positions.
Five weeks in, the triumvirate has blown these expectations out of the water.
Start with Dean, the man under center – rather, in the modern offensive style that Harvard plays, in the shotgun. After struggling in the team’s season opener at home against Merrimack in what was his first start in almost a calendar year, the Odessa, Fla. native has gone on to throw for 984 yards and nine touchdowns in the four games since, completing almost 60% of his throws. More importantly, after going undefeated in his starts in 2021, the quarterback has continued his winning ways. Dean especially shined in the team’s Ivy League opener against Brown, in which he torched the Bears defense for 282 yards through the air and four scores.
On the receiving end of two of those touchdowns in Providence was Wimberly, who has emerged as a safety valve for Dean and one of the top receiving threats in the Ivy League. A figure who had already carved his name into the Crimson football canon with his game-winning touchdown catch in The Game against Yale last season, Wimberly has demonstrated a similar streak of clutchness so far this season. In the Merrimack game, which featured a frantic Harvard fourth-quarter comeback, the senior hauled in a 27-yard catch and a 36-yard catch in the penultimate and ultimate drives of regulation, respectively, paving the way for Borguet to score on both drives. In the squad’s lone loss so far, a 30-21 defeat to Holy Cross on Oct. 1, Wimberly’s 19-yard scoring catch in the third quarter kept the Crimson within striking distance.
The team likely wouldn’t even have been close against the Crusaders without Borguet, who rushed for two touchdowns in that contest, his second multi-score game of the season in addition to the win at Brown. Borguet has seamlessly adjusted to the role of lead back after playing behind Aaron Shampklin last season, as he leads the Ivy League in rushing yards (620) and is third in the FCS in yards per game (124). The senior brings a rare combination of evasiveness and strength to head coach Tim Murphy’s and offensive coordinator Mickey Fein’s offense, allowing the Crimson to gain solid yardage often on early downs. At the same time, he is a constant threat to break off a major run, as evidenced by his 67-yard touchdown run against the Bears. On that play, Borguet ran directly into his own offensive lineman behind the line of scrimmage, then bounced left, broke a tackle, and exploded into the open field and away from any Brown defender in sight.
“I’m just proud of the character that has been shown through a lot of the games so far,” Borguet said.
Proving his words, the team has received contributions throughout the year from young difference-makers such as sophomores Ledger Hatch, a deep threat at wide receiver who can take the top off of a defense, and defensive lineman Dominic Young-Smith, who snagged an interception last week against Howard.
While Borguet and Wimberly have garnered headlines and accolades, it is impossible to break down the success of this Harvard team so far without pointing to its experienced, bend-but-not-break defense. Senior defensive lineman and team captain Truman Jones has anchored a unit that has come up with big stops when needed and has benefitted from timely play at all levels of the defense. In the Merrimack game, for instance, senior defensive lineman Nate Leskovec came up with a massive sack of Warriors quarterback Gavin McCuster late in the fourth quarter, ensuring that the game would go to overtime. Against Brown, Bears quarterback Jake Willcox was able to march up and down the field for much of the fourth quarter, but senior defensive back Khalil Dawsey knocked down a desperation third-down heave with under thirty seconds to go to protect the Harvard lead.
As the Crimson looks ahead to its final five games, all against Ivy League opponents, it will need to continue to come up with big plays on the defensive side while using Borguet’s talents to win the time-of-possession battle. The next two contests, at home against Princeton (5-0, 2-0) and away against Dartmouth (1-4, 0-2) will offer the chance for some comeuppance, as the Tigers and Big Green are the only two teams who beat the 2021 Harvard team. Against these rivals, the Crimson will also hope that its special teams squad, led by assistant coach Jon Poppe, can continue to raise eyebrows: against Cornell, senior linebacker Kobe Joseph got his hand on a punt that ended in a 17-yard return touchdown for junior defensive back Jelani Machen, a feat that was almost matched by senior defensive back James Herring when he blocked a punt last weekend against Howard.
Whatever the result on the scoreboard against undefeated Princeton on Saturday, the Crimson will undoubtedly play with the tenacity that Murphy has preached in each of his 28 seasons at the helm, the never-give-up philosophy that has led him to become the winningest coach in Ivy League history.
“Our coaching staff gives us motivation and really just lets us know that we have to be ourselves and we have to continue to execute the way we want to,” Borguet said.
Borguet, Wimberly, Jones, and the other seniors on the roster hope that their inspired play will bring Murphy his tenth Ivy League title in the season’s closing contests.