|Safety and captain Collin Zych is focused on making sure Harvard doesn’t miss out on an Ivy League title in 2010. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)|
Zych ready to deliver
Senior is putting stamp on Crimson
As is his custom, Collin Zych did not let any detail escape him, no matter how small.
In crafting a carefully worded inspirational letter to his Harvard teammates during the offseason, Zych, the Crimson’s 137th football captain, went to great lengths, from the letterhead he used (“Harvard football’’) to the method of its delivery (“Snail mail’’).
Zych knew his words likely would not carry the same gravitas if his message was delivered in an e-mail, or on Twitter, or in a Facebook posting.
“I remember as a younger player, it was something that I always looked forward to getting and it also had a pretty profound impact on me as I came into camp,’’ said Zych. “So I wanted to make sure that I was able to do the same for our younger players.’’
Zych reminded his teammates that last year’s 7-3 overall and 6-1 league record (the only blemish a 17-7 loss to Ivy champion Penn), would not be acceptable.
“What I attempted to say, first of all, was last year we came in second place to Penn in the league standings and that loss, to us, was a bitter loss,’’ said Zych, a 5-foot-11-inch, 195-pound senior free safety from Plano, Texas, who was an All-Ivy first-team selection last season.
“I wanted to remind the guys of what that felt like and how expectations still haven’t changed from year to year. I touched on that and I didn’t want to focus too much on the past. I also wanted to focus mainly on what we needed to do on an individual level to achieve the goals that we have.
“From there, I wanted to offer words to inspire people in their last couple of weeks at home and to kind of set the tone for the attitude I expect from everyone during preseason camp and during the first couple of weeks during the season.’’
What kind of attitude would that be?
“It’s to be all in,’’ Zych said. “To make sure that you’re doing everything you can, everything in your power to prepare and to outwork people and to make sure that you’re ready. Once the game comes, you have no doubt in your mind about what you’re able to do and you can go and just play and have fun.’’
The reason Zych’s words carry so much weight, said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, is that the Texas-tough safety is not only regarded as the Crimson’s best player, but also the most respected for his work ethic.
“What he means to our defense, No. 1, is leadership,’’ said Murphy, whose defense ranked second in the Ivy last year for average yards per game (290.6) and second in opponents’ passing efficiency (105.7). “He’s the guy who makes all the calls, he’s the quarterback of our defense as the safety. No. 2, he’s the guy who’s most respected for his leadership, ability, and production over the last several years and he’s generally recognized as the best football player on our team.’’
Zych was Harvard’s leading tackler last season with 73 stops. He had 53 solo tackles (third in the Ivy), six tackles for losses (one sack), and league-highs with 14 passes defended and 12 pass breakups, as well as a pair of interceptions.
It was little wonder why Zych was named to three preseason All-America teams.
“We’ve had some good safeties here in the time we’ve been here, but we haven’t had any better than Collin Zych,’’ said Murphy, in his 17th season. “He’s just so dependable and such a big-play guy. He can do it all. He doesn’t have any weaknesses.’’
And to think, if Zych hadn’t called Harvard to express interest, the Crimson might have never heard of him.
“It’s a very rare one,’’ Murphy said. “It’s a definite exception to the rule. Ninety-eight percent of the kids we recruit, we have to find. Kids who never necessarily were thinking about playing in the Ivy League.’’
A little-known prospect from Plano East High who followed the Dallas Cowboys but identified with and admired safeties such as Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bob Sanders of the Indianapolis Colts, Zych flew beneath the radar of almost every recruiter. And that includes Harvard’s.
“Well, to be honest, I wasn’t the best recruit,’’ Zych said. “Going into it, if I decided I was going to play football [in college] at the 1-AA level, it was going to be at an Ivy League school.’’
Dartmouth and Columbia expressed interest, which prompted Zych to inquire about Harvard.
“I came up here to visit and felt great,’’ Zych said. “I met all the players and coaches and I felt comfortable and I saw it was a winning program, which was important to me.’’
Now Zych has become the first player from Texas in Murphy’s tenure to rise to captain. As such, Zych hopes to put his personal stamp on this team as a detail-oriented leader.
“One thing that I pride myself [on] as a player is to play with a lot of energy and I want the rest of our team, especially our defense, to play the same way,’’ Zych said. “I want them to play with high energy, high intensity, and to be a very physical football team. Also I want to hold everyone else to the high standard I hold myself. I’ve asked the rest of the players to do the same. If we all go in with that [same] attitude, I feel like we can be very successful and we’ll have a lot of fun.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.