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Leading breeds winning

Crimson inspired by captain Gedeon

One teammate thinks linebacker Alex Gedeon (49) would make a good president one day. One teammate thinks linebacker Alex Gedeon (49) would make a good president one day. (Harvard university)
By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / November 19, 2011

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The burden, as the 138th captain in the storied annals of Harvard football, can be overwhelming. And physically draining, mentally challenging, and yet, at times, incredibly exhilarating.

Alex Gedeon calls his captaincy, a role he has fully embraced since last December, “the greatest honor of my life.’’

His coach, Tim Murphy, praises Gedeon for his palpable toughness and his charisma, qualities Murphy first noted four years ago on his visit to Hudson, Ohio, to lock up the rugged linebacker.

His teammate, and former high school rival at Massillon Jackson, fifth-year senior defensive end Ben Graeff, says Gedeon “is the most committed individual I have ever met.’’ He said Gedeon’s demanding offseason workout plan established the foundation for the Crimson’s run to glory this fall.

And then there are the lighter, but more revealing moments, such as last Saturday afternoon, away from the spotlight, with darkness settling around Harvard Stadium. The Crimson had just charged off the turf and over to Dillon Fieldhouse after securing the Ivy League title with a 37-20 conquest of annual nemesis Penn.

In the inner sanctum of the locker room, the 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound Gedeon was cutting it up to the delight of his teammates to the hip-hop lyrics of “Teach Me How to Dougie’’ from Cali Swag District.

“Not my type of music,’’ said Gedeon. “I must look funny when I dance, but I said that if we won the Ivy League championship, I would do it for the team.

“I had to live up to that promise. We wanted to celebrate as brothers.’’

And that shows why Harvard (8-1 overall, 6-0 Ivy) is on the cusp of its fourth unbeaten run through league play since 2001. And also why, if the Crimson fail to complete their mission in the Yale Bowl this afternoon in the 128th edition of The Game, they will not accept any championship rings.

“We feel like we don’t deserve a ring unless we finish undefeated in the Ivy League,’’ said Gedeon.

And his mates are all in.

No lack of motivation there.

The Crimson acknowledge the task ahead. Yale (5-4, 4-2) is determined to end four years of misery against Harvard, the last two of which were particularly tough - a devastating 14-10 setback defined by fourth-and-22 two years ago in New Haven, and last year’s 28-21 defeat at the Stadium.

“Quite frankly, we’ve been quite fortunate the last couple of years - we’ve found a way to win,’’ said Murphy. “They are a talented and dangerous team.’’

He points to quarterback Patrick Witt, the Rhodes Scholarship candidate who lit up Princeton for 379 yards passing and three touchdowns in last week’s 33-24 win. And rugged backs Alex Thomas (6.1 yards per carry) and Mordecai Cargill (4.6), 6-4, 290-pound senior tackle Jake Stoller, and captain Jordan Haynes, a 6-1, 237-pound middle linebacker.

His team, though, is clearly on a mission.

Since a season-opening, mistake-filled 30-22 loss at Holy Cross, the Crimson have found a way to persevere and produce (36.6 points per game), through the driving rain against Brown (24-7), blizzard conditions against Dartmouth (41-10), and four weeks minus gifted fifth-year quarterback Collier Winters.

“Whenever there is a play to be made, we get it done,’’ said Gedeon, a second-team all-Ivy selection a year ago who has racked up a team-leading 83 tackles. “There has been an intrinsic urgency that we have had this season to motivate.

“You can see the way we have practiced, so much more intense, a lot more tempo.’’

That urgency, in the minds of everyone associated with Harvard football, is traceable to Gedeon.

“We’ve had a lot of great captains over the years,’’ said Murphy, who is in his 18th season. “But when you win a championship, you ultimately have to get a tremendous amount of production out of your captain - in terms of leadership and play out on the field.

“His work ethic and determination is unmatched.’’

Those traits surfaced early on for the first of three football-playing sons of Mike and Pam Gedeon to star at Hudson High. (Sam is a sophomore strong safety for the unbeaten lightweight squad at the Naval Academy, and Ben, a 6-2, 222-pound junior linebacker at Hudson, has already received offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Boston College, and Tennessee, among others.)

“[Alex] had a fantastic will to compete,’’ recalled Hudson High coach Ron Wright, who was the team’s defensive coordinator when Gedeon played there.

“The total package, the way he relates to coaches, teammates, his leadership. I would not be surprised to see him be the president of the United States some day.’’

That is on hold for the moment.

A human development and regenerative biology major, Gedeon, along with all-Ivy corner Matthew Hanson, recently accepted positions in consulting management with Bain & Co. in Chicago.

On the field, he exudes toughness, earning respect for his grit and willingness to sacrifice, delivering pivotal plays when needed, whether it is an interception at Princeton or a third-and-1 stick on the first series of the second half last week against Penn.

“We think he is the best linebacker in the Ivy League,’’ said Murphy. “But it’s the little things off the field that the people don’t see.’’

His humility, for instance.

“With all of Alex’s accomplishments, his brother’s enrollment at Navy has been one of his proudest moments,’’ said Graeff, who will miss The Game with a knee injury.

“I see him wearing more Navy gear than Harvard or Ohio State gear. He wears it proudly, and you’re far more likely to hear about his younger brother’s accomplishments then of his long list of accolades.’’

As the only captain, it can be lonely at the top. Yet, Gedeon says that has allowed other players to emerge as leaders, including Winters (a 69.9 percent passer), senior Alex Sarkisian, who selflessly embraced his transition from high school quarterback to clutch receiver at the college level, or dominant tackle Josue Ortiz in the trenches.

That kind of dedication, he strongly believes, will pay off this afternoon in New Haven. Yet his thoughts also extend to the opposing sideline.

“It’s a unique game, because for most of all of us seniors, it is the last time we’re ever going to put shoulder pads on, and so there is nothing really left on the table,’’ said Gedeon. “The last two years, they have been such close games.

“You win this game, and there is no tomorrow.’’

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.