By Blake Ells
Three players for the 2017 Harvard Crimson football team have roots Over the Mountain: freshmen Doug Henze from Spain Park and Ben Abercrombie from Hoover, who had a bit of a rivalry going, and senior Tristan Tahmaseb from Vestavia Hills.
For Henze, recruitment escalated quickly following the Alabama- Mississippi All-Star Game, and he knew that the opportunity to continue his football career while obtaining a world-class education was one he couldn’t miss.
“After I left the (all-star game), several schools began showing up on the radar,” Henze said. “Harvard called me that week and asked if they could come to my house for an in-home visit. And after the in-home visit, they said, ‘We want you to come up to Harvard next week.’”
Henze found himself touring the Boston campus within about 10 days of his first contact from the coaching staff. The all-star game was Dec. 7, 2016, and he had made his verbal commitment before Christmas. Columbia, Gardner-Webb, Troy and Southern Miss were also on his radar, but the 6-foot 7-inch, 270-pound defensive tackle quickly knew where he wanted to spend the next four years.
“Three days after (his visit), I com- mitted to them,” Henze said. “It felt right. This place won me over.”
Henze was part of a Spain Park team that went to the AHSAA state finals in 2015, falling just short of win- ning a championship in a 14-12 loss to McGill-Toolen. Last year, he was awarded the Hoover City Schools Finley Award, given to a senior at Spain Park and at Hoover for outstanding character. He’s an Eagle Scout, and he finished tied for third on his team in tackles with 36.
He spent his summer at home train- ing and he’s barely had time to adjust to his new digs, but he’s already adjusted to his new relationship with Abercrombie. Henze’s 2015 Spain Park team was the first to ever defeat Hoover, where Abercrombie played.
“We played peewee football together, so that was funny,” Henze said. “We started talking again after we both committed and came up here together. It’s been fun.”
Harvard opens its season Sept. 16 at Rhode Island, and while Henze hopes to get on the field sooner rather than later, he already has his sights set on a larger victory: a degree in neurobiology.
Henze said he’s been overwhelmed by how welcoming they have been in Boston. That’s been a pleasant sur- prise, since he hasn’t had much time to spare in his first weeks on campus. Adjusting to a new place is always challenging; but there’s one thing in Boston that simply can’t compare.
“The barbecue,” he insists, “isn’t barbecue.”
Henze expects big things from the Jaguars he left behind this year, under the leadership of quarterback Braxton Barker and middle linebacker Hayes Cole.
Henze said the team competes in the toughest region in the state.
“It’s the SEC of high school foot- ball,” he said. “You’ve got to bring it every week or you’re going to take a loss.” ❖