Created:Tuesday, August 20, 2013 11:56 p.m.CDT

Harvard football team feels obliged to live up to tradition

Harvard junior running back Christian Kramer (left) practices with his teammates Friday at the high school. (Kyle Grillot -

HARVARD – In his 29th season as Harvard’s football coach, Tim Haak’s passion for the game hasn’t waned.

Whether he’s coaching on the football field or meeting with the team in a classroom after practice, Haak’s intensity doesn’t waver. It can take some getting used to for first-year varsity players, but the Hornets feed off Haak, and this year they’re hoping it leads to a big season.

“We try to bring his intensity to the younger guys, bring them up to speed, and hopefully we’re ready for that first game,” senior wide receiver and defensive back Justin Nolen said. “We want to keep up that standard and stay true to Harvard and keep that going.”

“We feel like we have to keep stepping up,” running back Christian Kramer added.

To keep that Hornets standard means a return to the playoffs this season after missing the 2012 postseason after finishing 5-4 despite a 4-2 record and tying for second-place in the Big Northern Conference East Division. Getting off to a good start will be important, and the return of varsity-experienced players, including junior quarterback Peyton Schneider, gives Harvard a boost.

“The standard is always set high,” Haak said. “I think this group, I think they feel if they have five wins [at the end of the season] they’ll be disappointed. That’s just the bar that they’ve set.”

Schneider said having a year of starting experience “helps tremendously,” and he expects the Hornets’ offense will have plenty of success this season. Even with a solid offensive unit, the Hornets’ special teams will have to improve and defensively they need to play their “hard-nosed” brand of football, Haak said.

“I can trust them making plays and being smart on offense,” Schneider said of Nolen and Kramer. “I have a lot of hope and optimism for our offense this year, putting points on the board and our defense shutting them down.”

Kramer has set a personal goal of rushing for 1,000 yards, and with three offensive linemen returning, the speedy junior, who is the second-leading returning rusher in the area, is a dangerous threat for the Hornets. Kramer rushed for 970 yards last season and had nine touchdowns.

“It helps a lot because I can trust the linemen and trust they’ll make holes,” Kramer said of having experienced linemen.

Kramer’s hard work to become one of the area’s best running backs hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates or coaches. Nolen said he always can trust Kramer will run the ball hard and find the hole on any carry.

“He’s very consistent,” Haak said of Kramer. “He doesn’t miss anything in the offseason, he’s a tireless worker, and he’s such a tremendous human being. I think we’ve been fortunate.”

Harvard will have plenty of support as it pushes for its first BNC East title since 2007 as well as a playoff berth. Former Hittin’ Hornets players – or old heads, as Haak calls them – tend to passionately follow the team from wherever they live across the country, and that support has set an important tradition for the program.

“My phone will be filled with texts after the game and phone calls,” Haak said. “Those old heads, they want to see that tradition continue. ... It’s such a great fraternity it’s important to the current players as well as the former players.”