No Matter How Harvard Does, Tailback Eion Hu Still Scores
Goals have eluded his team this year, but he's making it off the field
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — While many college football players are already anticipating postseason bowl games, others, like Eion Hu, are about to write the last chapters in their organized football careers.
Hu, a first-generation Chinese-American, is a stocky, 205-pound senior running back at Harvard University. Saturday will mark his last hurrah in a Harvard uniform.
The outcome is of no real importance to those beyond Harvard, but it means the world to Hu, who is the school's all-time leading rusher.
Neither team is in contention for this year's Ivy League crown. Both are 1-5 in conference play and need a victory to escape the league cellar.
This is not exactly the sort of futility Hu had in mind when he arrived from Ringwood, N.J., fulfilling a dream to attend what he considers America's finest university. (Both Hu's parents work at William Patterson College in Wayne, N.J., his father as a biology professor and his mother as a lab technician.)
"When I came here [to Harvard] I wanted to be the starting tailback, I wanted to help the team be successful, but most of all I wanted to win the Ivy championship," Hu said while waiting for an afternoon of chalk talks and practice to start.
As the seasons have gone by, though, Hu says he has had to constantly reassess his goals. "It shouldn't be done that way," he says reluctantly, "but sometimes you're forced into it."
By last week, as Harvard neared the end of its sixth straight losing season, he had just two goals left: to experience victory in Harvard's last two games first against the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and then against arch rival Yale.
Objective No. 1 went by the boards last weekend when Penn prevailed 17-12, leaving only this week's Yale game to assuage past disappointments. A win would do it for Hu, who was the 1994 Ivy Rookie of the Year. "When you win in football," he continues, "everybody is happy. Individual accomplishments are different.
"When you get an A on a test and tell your friends it seems like bragging. But when you win in a team sport, you enjoy it with everyone and there's no better feeling of joy."
Last year, he scored the winning touchdown against Yale in a 22-21 thriller, carrying the ball in from a yard out with 29 seconds left. To date that ranks as his greatest college memory. "It could easily be replaced this year, though," he says, "because the game is at home," and the average attendance of 10,000 to 15,000 could easily double.
Hu anticipates that Yale will put up a major fight. The Elis, after all, want to present their longtime coach with a proper sendoff. They attempted to give Coach Carmen Cozza a victory in the final home game of his 32-year career last Saturday, but came up short when Princeton came from behind to win, 17-13.
Hu's family is originally from China, but moved to Taiwan to escape communism. Eventually they relocated to New Jersey, where Hu was born and raised and continues to keep most of his collection of over 6,000 comic books.
"I won't let my mom put them in the attic because it would get too hot or cold there," he says. "I want them stored in my room, at a nice bedroom temperature."
Hu became an avid comic book reader back in the sixth grade. And now he admires many of them just for the art. he says.
Even at college he has made weekly trips to New England Comics to buy action comics like Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk.
Hu's mother signed him up for youth-league football at a Grand Union supermarket when he was six.
"She wanted me to get out of the house and do something with my life," he says. He went on to gain more than 300 yards for DePaul High School in the 1992 New Jersey state championship game, won by DePaul.
"I've been the only Asian-American on the teams I've played for," he says, "but I really don't think about it much. No one has ever made a point of it." His parents have become avid football fans who attend many Harvard games.
Their son may not like to brag, but regardless of Saturday's outcome, they will take pleasure in what Hu has achieved, especially off the field. On Dec. 10, the economics major will be among 16 national scholar-athletes honored by the National Football Foundation in New York.