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Lawrence Tech football back in the saddle

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Lawrence Tech dean of students Kevin Finn, from left, head coach Jeff Duvendeck and athletic director Scott Trudeau on the Soutfhield campus.

Southfield — “Harry the Horse” was small, certainly. But he could fly.

When he graduated from Pershing High in 1946, Harry Kazanjian, a kid who grew up on the East Side loving everything about football, thought his playing days were done, and it would be off to college to study engineering.

But the gridiron beckoned.

“I figured that pretty much ended my career in football,” said Kazanjian, who had only been able to play one season in the backfield for Pershing because of overcrowding in Detroit Public Schools.

“I only had one year of experience.

“Who the hell knew Harry Kazanjian, and one year?

“So I said, I don’t know what I’m going to do. And someone said, Harry, they’re looking for someone to play football at Lawrence Tech.

“I didn’t even know they had a football team.”

The 1939 Lawrence Tech team gathers for a photo.

Quite soon, they would not. At the end of Kazanjian’s first season in 1946, Lawrence Tech dropped football in favor of a more vigorous approach to the men’s basketball program.

But, after 70 years, Lawrence Tech is about to play intercollegiate football once again.

The Blue Devils have every intention of having the players on campus this autumn and playing a full National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schedule beginning in 2018.

“I’ll be tickled to death!” said Kazanjian, a retired engineer for Chrysler.

“What I want to do is go and kibitz with them, a little bit.”

Lawrence Tech has 20 intercollegiate athletics programs and a new $1 million field, where soccer and lacrosse are now mostly played.

A football coach, Jeff Duvendeck, a former offensive coordinator and line coach at Northern Michigan, is hired. He already is recruiting.

The administration is raising money to put a small stadium around the edges of the field, with some seating and a clubhouse for facilities and a weight room for the team.

Part of the motivation is Lawrence Tech is striving to become a more residential university, with expanded housing and more of a 24-hour community on campus.

“Having the opportunity for students to do more things outside of the classroom is important,” said Kevin Finn, dean of students. “We’ve had students who were choosing other universities so they could continue extra-curricular activities that were important to them, particularly football.

“Football still has the highest participation rate by young men in high school, and it’s the one sport that most of them will never play again after that last game of their senior year.”

A program from a 1940 Lawrence Tech game against Grand Rapids University.

For some guys today, it is precisely as it was for Kazanjian 70 years ago. Successful in football in high school, but maybe a little small or slow, and loaded with academic ability, where do they play now?

Officials also think it will draw alumni back to the campus.

“To engage our community and our alumni is going to be a huge thing,” said Scott Trudeau, the director of athletics. “It’s easier for the alumni to come back for a homecoming when it’s wrapped around football as opposed to another sport that’s not as spectator friendly

“It’s football, and we’re in Michigan which is a very football-rich state. We’ve got a lot of talent around here.”

A pool of potential players into which Duvendeck has already dived.

“Being in my home state and being in a great recruiting location were big draws for me,” the head coach said.

He plans to have players on campus, getting acclimated to classes, working with the weights, practicing and scrimmaging this fall. Duvendeck said he knows he faces a challenge to find young men willing to invest a year before the crack of pads occurs in a game.

But, he said, that is just the sort of academically-minded athlete Lawrence Tech wants and the character guys for whom he is searching.

“I’ve always wanted to start a program,” said Duvendeck, who played at Flushing High and Central Michigan. “It’s a huge task, a huge challenge. But the athlete in me, the competitor in me wants that challenge.”

When he heard about the initiative, the leading scorer for the men’s lacrosse team immediately sought got involved.

“I played football in early high school, but I was more intrigued by lacrosse, at the time,” said Tristan Burkhard, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “I’m going to be here for a fifth year and I will be eligible to play.

“So I thought, why not join the team and have a little fun playing football my last year at Lawrence Tech.”

Burkhard plays attack, in lacrosse, a forward, offensive position.

He played receiver and defensive back for Tecumseh High.

“I’d definitely love to put on a little more weight for football,” he said. “I’m not skinny, by any means, right now, and I’m in good shape. But I would definitely like a little more weight for football.”

Who knows? Maybe Burkhard will be the next “Harry the Horse.”

Kazajian got the name because, from a T-formation, he was the primary running back, the workhorse.

“I carried the ball most of the time,” Kazajian said. “I remember when they starting calling me Harry the Horse.”

“I ended up playing at about 170 pounds, but I was awfully quick. I was fast and tricky. In fact, I was so tricky I was able never to get hit head on.

“I was 18 years old and playing with guys 22 and 23 years old, coming back from the war,” he said. “And I was first string. We had a real good team. I was able to score.

“I was able to do quite a few things.”

Getting involved

Those interested in donating to LTU's football program should text: LTUFOOTBALL at 41444. High-school students interested in playing football and meeting Coach Duvendeck can go HERE. @greggkrupa