NEW YORK (AP) They’re not comparable to Power Five players, or even guys from the MAC, AAC or Mountain West. At least not on the football field.
In the classroom? That’s no contest.
Work in such subjects as nuclear physics, applied and computational mathematics, or geological engineering help Ivy Leaguers stand out in the real world. For NFL personnel people, such a resume is impressive – yet means a lot less than how fast a player ran the 40, how many squats he can do, or his injury history.
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That doesn’t mean the eight Ivy League schools who play in FCS – and don’t go to bowl games – get ignored by the pros. Indeed, there were 16 Ivies in the NFL last season, six starters. Two more were selected last weekend: Penn receiver Justin Watson in the fifth round by the Buccaneers, and Yale safety/linebacker Foye Oluokun in the sixth by the Falcons. A few others have been signed as undrafted free agents.
Among the dozen 2017 pros were Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate of Harvard and New England fullback James Develin of Brown. Brate had 48 receptions for a 12.3-yard average and six touchdowns as one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets with the Bucs. Develin merely has won two Super Bowls and made the Pro Bowl last season, as did 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk , who attended Harvard.
”It takes an incredibly driven and dedicated individual to excel at the highest levels of academia and athletic competition,” says Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League. ”The Ivy League’s unique approach allows our student-athletes to focus on reaching their fullest potential in both realms and prepares them for lifelong success, whether in their field of study or professional athletic opportunities.”
Oluokun hopes to seize his opportunity as a linebacker in Atlanta, though he’s versatile enough to handle safety duties. At 6-1, 234, he’s got the size, and can handle pass coverage.
Then again, when you can juggle a course load filled with the likes of macroeconomics, econometrics and European economic history, you probably can breeze through a playbook.
”I believe 100 percent it prepares you,” Oluokun says of the schoolwork at Yale and the challenges of making the NFL. ”You have got to put in that work and there are really no shortcuts here, and if you get behind you need to catch up, and that’s not easy. So if you make that mistake, you learn from it.
”At first thought I thought it might be stressful,” he adds of being a student-athlete in the Ivy League, ”but it really is manageable if you approach it the right way. You have teachers who will help you out and you have tutors if you need them, or other students are kind of helping you out because they are in the same situation.”
Except that the great majority of football players from Yale, Penn, Columbia, Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Dartmouth and Cornell are not heading to the NFL. Still, the true standouts get drafted, going back to 1949, when Penn’s two-way lineman Chuck Bednarik went first overall to Philadelphia. All Bednarik eventually did was make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Two current head coaches, Dallas’ Jason Garrett (Princeton) and Houston’s Bill O’Brien (Brown) also are Ivy guys.
”The NFL is incredibly challenging for all players, especially rookies that have to make a big adjustment playing against professionals,” says Princeton coach Bob Surace. ”I have been impressed by the talent level of the athletes in the Ivy League. More high school football players have turned down Power Five schools recently as they realize they can reach their athletic dreams and long-term career goals better in the Ivy League than any other conference.
”As important, we are having more players make NFL teams better because our players love to compete, they have outstanding work habits and a burning desire to achieve at the highest level in everything they do.”
Including, given the chance, in the NFL.
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