"Male Athlete of the Year" seems almost puny next to his other accomplishments. First-Team All-Ivy three times, one of 20 to accomplish that feat in league history. Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Harvard career record for tackles (395). School single-season record for tackles (135). First to start 40 games in a Harvard career.
All of these accolades came in the little-respected Ivy League, but then senior linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski got all the confirmation he needed with one phone call in April. Fourth-round pick in the NFL draft, No. 119 overall, by the Seattle Seahawks. Now he has another title--highest draft pick in school history.
Kacyvenski's story is an amazing one for the uninitiated. He comes from Endicott, N.Y., the son of a janitor. His parents divorced because of his father's alcoholism. His mother died when he was a senior in high school. Now he's a Harvard graduate and is about to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.
Fittingly, his storybook college career is ending in a storybook way. Today, as Kacyvenski continues to toil in Seattle in preparation for training camp, his father Dave will be accepting his diploma in a Leverett House ceremony.
"I'm excited about that," Kacyvenski said. "It means a lot to me because he barely graduated from high school, and he's real excited. He's an emotional guy, so he started crying when he heard. I was so pumped up we were able to go through with that, I'm real proud to have him accept it for me."
Kacyvenski started from the 1996 season opener against Columbia and was a defensive leader, calling signals the whole way. That year, he was the easy choice as Ivy League Rookie of the Year, thanks to his 72 tackles and four interceptions. He won the Rookie of the Week award three times that year.
As a sophomore, Kacyvenski upped his total to a team-leading 80 tackles and was part of an amazing defense that brought Harvard the 1997 Ivy championship. The Crimson went 9-1 that year (7-0 Ivy), thanks to a dominant defense that allowed only 6.4 points per game in league play and had two shutouts. Harvard surrendered only four touchdowns in league games, none rushing.
After that season, Kacyvenski was named to the All-Ivy First Team for the first time, along with three starters on the defensive line.
In 1998, Kacyvenski set the school single-season tackle record with 108. He beat that total this year in resetting the record and was rewarded as a unanimous First-Team Ivy selection.
Kacyvenski consistently positions himself on the field to make plays. He is a complete player, with five interceptions this past year and 11 for his career. He has a habit of being around the ball, with two fumble recoveries this year to give him eight for his career.
Offenses quickly realized that they had to find out where Kacyvenski was for any play to be successful. Meanwhile, Harvard designed its defense around him, with the players in front of him taking on blockers so he could make plays. More often than not, he did, and this year, pro scouts were constantly watching Crimson games.
Still, the year was a disappointing one for Kacyvenski, as the Crimson lost five games. The offense continued to put the defense in bad field positions and forced the defense to play a lot of minutes. However, the defense would often be stout for the entire game and then show cracks at the very end.
"I don't like to separate offense and defense, we won as a team and lost as a team," Kacyvenski said. "It obviously was frustrating. We had so much talent; it was a little frustrating to lose those close games when we should have won. I honestly believe we should have gone 10-0 without a doubt, but it didn't happen that way. It was unbelievable, after every game, I was wondering how we lost it."
Kacyvenski's path from child to Harvard graduate, Ivy star and NFL draftee is the stuff of legend. In fact, he said, the Seattle media have already picked up on it and written a couple of stories about him.
"Life was rather disastrous with the alcohol, so there was no marriage," Dave Kacyvenski said. "I was a weekend father, and I came to pick up the children after the divorce, and I overheard him say to his mother at 9 years old, 'Mom, how am I gonna afford to go to college?'"
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