Life of Brian: Don’t Question His Desire

Boyhood dreams of playing professional football aside, Harvard senior Jamil Soriano has another reason to look forward to this weekend’s NFL draft.

He needs a job.

“A lot of my friends have things lined up for next year,” Soriano says. “I’ve got nothing.”

At this point, it’s pretty much a sure thing that Soriano’s name will be called at some point this weekend. Soriano, who anchored one of the Ivy League’s best offensive lines the past two seasons as Harvard’s left tackle, says he’s been told upwards of 14 teams have him on their draft board. His agent has told him he could go as early as the fifth round. Popular wisdom lately says that he could even be selected ahead of superstar wideout Carl Morris, whose 40-yard dash time has not wowed scouting personnel at recent workouts.

But Soriano’s stock hasn’t been helped by some long-held prejudices about Ivy League athletes. One easily accessible scouting report, compiled by the people at Pro Football Weekly for ESPN.com, lists his Harvard background—Soriano is a biology concentrator and has plans to one day attend medical school—as a weakness.

“Does not need football,” the report reads. “Both parents are doctors, and he will have a Harvard degree to hang on his wall.”

A similar charge, you’ll recall, was leveled at former Crimson great Isaiah Kacyvenski three years ago, and all he’s done is earn the starting middle linebacker job with the Seattle Seahawks. All-Pro center Matt Birk ’98 has squashed those stereotypes, too. Sooner or later, you’d think that coming out of Harvard—hotbed of overachievers that it is—might actually be considered a selling point. But Soriano says questions about his commitment to football keep coming up in interviews.

When they do, he simply explains how football works at Harvard. How there are no scholarships keeping players from leaving the team. How the only thing keeping athletes playing is desire and personal pride.

It’s true Soriano doesn’t need football—he hasn’t needed it for four years. All the less reason to question his commitment to it.

“My grades have taken a hit because of football,” Soriano says, noting the sacrifices he’s already made for his sport. “I could’ve gotten a part-time job. My free time in general has taken a hit. I could have quit after freshman year. I could have quit at any point. But I love playing.”

With the possibility of medical school open to him, Soriano probably needs football even less now. Yet he’s shelved those applications indefinitely.

“I’m not going to apply until [later on],” he says. “I could have applied this year and deferred admission, but there’s a lot involved with the application process, and my first priority since the season ended has been getting ready for the draft.”

To that end, Soriano has been working out every morning all winter long with fellow senior lineman Jack Fadule, who’ll likely sign a free-agent deal after the draft. The pair have been hitting the weight room and working on their overall conditioning.

That’s why he didn’t quite understand another of his so-called weaknesses, according to the same report on ESPN.com.

“Has not done enough work in the weight room,” the report reads, “and it shows.”

“I thought that was a pretty unfair comment to make. That’s the most negative report I’ve seen,” said Soriano, who apparently was not beguiled by the write-up’s lavish praise of his “big, bubble butt.” “I don’t know what their sources are. I haven’t let it bother me.”

Soriano admits he would have liked to have performed a little better at the NFL combine held earlier this winter. He was happier with his performance on pro day at Harvard last month.

“The atmosphere [at the combine] is tough,” says Soriano, who clocked a 40 time of 5.44 seconds and benched 225 pounds 15 times. “They have their eyes on you all the time—when you’re working out, during your physical, even when you’re just walking around. Everybody’s there, too. You name it, they were there—Bill Parcells, Steve Mariucci. All those guys were there. It was just a tough atmosphere. A lot of people do a lot better at the pro days.”

Critics of Soriano’s body strength overlook the fact that before last spring, Harvard had no full-time strength and conditioning coordinator. A fairer assessment of Soriano might note that he’s thrived under what strength programs he’s had available to him. Since Sean Hayes was hired by Harvard, Soriano says he’s improved his bench by 30-40 pounds.

“My body has gotten a lot stronger in the past year,” says Soriano, who says he wishes he’d had Hayes around for his entire four years. “My bench has increased in six months more than it has gone up in the three years before that.”

This weekend, Soriano will go home to New York as he waits to learn when he’s selected. His parents, both immigrants to America, have been supportive of his career plans.

“They don’t mind that I’m putting off medical school,” he says. “The money’s a lot better in football than it is in medicine.”

“I don’t know if it’s hit my parents what kind of opportunity this is,” he adds. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”

He’ll be anxious, he says, as he sits by the phone on the couch. Then again, at least he’ll be sitting down—it’ll be one of the few days off he’s had in a while.

“I haven’t had much of a break,” he says.

You say Soriano doesn’t need football? No kidding. But he wants it. And that says a hell of a lot more.

—Staff writer Brian E. Fallon can be reached at bfallon@fas.harvard.edu.