Embracing Brains and Brawn

No matter how hard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tries to debunk Harvard stereotypes, people keep trying to fit him to the mold.

Since the Crimson’s season ended in November, the NFL hopeful and 2004 Ivy Player of the Year has been doing all he can to improve his draft potential. He has played in two senior bowls—the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Hula Bowl—impressing scouts with his accuracy and ability to throw on the run. He has practiced with big-name quarterbacks like Oklahoma’s Jason White. And he showed off his stuff to scores of NFL teams at last weekend’s NFL combine in Indianapolis.

But despite doing all he could to prove that he is genuine pro prospect, that Harvard label—and all that comes with it—is hard to shake.

When the weekend was over, people weren’t talking about Fitzpatrick’s arm, or his legs, or his potential. Instead, all they could talk about was his standardized test score.

According to a report on NFL.com, Fitzpatrick became only the second player in history to get a perfect score on the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a sort of mini-IQ exam administered to all combine attendees. Not only that, but he had finished it in an unofficial-record nine minutes.

Internet message boards lit up with glee. The Boston Globe spun an entire story around his feat. And Fitzpatrick became slightly bewildered.

He couldn’t have aced the Wonderlic. He had left a question blank.

“People say I got a perfect score,” Fitzpatrick says. “I know I didn’t get a perfect score. I don’t know where that came from.”

The confusion may arise from the fact that, as in certain standardized tests, one can miss a question and still get a “perfect score.”

Regardless, the excitement over Fitzpatrick’s Wonderlic score, perfect or not, speaks to the resiliency of that Harvard tag.

Ultimately, that may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it’s those very Harvard attributes like intelligence and quick-thinking that Fitzpatrick hopes will make him attractive to professional teams, teams that are looking for a sleeper pick on the second day of the draft. Ideally, those Harvard brains translate into an ability to swiftly adjust, to accurately read defenses, and to mistake-free play—all things that Crimson football fans have seen over the past four years.

In recent months, what with the senior bowls, practices, and combine, Fitzpatrick is finally getting the opportunity to show off what he can do against some of the best in the country. And he’s been pleased with his performance.

“I felt great out there,” Fitzpatrick says of the combine and his practices with the other prospects. “It was nice to stack myself up against those guys. I feel good about how I threw.

“More so than anything [the senior bowls] gave me confidence. I met a lot of people that I would meet at the combine, I threw to the receivers that I would be throwing to at the combine.”

There have been sacrifices along the way, such as having to take his final exams on the road, or missing virtually the first month of school to prep for the combine. But watching a few lectures online is a small tradeoff for the chance to fulfill his NFL dreams.

With approximately two months remaining before the draft, Fitzpatrick continues to balance school with training. He plans to attend a Pro Day at Boston College near the end of March, and potentially another one at Arizona. He has been corresponding with former teammates Jamil Soriano ’03 and Carl Morris ’03, both current members of NFL practice squads who went through a similar process senior year.

“Carl’s been real helpful, since he was in the East-West game and the combine, too,” Fitzpatrick says. “He’s been telling me what to expect, helping me along the way.”

Fitzpatrick can top his Crimson predecessors by getting picked in the draft, a feat achieved by no Harvard player since Isaiah Kacyvenski ’00.

Right now, however, he remains focused on the present and on the upcoming Pro Days. He claims to be ignoring the buzz on internet websites about his changing draft status.

“I’m just focusing on performing well, to open some more eyes,” he says.

The only thing Fitzpatrick can do to shake those Harvard stereotypes is exactly what he has been doing—disproving doubters with his arm, his legs, his potential.

As for his standardized test score?

Hey, a little extra publicity never hurt anyone on draft day.

—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at kennell@fas.harvard.edu.

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