THE GAME '08: Making the Bigs

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Raquel Rodriguez

CHRIS PIZZOTTI: It’s been done before, but making it to the NFL is no easy feat. For two of this year’s graduating class, the long road to the pros is one that began over the summer and will only get more difficult as it continues.

Whether it’s to be President of the United States or an astronaut, each of us had that dream when we were little to do something great. But for the most part it’s made readily apparent at an early age that those will remain dreams.

So as the seniors take their final snaps at quarterback and cornerbacks break up their final passes, for most, the nostalgic feeling that tomorrow will be the last time they touch a football in a meaningful game is ever-present. After The Game, they return to the more mundane world of papers, final exams, and job applications.

That is, unless you are quarterback Chris Pizzotti and cornerback Andrew Berry, two seniors who are looking to make that childhood dream a reality—to take the plunge for a shot at an NFL career.

“It’s something that for most boys, when they start playing football, is a childhood dream,” Berry says. “Nothing’s guaranteed at this point, but to even have that opportunity is something that I don’t take for granted.”

“I’m really blessed to be in the position I’m in,” Pizzotti says. “I came back this year only to play in college, but it worked out well in the end to get more looks from the scouts, possibly extending my year. This year has been an unbelievable comeback.”

The road will be long and has only recently become more tested. Despite the successes of former Crimson players, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 and Matt Birk ’98, the more frequent result of shooting for the pros ends in heartbreak. Even for all-time Ivy League rushing record-holder Clifton Dawson ’07, a brief stint proved to be all the spotlight the NFL would give him.

Where those before them have failed, the senior duo believes it may have the ability to succeed, but it will have to get going quickly to catch up with its competitors who have a clear leg up having spent time in the national spotlight. While Division I-AA players like Delaware’s Joe Flacco—now starting for the Ravens—Villanova’s Brian Westbrook, Eastern Illinois’ Tony Romo, and Bethune-Cookman’s Rashean Mathis, have increased the visibility of Division I-AA football, it’s far from being an easy route to the NFL.

Yet scouts’ thinking seems to be shifting towards decision making and other intangibles when making the decision to go after a player, giving high-profile I-AA players a better shot.

“The NFL’s interest in Chris has grown dramatically in the last year. Part of it’s statistics, a lot of it’s video,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy says. “The guy he reminds me most of is the guy from Boston College, Matt Ryan…He has great field vision, meaning his football IQ is very high, which is no guarantee, Harvard notwithstanding. [He’s] very poised, has become much better at moving around the pocket, becoming a scrambler, so I think NFL teams are very interested.”

Work began over the summer with extra workouts and extra calories. For the 6’1, 175-pound Berry, it’s been adding weight to a slender frame that might get lost in the shadow of a pro defensive back. And for the NFL-sized, 6’5, 225-pound Pizzotti, the summer meant more focused workouts on the things scouts typically look for, such as arm strength and mobility.

This fall it’s been interacting with scouts while concentrating on the task at hand—beating Yale for the sixth time in seven years and winning a second consecutive Ivy League title.

“During the season I just try to think about games,” Pizzotti says. “There are scouts at practice, scouts at games, you always want to try to look for the things they’re looking for, but at the same time you just want to play football.”

The process shifts in December, as both anxiously await invitations to all-star games and actively pursue agents. While the intrigue is there, and the last four or five years speak for themselves in terms of each player’s performance—Berry has a pair of First Team All Ivy honors, and Pizzotti is likely to be this year’s Ivy League Player of the Year—it will all come down to the all star games and a long spring filled with meetings, combines, and NFL workouts.

That is, if both even decide to go that direction at all.

“I’d like to see Andrew give professional football a shot, but he’s probably one of the few guys in the country who has so many different options…I think Andrew’s challenge is figuring out what he wants to do with his life. I wish he’d become a politician, in the best context, because I think he’d be an unbelievable leader,” Murphy says. “I don’t know if he ever really would want to do that, but when I say Andrew Berry for President, I’m not kidding.”

President, astronaut, or professional football players, the future for these two seniors is only getting brighter.

—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at mshapiro@fas.harvard.edu.

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