Marco Iannuzzi is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. In fact, it’s what he’s been doing all his life.
Now a junior, the wide receiver has cemented his place as one of Harvard football’s top offensive threats, but getting there wasn’t always easy.
Growing up in Calgary, Alberta, Iannuzzi’s abilities didn’t always turn heads.
“He was always very small, and then all of a sudden he just grew to become this tremendously talented athlete,” says Joe Stambene, Iannuzzi’s coach at St. Francis High School.
As high school progressed, the speedy receiver blossomed into one of the more promising recruits in Canada. Harvard came knocking, and Iannuzzi immediately knew it was the place for him.
“I remember I was on a trip in Mexico with some friends and to embarrass me, some of my friends started telling people around that I might be going to Harvard,” Iannuzzi says. “Random people, who didn’t even know English, knew what Harvard was, so I knew right away that it wasn’t just number one for me, it was number one for everyone.”
Though the decision on Iannuzzi’s end was an easy one, the Harvard admissions office didn’t feel the same way. When he applied straight out of high school, he was denied acceptance.
But Iannuzzi was not deterred, and he spent the year playing semi-pro football with the Edmonton Huskies while taking correspondence classes.
“Athletically, I wouldn’t trade the semi-pro year,” Iannuzzi says. “I got to do an internship where I was managing a restaurant...I think the real world experiences are where I gained the most. The jobs I had, the people I met, the connections I made.”
Iannuzzi once again sent in an application to Harvard, and again he was disappointed. This time, he was directed to Western Reserve Academy, a prep school in Ohio, and told to reapply the next year. But Iannuzzi stayed determined, and spent the year building up his academic profile.
“Through those three years of trying to get in, [Crimson coach Tim Murphy] believed in me the whole time,” Iannuzzi says. “Not only helping me to get in in terms of [getting] on people in admissions, he told me what to do in terms of, ‘Take this in school, try to better yourself in this aspect.’ He believed in me this whole time and never gave up. And it never crossed my mind to give up.”
The third time proved to be the charm for the Canadian—in 2007, he finally gained acceptance to the College.
“You will never find someone as focused as that kid,” Stambene says. “Once Harvard was set as a goal, there was never a question of getting there—that was always going to happen. He just went a roundabout way, but he never took his eyes off that prize.”
Iannuzzi made an immediate impact with the Crimson in his rookie season, seeing time at wide receiver as well as on special teams as a kick returner.
In 2008, when he won a starting spot at wide receiver coming out of preseason, Iannuzzi proved that he belonged, catching 11 passes for 174 yards in the season opener against Holy Cross.
But his promising sophomore campaign was cut short when he broke his collarbone in Harvard’s 24-22 second-week loss at Brown.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the game,” Iannuzzi says. “[It’s hard] standing on the sidelines, but instead of going to practice every day and running, you’re going to the training room and getting things done. And you’re still in it mentally, watching the game.”
Iannuzzi returned in time to play Yale, hauling in a 39-yard pass in Harvard’s title-clinching 10-0 win.
Now heading into the 2009 season, Iannuzzi is part of a strong group of returning receivers, including seniors Matt Luft and Mike Cook and juniors Chris Lorditch and Levi Richards.
“[Iannuzzi] gives you a speed element and a maturity element that anybody would love to have on their offense, but he also gives us really good return capabilities,” Murphy says. “He’s an outstanding punt and kick returner, so that’s a big help because those guys are in high demand and short supply.”
But Iannuzzi will be faced with a different challenge this season—that of balancing football and family. Iannuzzi and his girlfriend of five years, Jenn, were married on July 11. They now live off-campus with their 18-month-old daughter, Isla.
“[Isla’s] a maniac, running around, getting into everything these days,” Iannuzzi says. “It’s been awesome, just the different phase change in life this past year. A lot of planning for the wedding, and planning for moving, and trying to childproof a house. New challenges, but they are just awesome.”
And though Iannuzzi remains focused on football—after graduation, he hopes to play in either the CFL or NFL before pursuing a career as an architect—his life has been restructured to make more time for his family.
“It’s just [that] your free time doesn’t go to hanging out with friends and going to play basketball at the gym,” Iannuzzi says. “You’re spending your free time with your family, and I find that I obviously try to make more free time for myself now...I make time for my studies, and that allows me to open up mornings to go to Home Depot and fun stuff like that.”
His ability to strike a balance has earned the junior the respect of his teammates.
“I was bragging to him that I got up 15 minutes early every morning to check the news during camp, and he started telling me about heating up milk and changing diapers before he came to practice—that’s the last time I bragged about getting up early,” captain Carl Ehrlich says.
“He’s building a life in Boston with his family while doing all of that, and I don’t think that one has ever taken away from the other,” Ehrlich continues.
But whether it’s catching passes or chasing his daughter around the house, Iannuzzi is up for the challenge.
“When he was younger he wasn’t maybe the most talented,” Stambene says. “But if there’s anything I’ve learned about Marco over the years, it’s that hard work can and does get you where you need to get to in life.”
—Staff writer Kate Leist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.