While most Harvard students are preoccupied with acing a final project or exam, a select group of Crimson football players have their sights set on a different goal, far from the confines of Cambridge and Harvard Stadium: Playing in the NFL.
With this year’s NFL Draft running from April 26-28, we take a look at two NFL hopefuls: defensive tackle Josue Ortiz ’11 and senior left tackle Kevin Murphy.
At Harvard, Ortiz blossomed from an underperformer into the league’s most dominant defensive player. In the 2011 season, the fifth-year senior, despite frequent double teams from opposing offensive lineman, still controlled the line of scrimmage, tallying a league-best 10 sacks. With his performance, Ortiz earned the Asa S. Bushnell Cup, given to the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, in addition to an Associated Press All-America third team nod.
“In the terminology our kids use, [Josue is] a freak,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said after Saturday’s Spring Game. “He could do things you didn’t coach. He could be unorthodox and still make plays…. He was one of those difference makers.”
In the months following the end of the season, Ortiz, listed at 6’4” and 260 pounds on Harvard’s roster, has received attention as an NFL prospect. Recently, the senior worked out with the New York Jets and the New York Giants as a potential linebacker.
“I thought [the workouts] went pretty well,” Ortiz said. “I thought I was able to show how athletic I am…even though I was playing out of position.”
“The Jets gave me a test to see how much I could retain and how quickly I could, and I felt like I did pretty well with that,” Ortiz added.
Ortiz has received interest from other teams as well, including the Green Bay Packers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Arizona Cardinals.
While the first three rounds of this year’s NFL Draft are on Thursday and Friday, rounds four through seven—when Ortiz would likely be selected, if at all—are on Saturday.
If not selected, Ortiz expects to sign a free agent contract in the days following and would report to his team’s minicamps within two weeks of the draft.
“I would be shocked if I wasn’t signed by Monday,” Ortiz said.
But Ortiz isn’t the only Harvard lineman receiving serious NFL consideration.
Murphy, who anchored the 2011 team’s offensive line at left tackle, has also worked out with a pair of NFL teams.
“The [Atlanta] Falcons came up last week, and the [Falcons’ rep] said I looked really good, and then I worked out for the Patriots during the [Boston College] Pro Day, and [the Patriots’ rep] also said that the O-Line coach…[said] I did a really good job and that I’ll be hearing from them some time.”
Murphy began preparations for the NFL almost immediately after his last game in a Harvard uniform—a 45-7 drubbing of Yale in The Game on Nov. 19. Just two weeks after the contest, the senior had “pretty much committed” to agent Joe Linta.
“He was one of the first guys I talked to down on Yale’s field after The Game,” Murphy said of Linta, a Yale graduate. “[Linta] said, ‘You’re an NFL player, I know that, and I’ll represent you. You’ll be hearing from me soon.’”
Linta came to Cambridge for a breakfast with Murphy a few weeks later. The senior later signed with Linta, who also represents Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk ’98.
Five months later, Murphy, believes a fifth-, sixth-, or seventh-round pick is a possibility and notes that the Falcons, among other teams, have expressed interest in drafting the first-team All-Ivy leaguer, who is listed at 6’7” and 295 pounds on the Harvard roster.
“It’s really humbling hearing from all the different teams that have called me, but I’m just trying to keep my head about it,” Murphy said.