If someone were to tell you that three out of the last four starting tight ends for a college went on to play in the NFL, there’d probably be a few schools that pop up in your head such as USC, Alabama, Notre Dame, etc. But what about Harvard?
It may be difficult to believe, but the Crimson are part of this club, as graduates Ben Braunecker ‘16, Kyle Juszczyk ‘13, and Cameron Brate ‘14 all made it to the professional level after featuring for Harvard.
Juszczyk scored four touchdowns to go with 321 yards while playing primarily as a fullback and H-back for the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, Brate tallied three touchdowns and 288 yards while playing tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Braunecker is currently on the practice squad for the Chicago Bears after a stellar NFL Scouting Combine in February caught the attention of the team.
These tight ends were valuable during their time with the Crimson–at least one tight end has featured as one of the top two receiving options in every season from 2012 except 2014–giving the position plenty of importance in the aerial game.
In the past four seasons, 2012 to 2015, tight ends have accounted for 4081 out of the 10658 receiving yards Harvard has compiled, or just over 38% of aerial offense. In 2015, Braunecker–who was the only Harvard tight end defined as an eligible receiver by the NCAA–accounted for 850 of the team’s 3043 receiving yards, or just under 28% of the total yards. By comparison, among all other eligible FCS receivers–defined by the NCAA as having played 75% of their team’s games–tight ends accounted for only 3243 of 107,795 receiving yards, a mere 3%.
Though the Crimson constantly has NFL caliber tight ends such as Braunecker graduate, the squad has a seemingly endless stock of them ready to go and this year looks to be no different, thanks to starting tight end Anthony Firkser.
The senior from Manalapan, NY., a two-time second team All-Ivy selection, amassed 857 yards to go along with seven touchdowns his sophomore and junior years and will be called upon to be an offensive weapon throughout the season. Having played with and learned from Braunecker and Brate during his first few years with the Crimson, there were high expectations for him in his first year as the bonafide top choice tight end.
A converted wide receiver who had never played tight end before arriving in Cambridge, Firkser had a breakout performance in this season’s first game against URI, leading the team with two touchdowns and 111 yards off of seven receptions. It was the first game the tight end eclipsed the century mark in yards in his career at Harvard.
Firsker scored the first points of the season for the Crimson, lining up in the split end in a play action before splitting the coverage to get into the end zone unmarked, where senior quarterback Joe Viviano easily found him with a 16 yard bullet. Though the senior demonstrated his speed and agility with his opening score, his second one was arguably more impressive.
With the team up 30-7 at the URI 18 and the tight end lined up in the slot, Firkser charged at the URI secondary before showing some fancy footwork to lose his man and cut to the outside of the end zone. With a limited amount of real estate to work with, Viviano lobbed the ball to the tight end, who plucked it out of the air and showed the poise and finesse to barely keep his feet inbounds and extend the lead.
It was the second career game with multiple touchdowns for Firkser, who first accomplished the feat during last season’s loss to Penn. While the tight end has only accomplished the aforementioned feat twice, there’s reason to believe this won’t be the last time he’ll be picking apart defenses.
Given the likely increased defensive coverage of star receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley and the mobility of Joe Viviano that will force defenses to play conservatively, there’s an increased chance new passing lanes and targets will open up for Firkser.
“[Shelton-Mosley and Firkser] get open really well,” Viviano said. “They adjust to the ball, and they catch the ball. We have plenty other weapons, but…they’re really good at what they do.”
Along with Shelton-Mosley, Firkser will be called upon to help as the tight end and his fellow seniors look to make history as the first ever Harvard class to win at least a share of the Ancient Eight crown in all four seasons they attended the College.
–Staff writer Julio Fierro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.