From Benchwarmer to League-Best
Senior defensive tackle is ready to build on a breakout 7.5-sack campaign
When senior Josue Ortiz first donned a Crimson jersey, he seemed destined for a middling career in Harvard football.
“He was just so raw,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Yeah, he was a good-looking kid, although pretty lean. But he looked stiff, and he just didn’t know how to react to blocking schemes. He was very unsophisticated in a football sense.”
Oh, how times have changed.
Fast forward four years and 40 pounds, and the fifth-year defensive tackle is the centerpiece of the Crimson defensive line. A third-team All-American and a first-team All-Ivy Leaguer last season, Ortiz is widely considered one of the best—if not the best—defenders in the Ancient Eight.
And he’s only gotten better since last year.
“I’m lighter, but I didn’t lose much strength,” Ortiz said. “I feel like I’m a more well-rounded athlete this year, and I think that’s going to show when we get into the season.”
But Ortiz’s dominance of the Ivy League is a relatively recent phenomenon.
After red shirting due to an injured wrist his freshman year, Ortiz’s role was limited as a sophomore, appearing only three times during the season. Things just weren’t clicking for the Avon Park, Fla. native, and he was a far cry from the player who eventually would dominate opposing offensive lines. The situation became so bleak that the Economics concentrator contemplated quitting during spring practices in 2009.
“I wasn’t playing very well, and it didn’t look like things were getting very good,” Oritz admitted. “I thought about, at that point, taking a year off or leaving or just not playing.”
After discussing it with his teammates, Ortiz opted to wait until the end of the spring to make a decision.
“It’s very dishonorable to just go to spring ball and then quit midway,” Ortiz said. “I ended up finishing the spring [because I] actually did not have that bad of a spring ... I just stuck with it.”
At the end of the school year, in a meeting with Murphy, the coach effectively labeled Ortiz a disappointment up to that point.
“I feel like that was the turning point right there,” Ortiz said. “That’s what really motivated me.”
He stayed in Cambridge over the summer to work with the team. He gained 15 pounds. And then, all of a sudden, the then-240-pound defensive tackle started to take off. Despite not starting in 2009, he played in all 10 games, was fifth on the team with 35 tackles, and tallied two sacks. For his efforts, he was named to the All-Ivy League second team.
But it was during his senior year—his third year of eligibility because of his red shirt—that he truly became an elite player. He put on an additional 20 pounds, and for the second year in a row, made huge strides from year to year.