WHAT A'BOUT' ROB?: Former Football Players Reflect on Experience

Junior Mike Duda has a lot in common with Harvard captain Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both of them were incredible high school quarterbacks, both bypassed possible scholarship offers from Division I schools, and both came into Harvard with huge expectations for what they could possibly accomplish.

“I was an All-State quarterback right outside of Chicago, Illinois,” Duda says. “Northwestern really wanted me to punt more than play quarterback so it made the decision to come to Harvard pretty easy.”

Whereas Fitzpatrick has never looked back—running off staggering statistics in his four seasons since joining Tim Murphy’s Crimson squad from Arizona—Duda quit football after his freshman season and makes up a proud segment of the population who call themselves ex-footballers.

“I injured my throwing shoulder during my freshman year and as a result decided together with the coaches to stop playing,” Duda says.

Whether due to injury, exhaustion, or their interests in other academic or extracurricular pursuits, quite a few of the guys who sit next to you in Bio-Anthro lecture, in the dining hall, and in yes, the library, used to play Harvard football. I only talked to three of them in particular for this article, yet I believe they encompass a wide range of the ex-footballers on campus.

“It’s too bad that that particular part of my life is over since it’s something that I really enjoyed,” junior Ferdinand Carmine Martignetti says. “I was recruited as a cornerback after playing mostly corner and special teams in high school but was almost immediately converted to strong safety after my arrival. Shortly thereafter—thanks to a massive muscle gain—I was moved to middle linebacker.”

Well, in the immortal words of Jake Taylor in Major League—you may be a couple of ‘has-beens’ guys—but at least it’s better than being a ‘never will be’ on the sports field, like yours truly. Few members of the population realize that the Kirkland resident—affectionately known to his friends as ‘Freddie’—used to be a beast of a man who trudged across the river during his freshman year to bench and squat as much as was humanly possible. Though the outgoing ‘Italian Stallion’ grin has never left his face, Martignetti’s beastly 200-plus pound frame has been reduced to a timid 165 pounds.

“I never really wanted to change positions but I was always happy to do whatever the coaches asked of me,” Martignetti says. He admits though that he “was always much happier playing football when [he] was playing in the secondary.”

And playing in the secondary has never been difficult for Martignetti. During his prolific high school career at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., the Chestnut Hill resident racked up impressive numbers in three seasons, despite playing with a vast number of students taking post-graduate seasons. In the final game of his career against PA’s archrival—Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire—Martignetti dominated, picking off two passes on his way to leading Phillips Andover to victory in the oldest high school football rivalry in the nation.

As Martignetti realized that the opportunity to play in the secondary was slipping away during his freshman year, he found that “his skills at linebacker were not as strong.”

“It became apparent that football would no longer be a positive aspect of my Harvard experience,” Martignetti says.

“Having left the football team, a whole new world of academic opportunity and different parts of the Harvard experience which were previously unavailable to me have opened up.”

Whether it was injuries, the grind of almost nonstop lifting in the mornings during the winter and spring, or simply exhaustion, many a player on coach Tim Murphy’s squad finds that out at some point during his Harvard career. By my count, about half of the players in my class —the class of 2006—have now quit the football team. And while many of them and players in other classes joke about regrets, most of them still really love and follow the Crimson football team.

“I don’t know about most of the other guys you are going to talk to, but I didn’t leave the team because I was bitter or fed up with the program,” senior Jayson Vittori says.

Vittori echoes Martignetti in his thoughts about the importance of other aspects of the Harvard experience.

“Football was a huge part of my life for a long period of time,” Vittori says. “It just got to the point where I thought my time would be more valuably spent doing a number of other things that playing football here would not allow me to do.”