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Here at Harvard, the unofficial center of worldly sophistication, travel abroad hardly raises eyebrows. Especially after graduating, it’s not unusual for Harvard students to spend some time in Europe, whether it’s traveling, studying, learning a language, or playing football.
Well, that last one might raise some eyebrows.
For former Crimson football stars Jamil Soriano and Carl Morris, both ’03, this spring promises study abroad of a different flavor. The alums, both of whom spent parts of this past pro season on NFL practice squads, have been allocated by their teams to play in the NFL Europe for its 2004 season.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Europe after college but I couldn’t last summer because of football,” says Soriano, who plays on the offensive line for the New England Patriots. “It’s kind of cool that I get to play, and see Europe, and get paid.”
Soriano, who will play at offensive guard for the Berlin Thunder, reported to training camp in Tampa, Fla., on Monday. Wide receiver Morris—holder of nine Harvard all-time receiving records, now a member of the Miami Dolphins—will play for the expansion Cologne Centurians, and was already in Tampa for passing camp. The players will spend approximately three weeks training before heading overseas for sightseeing, revelry, and, oh yeah, football.
“My expectations are to go and just play football and have a good time,” Morris says. “I’ve heard from guys who’ve played there before that there’s plenty of time to sightsee, and the fans are really great. So I’m hoping to just have fun and get better.”
Culture shock doesn’t seem to be a concern, though neither Morris nor Soriano have traveled extensively abroad.
“I went to France in high school, but I’ve never been to Berlin,” Soriano says. “It’s a new country, a new area, a new culture.”
What is most significant about the opportunity for NFL Europe play is that it indicates the NFL team’s interest in that player’s potential. This is promising for the two Harvard grads, especially after the uncertainty of the past summer and fall.
Neither Soriano nor Morris was picked in the 2003 NFL Draft. Following the draft, Soriano was signed by the Green Bay Packers as a free agent, cut by the Packers and signed by the Chicago Bears, traded to the Patriots and cut twice more before being resigned to New England’s practice team. He has since been signed to a one-year contract.
Morris had a similar saga, spending part of the summer as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts before being claimed by the Philadelphia Eagles off waivers. He was released at the end of the summer and during fall 2003 was often spotted on the Harvard sidelines. Relief came in December, when the Dolphins signed him to their practice team.
“It’s just a relief to get out there again doing something I love to do,” Morris says. He has now signed a two-year contract with Miami.
Aside from the confidence guarantee provided by the Europe option, the two are mainly grateful for a chance at some on-field experience. Since one of the purposes of the NFL Europe is to hone the skills of young players like Soriano and Morris, the possibility of extensive playing time is entirely possible.
“People are here to win, but also to get better in some way,” Soriano says. “I’m just going to go to camp, do what they ask, and I should get time. That’s why they sent me here.”
Morris expects to get see some action in the Centurians offense as well.
“They run a three-four receiver offense, a pretty good rotation, so I should be in the mix quite a bit,” Morris says.
SUPER BOWL SHUFFLE
The NFL Europe is composed of six teams, with each team playing a 10-game schedule starting the weekend of April 3-4. The top two finishers will play in World Bowl XII.
For Soriano, that might be a bit anticlimactic, considering he made it to Super Bowl XXXVIII in his first season in the pros.
“It was totally unexpected coming in, a real awesome experience,” Soriano says. “You grow up watching the Super Bowl but never expect to be part of it. You turn on the news and there’s all these celebrity sightings, celebrities throwing parties, the media. It’s a real circus.
“For me, it’s a humbling experience. There are so many great players who haven’t had a chance to win, let alone play.”
Soriano didn’t get to see any regular game action in New England’s 17-2 season, so this spring’s games will hopefully be a stepping-stone to a pro appearance.
“I just want to get experience and playing time, and hopefully be on the active roster next season,” he says.
Morris is similarly antsy to show what he can do on the field.
“It’s been over a year since I was in a game situation, so it’s good to get out there, get things running full speed again.”
The fallout from the H-Bomb, it seems, has a radius extending beyond the college years. While their Harvard educations are old news—and old jokes—for their NFL teammates and coaches, Morris and Soriano’s new NFL Europe colleagues still have to get over the shock.
“Everyone’s got little jokes, it’s not so bad,” Morris says. “People know who I am pretty quickly from that.”
Soriano has learned to deal with it by now.
“I got the jokes early in preseason, a little comment here and there. Some guys are surprised, like ‘Why are you playing football?’ But they respect it.”
It’s not like a Harvard degree is something you can hide. After all, it doesn’t get much more Ivy League than going to Europe after graduation.
—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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